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Pipe case

  • Place of origin:

    Netherlands (made)

  • Date:

    1750 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Turned fruitwood, engraved brass mounts

  • Credit Line:

    Given by W. Sanders Fiske

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Smoking leaf tobacco in clay pipes became established in all parts of Europe during the course of the 17th century, following its introduction from Mexico by Francesco Fernandez in 1558. It was consumed as a fashionable and healthy substance by adult men and women, but its relatively high cost meant that its use was generally restricted to the mercantile classes and above. The fragile clay pipes used to smoke tobacco were also initially quite expensive, and were sometimes highly decorated, so protective wooden pipe cases were developed to contain them.

This case would have contained a relatively short pipe which could have been easily carried outdoors inside a pocket. Long pipes, of the type made famous in the paintings of many Dutch masters of the seventeenth-century (for a good example see Jan Steen’s As the Old Sing So Pipe the Young (1668-70), tended to be smoked at home or at an inn. These were considered more desirable as they could hold more tobacco, and because they allowed the smoke to cool before it was inhaled, although they were more fragile and unwieldly.

The Netherlands was closely connected with the pastime of pipe-smoking. Cities, such as Gouda, developed a reputation for producing high-quality clay pipes which were sold around Europe. In Britain, during the reign of Queen Anne, a ‘gross’ (i.e. 144) of Dutch pipes sold for 2 shillings.

Physical description

Pipe case of turned fruitwood with brass fixtures. The case consists of a compartment for the pipe bowl, which can be opened, allowing the pipe to be inserted; a stem section; a ventilation hole at the mouthpiece end.

The endpiece is bulbous, and features turned decoration. It also has a brass ring wrapped over it. There are also four serrated brass bands spaced evenly along the stem section, wrapped around the circumference of the stem. These bands separate two spiral-turned sections and a middle section wrapped with brass wire.

The bowl compartment is adorned with a number of brass mounts, all of which are engraved. The front (i.e. as it would be ‘smoked’) has a large leafy plant; this is repeated on the lid. Two long brass strips decorate the edges where the main body meets the lid, these carry an inscription in Dutch. On top is a brass hinge plate engraved with crosshatching and the date ‘1750’. The springplate on the bottom is decorated with an engraved representation of a leafy plant.

The object is decorated generally with small brass studs.

The inside of this case is not decorated.

The case is made from two pieces of fruitwood: a lid and a main body. The brass features are mounted with small brass tacks. The part of the case in which the stem of the pipe would have resided would probably have been bored using a heated metal rod.

The lid is held shut by brass springplate attached to the main body, which meets another brass plate on the lid.

This pipe case is much worn, and the bowl compartment has a major fracture running longitudinally across its whole front. The upper part of the bowl compartment is held in place only by the brass mounts it has either side. The engraved plant on the front of the bowl is split along the same line as the wood.
The brass band on the stem nearest the bowl compartment has lost all of its securing tacks, and is held in place only by the springiness of the brass.
There appears to be missing a small iron or brass catch which would have held the case closed along with the springplate. There are also losses to the wood just above where the springplate is attached.

Place of Origin

Netherlands (made)


1750 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Turned fruitwood, engraved brass mounts

Marks and inscriptions

Probable date of production; inscribed on hinge plate.

'P.C. 6'
On paper label on inside of lid.


Length: 25 cm, Height: 7 cm bowl outside, Height: 5 cm bowl inside

Object history note

Given by W. Sanders-Fiske, a collector who lived locally to the V&A, as part of a collection of pipe cases (museum nos. W.144 to 179-1928) in November 1928. RP 28/10633. He later donated to the Museum his important collection of 18th century Staffordshire porcelain figures.

H. Clifford Smith, in a note on a minute paper (RP 28/9292), 02/11/1928: ‘The collection of pipe-cases is undoubtedly a very interesting one, and every item differs.’ On entry to the Museum it was noted that 'the bowl [is] split and worn'

Historical context note

Clay tobacco pipes are fragile, so cases such as this one were used to ensure they would remain intact when carried outside by their owners. Post-1690 a spur on the pipe’s ‘heel’ developed which made them easier to hold as one could do so without the risk of burning one’s fingers. For long pipes, this also meant it could be rested on a table without leaving a burn mark. The hinged lid tended to be favoured after this date as a sliding closure would catch on the spur. This case would have contained a relatively short pipe.

Most eighteenth-century pipe cases featured an opening at the end of the stem section, possibly to, in the words of W. Sanders Fiske, ‘keep the pipe sweet and clean’.

Tobacco smoking as a popular pastime was spread across Europe during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), in which the Dutch Republic was involved for twenty-nine of those years. By the time of Queen Anne, a gross (144) of Dutch pipes cost 2s in England.

Initially all tobacco entered Europe via the Spanish colonies in the Americas, something which was said to have done 'more harm than the Inquisition'. England imported tobacco from its own colony of Virginia from 1613 onward. The United East India Company later established tobacco plantations in the Dutch colony of Indonesia.

Descriptive line

Pipe case, turned fruitwood with brass mounts, Netherlands, dated 1750

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Sanders Fiske, W. Tobacco Pipe Cases, The Connoisseur , December 1925, LXXIII(292), pp. 218-231


Fruitwood; Brass


Turning; Engraving

Subjects depicted



Smoking accessories; Woodwork; Accessories; Household objects; Ephemera; Containers


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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