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Pipe case

  • Place of origin:

    Netherlands (probably, made)
    Germany (possibly)

  • Date:

    1700-1730 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved and turned walnut, brass hinge

  • Credit Line:

    Given by W. Sanders Fiske

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 7, The Sheikha Amna Bint Mohammed Al Thani Gallery, case EXP, shelf Touch Object, box BY PL3

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 often 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 small figures located either side of the upper-part of the bowl probably represent a generic European depiction of the inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire, as shown by their scimitars, serpents and exotic headwear. Turkey was at this time closely connected with the consumption of tobacco.

Physical description

Pipe case of walnut, carved in low-relief, with turned endpiece. 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 stem is divided into two sections by a turned and carved bulb located approximately three-fifths along the whole pipe case's length. The carving on the lower part of the stem is divided into five longitudinal compartments of scrolling floral decoration; two compartments match their opposites, while the uppermost panel is unique. The floral patterns continue along the upper part of the stem, terminating at the bowl. On either side of the upper-section is a full-length figure standing in profile, holding a scimitar and facing a writhing serpent.

Upon the bowl, facing the stem, is a carved mask surrounded by lace-like decoration on three sides. On the other side of the bowl is a flower, surrounded by the same lace-like decoration as the mask, with scrolls below which continue onto the 'spur'.

The pipe case is decorated all over its carved-out areas with a faint notched pattern.

The case is made from two pieces of walnut: a lid and a main body. On top is a brass hinge plate, nailed with six tacks to the lid and main body, with three tacks used apiece. 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 pipe case shows a slight curvature to the right, as one looks along it toward the bowl.

Place of Origin

Netherlands (probably, made)
Germany (possibly)


1700-1730 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Carved and turned walnut, brass hinge


Length: 25.4 cm

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.’ Upon entry to the Museum, the condition of this object was noted as 'good'.

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.

Descriptive line

Pipe case, carved walnut, probably Netherlands, 1700-30


Brass; Walnut


Carving; Turning

Subjects depicted

Figures; Masks; Floral patterns; Serpents


Smoking accessories; Woodwork; Household objects; Ephemera


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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