Connoisseurship may be defined as expert knowledge and keen discriminating taste in a field of fine arts. "Taste" refers to the aesthetics attributed to the artful devices and requisites manufactured for the purpose of smoking, chewing, or ingesting tobacco in all its various forms. In his Smokerama: Classic Tobacco Accoutrements (1992) Philip Collins, a cigar smoker and collector of some intriguing tobacco-related accessories, referring to classic tobacco accoutrements, suggests, "It is doubtful that any other industry has spawned as many allied consumer products. Dashes of elegance and bursts of frivolity are interwoven in the design of the products."
Indeed, if it were not for the discovery and eventual near-world-wide acceptance and use of tobacco, none of the artifacts described here would have been needed or, more accurately, manufactured. Each had a singular purpose specific to a direct or indirect use of tobacco. For example, without tobacco and the human desire to smoke it, the tobacco pipe in its many designs never would have been introduced.
Although smoking had become popular in most areas of the world by the nineteenth century, it was the lengthy, fashionable period of smoking, the Victorian era, that was the richest in special-purpose accessories for the smoker (pipes, cigars, and cigarettes) and the taker of snuff.
Today a wealth of opportunities exists to collect tobacco-related items that now are in disuse, have become passé, or no longer have a practical purpose. Hence, one might logically ask whether these accoutrements and utensils are objets dé art, worthy of the appellation antique, and thus befitting the realm of connoisseurship. Or are these accessories merely interesting collectibles to be traded at flea markets and swap meets?
Whether tobacco items are aesthetically worthy of collecting, either as collectibles or as fine art, depends on individual taste. Yet there is general agreement among connoisseurs of tobacciana (the realm of tobacco-related paraphernalia, art, and ephemera ) regarding which items are collectibles and which are fine art. Tobacciana classified as collectibles include the following:
- tobacco signage and other advertising mediums;
- tobacco tins, bins, and pails;
- tin tags;
- ashtrays and spittoons;
- match holders, matchbooks, and matchboxes;
- cardboard and cedar cigar boxes;
- ephemera such as trade and cigarette cards, company billheads and letterheads, posters, caddy labels, cigar box labels and bands, cigarette packs, and cigarette rolling papers;
- tools such as tobacco cutters, pipe tongs, braziers, and cigarette rolling machines; and
- promotional materials produced by the tobacco industry as giveaways.
In contrast to these fairly ubiquitous collectibles, the items described in the following pages are the accoutrements prized by tobacciana connoisseurs. According to the collective wisdom of antique experts and personal property appraisers, these items are considered fine art. They are highly sought after, have a universal following, and usually command top dollar (see sidebar).
Pipes of High Art
I n October 2000, at an auction in Heidelberg, Germany, two early-nineteenth-century Meissen polychrome porcelain pipes crossed the auction block at, respectively, $18,200 and $21,300.
In May 2002, a small, mid-nineteenth-century, high-relief-carved meerschaum cigar holder depicting a Saxon couple sold at auction in England for approximately $5,600.
In April 2003, the gallery Espace Tajan in Paris, France, auctioned an ornate ivory pipe bowl representing a figural bust of a female. It was crafted in Dieppe, France, the center of ivory-carving in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries; although it was missing its stem and mouthpiece, the price paid for this rarity was nearly $13,000.
In September 2003, a one-of-a-kind, ornately carved mixed medium pipe—made of coral, amber, and gold—depicting a cherub encircled in garlands and attributed to Emperor Franz Josef of Austria–Hungary, was purchased from a Massachusetts auction house at $5,300.
The Pipe and Its Accessories
Although not every pipe is art, some examples of high art are pipes. Passionate collectors are enamored of just about every category or style of pipe, whether antique or contemporary. Collectors seek not only the pipes made in Europe—clays, meerschaums, porcelains, and early woods—but also the ethnographic pipes of Asia, Africa, the Americas, and the Near East. A pipe at auction can command a premium price, be it an ornate meerschaum masterpiece, a polychrome Meissen porcelain, an early European carved wood pipe, a convoluted Staffordshire puzzle pipe, or an infrequent ethnographic rarity such as a Queen Charlotte Islands argillite pipe, an Inuit ivory pipe, or a Native American pipestone ceremonial peace pipe. This is just as true for those who collect new, limited-edition, handmade briar pipes from a handful of renowned American, Danish, English, Italian, and Japanese craftsmen. The pipes from many of these artisans can command as much as $5,000 to $15,000, and these prices reflect an appreciation of the aesthetics, artistry, and caliber of workmanship invested in these smoker's trinkets.
TAMPERS. A pipe smoker requires at least one critical device, a short bar with a flat round piece at one end to tamp down the lit tobacco; it is known as a tamper in the United States, a stopper in England, and it is believed to have been invented in the mid-seventeenth century. The earliest tampers were rudimentary, amateur devices made of hardwoods, bone, ivory, or any other natural material suitable for carving. As skills and industry later allowed, metals (predominantly brass, but also bronze, copper, iron, pewter, silver, steel, and, less often, gold), assorted hard-paste ceramics, glass, lava, mother-of-pearl, shell, and other exotic mediums were employed.
Name a motif, and at least one tamper was made in just about every medium to celebrate it. The opportunities were endless, and those who made them had infinite imagination and inventiveness. As examples, a typical collection might include a bear's tooth tipped with silver; a brass boot or a horse's hind leg; a Bisque figural of Punch; a grey-hound's head and neck executed in ivory; a plum wood bust of Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, or Napoleon Bonaparte. It is not unusual to encounter an antique hardwood tamper bearing the face of some eighteenth-century English king with an asking price of $1,000. Sadly, contemporary utilitarian tampers have replaced these ornate pocket fobs of previous centuries. Instead of exotic materials such as lava or mother-of-pearl, today's tampers are typically made of readily available materials such as acrylic, wood, or brass.
TOBACCO JARS. The ubiquitous leather, oilskin, or cloth tobacco pouch (or roll) was carried on the person. But another style of storage container, the tobacco jar, was found at home or at the office and remains an eye-catching conversation piece. The earliest European tobacco storage containers, called boxes, were of cast lead and were produced in England in the early eighteenth century. Next came jars of faience, that exquisite earthenware covered with a tin-enameled (stanniferous) glaze from French manufactories such as Mennecy and Sèvres. These were followed by, in approximate chronological order:
- various simple to highly decorative wood jars from Germany that were made in the early to mid-nineteenth century;
- molded figural jars in soft and hard paste from Bohemia made in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that depicted animals, children, and humans; and
- • hollow cast bronze figural motifs produced, most probably, in France, and representing the last, the rarest, and the fewest produced in the past century.
Most tobacco jars were not vacuum-sealed, so they did not keep tobacco fresh and moist. However, the jars are now collected for other reasons—namely, their beauty and astounding variety. The recently founded Figural Tobacco Jar Society, comprised of an international membership, has successfully elevated the stature and importance of the jar and has stimulated renewed interest in the pursuit of the more vibrantly polychromecolored, whimsical ceramic jars from Bohemia and Germany.
PIPE CASES. The pipe case is paraphernalia solely associated with the clay pipe. It was designed to encase the fragile, inexpensive clay when not in use or for ease of transport. Two countries stand out as the premier crafters. Holland was the principal center for boxwood, walnut, and pear wood cases, typically bearing ornate brass decor. England was noted for producing custom-fitted sterling pipe cases for the upper class.
Pipe cases of this caliber are not made today, because few smoke the clay pipe. The quantity of cases that circulate in antiquarian circles exceeds the number of collectors seeking to acquire them, because these cases customarily appeal only to those who are serious about clay pipes. In the early twentieth century, a few beer companies in England and theUnited States gave away tin and pot-metal pipe cases advertising their products, but these have never been very collectible.
Customized accessories were designed and produced for the cigar smoker just as they were for the pipe smoker. These accessories included:
- slide and clasp cases made of either molded leather, silver plating, or sterling;
- decorative tabletop and hand-held cigar cutters, or clippers, in various configurations, the most common of which were cast metal guillotines, ships' wheels, and assorted figurals;
- a wide array of cigar holders in such different materials as amber, gold, ivory, meerschaum, sterling, and wood;
- cigar lighters (also known as cigar lamps);
- the companion set; and
- the cigar dispenser.
CIGAR LIGHTERS. Collector attention has always been drawn to countertop cigar lighters, also called cigar lamps, once strategically placed near the cash register at the local tobacconist, always at the ready to light a newly purchased cigar. These lighters were sparked by denatured alcohol or gas.
To advertise and promote their brand or trademark, some cigar producers freely furnished rather majestic-looking figural lighters to their retail outlets. The largest producer of a broad assortment of lighter lamps for the home was Edward Miller & Company in Meriden, Connecticut, a late-nineteenth-century foundry whose product line included thirty-six different "bronzed, decorated, and real bronze" cigar lighters in various finishes that are in demand today, along with other styles, such as mechanical and coin-operated lighters. These countertop lighters also appeal to crossover collectors interested in early American three-dimensional advertising objects and country store collectibles.
CIGAR COMPANION SET AND CIGAR DISPENSER. The cigar companion set was a tabletop storage device that was functional yet decorative. It was called a companion set because it had two containers, one for open storage of cigars and one for wood matches. The companion set was most often made in cast metal, ceramic, or wood.
The cigar dispenser, like the companion set, was a tabletop storage device. Yet unlike the companion set, which provided open storage, the dispenser stored cigars out of plain view. Some dispensers had an embedded music box that automatically played when the lid was lifted or the drawer was opened. Dispensers almost always were highly decorated treenware, a product of the wood turner. Both the companion set and the dispenser are quite collectible because their popularity all but ended with the advent of the hermetically sealed and humidified cigar humidor. The cigar humidor, considered furniture, is mentioned later.
The two most obvious accessories for the cigarette were the holder and the case, both of which are largely passé in today's society. With so much controversy about smoking nowadays, interest in collecting cigarette holders and cases may be either on the rise or ebbing, depending on one's expectations about the future of what many have deridingly called "the little white slaver."
Holders were produced in a variety of materials, from Bakelite to precious material, in assorted lengths, and with varying degrees of ornamentation. The cigarette case, similar to a lady's compact yet distinctively made for each gender, was an ornate affair that defied generalization. The case might be of silver-plate or gold-plate, enameled metal, Russian niello, tortoise shell, mother-of-pearl, tooled leather, something very elaborate from the artistic hand of Carl Faberge, and anything in between. Variety and assortment in the case were never wanting, particularly when the cigarette was in its heyday during the early to mid-twentieth century.
The cigarette dispenser, like its cigar counterpart, was a tabletop storage container. Some were novelties, designed to dispense a cigarette at the push of a button, while others were nothing more than display boxes containing cigarettes that guests were welcome to take. These, too, are sought after by a number of collectors who otherwise have no interest in tobacco.
Snuff is produced in two varieties: nasal (or dry) and moist (or wet). Moist snuff is dipped—taken in the mouth directly from the container—so it requires no special accoutrements. Nasal snuff, in contrast, requires accessories for preparation, storage, and partaking. Accessories associated with nasal snuff include boxes, bottles, rasps, graters, mulls, and handkerchiefs.
When considered as a group, nasal snuff and its accessories are somewhat parallel to the pipe in that the paraphernalia associated with both were produced and used in the west and the east. In European-based societies, snuff was not universally accepted, as were pipes and cigars. Yet snuff taking, in its day, had been elevated to a fashionable and elegant social custom, and fashion dictated some special-purpose paraphernalia for its use.
SNUFFBOX. The snuffbox is considered by many collectors to be "the crown jewel of tobacciana." The snuffbox was the singular tobacco-related paraphernalia that had the broadest range and breadth of choices, from coquilla nut and common wood, to papier måché, porcelain, Japanese lacquer, and the most luxurious of boxes in gold with surmounted precious jewels. While the crude, yet functional, hardwood or gourd snuffboxes of Africa appeal to collectors of ethnographic African art, and snuffboxes made in North America of animal hide, bone, or ivory appeal to collectors of Native American art, the most exquisite and lavish snuff-boxes prized by collectors of European tobacciana were produced on the European continent and in England almost continuously during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Today, prices reach astronomical numbers at the auction block, often in the tens of thousands of dollars.
SNUFF GRATER. The snuff grater, a pierced metal device, was a fascinatingly simple tool for the person who made his own finely ground snuff from leaf tobacco. However, when encased in ornately carved ivory, porcelain, or wood, it became a rasp, as a caterpillar metamorphoses into a moth. Craftsmen in Dieppe, France, the premier center of European ivory carving, produced some of the most exquisite snuff rasps known today, while artisans in Germany and Holland crafted similarly handsome rasps in decorated wood. This trinket is in great demand not only by the tobacciana collector and the fancier of anything ivory, but also by anyone interested in the most resplendent treenware.
SNUFF BOTTLE. The snuff bottle, considered by some as a uniquely Chinese expression, is also a commonplace utensil in Germany, a country of considerable snuffers. The Chinese variant is exceptionally ornate and meticulously crafted, made from myriad materials including jade, amber, cloisonné coral, glass, nephrite, porcelain, quartz, and turquoise, and such exotic mediums as hornbill, fossiliferrous limestone, and pudding stone. The German variant, usually made of vibrantly colored glass or salt-glaze pottery, is not in the same league as the Chinese snuff bottle because it is not as alluring or sumptuous. From a standpoint of beauty and work-manship, the Chinese variant has always been a prized antique, whereas the German variant, still produced today, is categorized as a collectible.
SNUFF MULL. The snuff mull, or sneeshing mull, used for the storage of ground tobacco, is distinctively Scottish, and forever associated with the ram, goat, or ox. For one's use, the small, personal snuff mull was formed from the hollowed-out curled end of an animal's horn. The open end was covered with a hinged lid of either horn or some other material. A second, more gregarious, less-often-found version is the table mull, comprised of a ram's head and horns, hollowed out to make space for a snuffbox; this larger version was found in homes and at gentlemen's clubs and the then-popular smoking societies. As with snuffboxes, the most loyal collectors of mulls reside in Europe where sneeshing is still a relatively popular custom.
SNUFF HANDKERCHIEF. The snuff handkerchief was an affectation attributed to dandies. Although a component of the rite and ritual of snuffing, too few handkerchiefs have survived the test of time to form a collection.
Miscellaneous accessories include those items that are ubiquitous with pipes, cigars, or both, and a devoted following exists for each.
FURNITURE. The two- and three-dimensional, figural, Art Deco smoking and ash stand, a free-standing utensil familiarly known as the silent butler, was nothing more than a glorified ashtray, a silent servant to all who smoked, but in its time, it was a colorful conversation piece added to a hotel lobby, restaurant, and home.
Another substantial piece of furniture was the cigar humidor, customarily found at the tobacconist, but the truly passionate cigar aficionado, then, as now, procured a humidified storage container to keep a supply of cigars fresh and moist. Many a pipe smoker invested in a custom-made, wall- or floor-mounted cabinet or chest to exhibit his prized possessions.
The last of the accessories, classified as furniture, was the fumeuse (a French term for "female smoker"), an upholstered, high-back smoking chair specially made for the pipe smoker, but just as convenient for the cigar smoker. Its distinguishing feature was a crest rail incorporating a hidden compartment to store pipes, tobacco, and tools. Smoking chairs were used primarily in England and the Netherlands, where they were popular a century ago, and a few circulate today in venues other than the auction house.
CLOTHING. No discussion of tobacciana would be complete without mentioning two affectations of the smoker: the jacket and hat. The proper nineteenth-century American, English, or Continental gentleman customarily withdrew to his smoking room at home where he donned the requisite attire, sat in his fumeuse, and lit up. The jacket and the hat were manufactured in a variety of materials—cotton, felt, silk, velvet, and wool—but the hat was almost always the more ornate contrivance, exhibiting colorful embroidered patterns, fringe, and tassels. Nowadays, smoking jackets and hats reappear at private, formal engagements and lend an air of class at pipe-smoking contests, as frenetic pipe smokers from around the world assemble annually and compete to keep a pipe lit for an extended period of time.
CIGAR-STORE FIGURES. In general, tobacco advertising is considered a collectible, but one item is distinguishable from all the rest, floor-mounted and countertop cigar-store figures, because their rightful characterization is advertising art. In the seventeenth century the English tobacconist hung a sign at the entrance to his shop to symbolize and identify his trade, particularly at a time when few could read. Much later, as a uniquely American expression, it became custom to place a large, three-dimensional, polychrome-painted, wood, zinc, or gesso show figure—such as a Native American, Punch, or some other recognizable character—at the shop entrance. This American expression was later adapted in English tobacco shops as a smaller, but just as desirable, countertop figure depicting a more continental symbol, such as a Scottish highlander or a blackamoor. Cigar-store figures have all but disappeared into museums, the corporate headquarters of tobacco companies, and private homes. At auctions, however, these colorful statues command not only respect, but also a great deal of money. For instance, on 18 January 2004, as part of a Sotheby's Americana auction in New York, a five-foot cigar-store figure of a Native American attributed to the sculptor Julius Theodore Melchers (1829–1909) of Detroit, Michigan, more than tripled the catalog's high estimate, selling for $153,600.
MATCH SAFES. In its simplest form, the match safe (vesta case in England) was a pocket-sized container with a hinged lid and roughened surface designed to keep friction matches dry. It was used from about 1860 to 1910 before the matchbook and the pocket lighter were invented. Although the first match safes were plain and simple devices made of common metal, they eventually were produced in a surprising number of other materials, from precious metals, vulcanite, and gutta-percha , to lacquer and enamel. Match safes exhibited a diverse range of designs, patterns, styles, techniques, and historical curiosities, including sports and pastimes, advertisements, and figural compositions of everything imaginable, including Tiffany-designed masterpieces.
Many thousands of match safes were in circulation during that era when a dry match was needed to light not just a pipe, a cigar, or a cigarette, but also the kitchen stove. The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York owns an extraordinary collection of more than 4,000 match safes. Aiding the efforts of match safe collectors is the International Match Safe Association, founded in 1997, which meets annually to exhibit, swap, and exchange information on this fascinating, ornamental conversation piece.
LIGHTERS. At present, the most active, enthusiastic, and collaborative worldwide network revolves around the pocket and table lighter. This accessory includes an infinite variety of lighting devices, from early strikers and alcohol-based lighters, to today's butanes and piezoelectrics, and from fourteen-carat-gold Cartiers, Dunhills, and Duponts to the universally known Zippo, and every format and construct in between. Lighter clubs in several countries sponsor expositions, particularly On the Lighter Side, one of the largest international societies in the United States; more than twenty recently published illustrated books (in America alone) about their history and valuation have helped make the antique lighter the hottest tobacciana collectible. It is expected that membership and interest will continue to grow exponentially, as lesser-known, rarer, and more exotic lighters come to the fore.
Tobacco's impact and influence in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is analogous to the automobile's impact in the twentieth century. In the early 1900s the automobile spurred and stimulated many other businesses: the steel, rubber, and glass industries; construction companies, which boomed as highways and garages were built; and companies that sold kerosene, which made up their losses due to the spread of electricity with increased gasoline sales. A century earlier a similar phenomenon occurred with the spread of tobacco. Beyond the field where tobacco was grown, far from the factory where it was processed, outside the retail shop where tobacco products were sold, there was another world, a world of artisans and handicraft people who, perhaps, never came near a hand of tobacco, a cigarette, a cigar, or a tin of pipe tobacco, nor indulged in the social custom of smoking. As can be readily seen, cottage crafts and, later, industries flowered everywhere soon after the introduction of tobacco. The examples are numerous:
- chromolithographers who designed and produced cigar-box labels and bands for the cigar industry, caddy labels to identify tobacco bales, and paper labels and silk screen images for tobacco tins and cigarette packs;
- silver- and goldsmiths who plied their skills making snuffboxes, match safes, cigar and cigarette cases;
- horn turners who also made snuff and tobacco boxes;
- porcelain workers who produced not only pipes but also figural tobacco jars;
- wood turners and treeners who crafted pipes and pipe cases, pipe humidors, pipe stands, and other pipe furniture;
- those who worked with leather goods, tooling and shaping tobacco pouches, and those who worked with various base and alloy metals who molded pipe tampers; and
- stonecutters, gemologists, enamelists, etchers, and engravers who worked in amber, ivory, and other materials to accent all these objects.
The universal acceptance of tobacco was the impetus and the inspiration for the creative and imaginative arts and crafts expressions that rightfully deserve the title of connoisseurship.
As views of history change, the public's understanding of the past matures, and new ideas emerge about what is worth saving. Stories and artifacts once considered unimportant might be treasured by later generations, just as the value of once-precious things may fade with time. Without tobacco, none of the paraphernalia discussed here would have ever seen the light of day. Tobacco spawned a host of items that were once de rigueur not only in the smoking room but also in public.
Today people still smoke pipes and cigars, and snuff is still relatively popular in some continental quarters, but what have changed are the tobacco accoutrements. Those made long ago met a standard of form and function. In contrast, fewer accessories exist today, and most of these meet only the standard of form. Because of this marked change in the paraphernalia for the smoker, tobacciana collectors thrive, having ample opportunity to find those remarkable accoutrements of yesteryear that can rightfully be classed as objects of connoisseurship. As noted by Collins, "These objects echo a vast industry—and way of life—forever changed by scientific inquiry into the effects of smoking upon our health. Nonetheless smoking was a seemingly natural adjunct to glamorous living, and the possession of these accessories is another example of sophistication and good taste."
▌ BEN RAPAPORT
Belloncle, Michel. Les objets du fumeur. Paris, France: Gründ, 1971.
Brongers, Georg A. Nicotiana Tabacum: The History of Tobacco and Tobacco Smoking in the Netherlands. Amsterdam, Netherlands: H.J.W. Becht's Uitgeversmaatschappij, 1964.
Collins, Philip. Smokerama: Classic Tobacco Accoutrements. San Francisco, Calif.: Chronicle Books, 1992.
Faveton, Pierre. Autour du Tabac. Tabatiäres, Pipes, Cigares, Allumettes et Briquets. Paris, France: Editions Ch. Massin, 1988.
Orhant, Alice. Up in Smoke: The Art of Collectibles. Paris, France: L'Aventurine, 2000.
Rapaport, Benjamin. Museum of Tobacco Art & History Guide Book. Nashville, Tenn.: Museum of Tobacco Art and History, 1997.
Wood, Neil. Smoking Collectibles: A Price Guide. Gas City, Indiana: L-W Book Sales, 1994.
Yates, Sarah. Miller's Smoking Accessories: A Collector's Guide. London, England: Miller's, 2000.
snuff a form of powdered tobacco, usually flavored, either sniffed into the nose or "dipped," packed between cheek and gum. Snuff was popular in the eighteenth century but had faded to obscurity by the twentieth century.
ephemeral temporary, short-lived, subject to change.
cigarette cards paper trading cards sometimes featuring sports personalities or movie stars packaged with cigarettes and offered as an incentive for purchase.
ubiquitous being everywhere; commonplace; widespread.
argillite A smooth, black sedimentary rock. American Indians sometimes carved tobacco pipes from argillite.
briar a hardwood tree native to southern Europe. The bowls of fine pipes are carved from the burl, or roots, of briar trees.
Art Deco the most fashionable style of design in the 1920s and 1930s. Art Deco is usually characterized by geometric lines and shapes. Smoking tobacco tins and cigarette packages of this period were often rendered in the Art Deco style.
gutta-percha a form of hard rubber made from the sap of a Malaysian tree. Widely used in the nineteenth century, plastics largely replaced gutta-percha in the twentieth century.