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Pipe Glossary

This glossary contains words and terms that are used in describing pipes and related objects/processes as well as common abbreviations used in pipe reports.  It is important that these terms are clearly defined and consistently used by pipe researchers so as to enable a concise and unambiguous literature to develop.

Alderman  The historic name given to a pipe with a long stem, some of which were certainly curved  (cf the ‘Masonic Alderman’ illustrated by Church of London on their pattern sheet of c1877).  The name was probably used interchangeably with ‘Churchwarden’.

Amberite An artificial material used for making detachable pipe stems/mouthpieces, in imitation of amber.

Back (of a pipe bowl)  That part of a pipe bowl closest to an individual when the pipe is held facing away from them (as if being smoked).

Bent stem  A pipe with a stem that has been sharply curved after having been removed from a mould.  This term was usually applied to short-stemmed pipes dating from after c1850 where the stem has been bent into into a sharply curved stem, sometimes with an ‘S’ shape 

bent stem

A complete pipe, produced for the coronation of George V in 1911, with a bent stem.  Drawing by D. A. Higgins.

Bowl  The part of a pipe enclosing the chamber within which the tobacco (or any other substance) to be smoked is placed.

Bowl Stamp  A stamped impression made on the bowl of the pipe itself (as opposed to underneath the heel or on a stem socket) or the tool used to make such a mark.  Marks on the bowl itself were almost always placed facing the smoker.

Burnishing  The compacting and smoothing of the clay surface by stroking it with a smooth hard tool (usually of polished steel or agate) while in a leather hard state.  This results in a glossy line on the surface of the pipe and repeated strokes were used to create a shiny surface, the additional work required enhancing both the appearance and value of the pipe.  Archaeologists grade the quality of burnishing into four categories:

Fine (F)  A fine burnish is when the polishing lines are so closely spaced and even that there are barely any gaps between them and a very uniform glossy surface is created.

Good (G)  A good burnish is well applied with close, even strokes and only small, evenly spaced, gaps between the burnish lines.

Average (A)  An average burnish will have gaps of roughly equal width to the burnish lines and may be light and/or rather unevenly applied.  The burnish lines will not necessarily extend to the very edge of the area being burnished.

Poor (P)  A poor burnish is very scrappy and irregularly applied, with large gaps between the burnish lines and/or uneven strokes/coverage.

Button  The expanded end of a moulding wire, formed by repeatedly striking the end of the wire while held securely in a vice so as to burr it over.  This button formed a slightly larger hole than the diameter of the wire when inserted into clay, thus allowing the wire to be easily inserted and withdrawn to form the stem bore when moulding a pipe.  Alternatively, the term was also used for the raised ‘nipple’ end forming the mouthpiece on certain styles of pipe, especially short-stemmed cutty pipes.

Cadger  A pipe of abnormally large proportions.  See ‘Show Pipe’ for more details.

Calcined  The term used from the later nineteenth century onwards for a varnish applied to the surface of a clay pipe to make it look like meerschaum.  This was typically a light syrup colour when applied but could be darkened by heating.  The term was often used interchangeably with ‘meerschaum wash’ although calcined pipes typically appear to have been darkened all over, while meerschaum wash pipes were typically left with a pale colour all over, or selectively darkened in some areas only, particularly around the bowl rim.  See also cream wash.

Carbon Pipe  A black pipe produced by excluding oxygen during firing so as to produce a reducing atmosphere.  This was typically done by sealing ordinary pipes in a saggar filled with sawdust, which burnt up all the available oxygen, thus creating the reducing atmosphere required.

Churchwarden  The name given to a type of pipe with a long stem, some of which were certainly curved.  The name was probably used interchangeably with ‘Alderman’.  During the nineteenth century churchwarden pipes typically has stems of 16” or more in length but, from the mid-twentieth century, the term was increasingly applied to shorter lengths right down to about 9”.

Cream Wash  A pale varnish used from the later nineteenth century onwards as a coating for the surface of a pipe.  Pipes were typically sold with either a single coat (Common Wash) or double coat (Best Wash).  The single coat was usually applied directly to the pipe but for better qualities the pipe could be scoured (sanded) first to provide a smooth surface that the varnish would adhere to well.  Occasionally three coats were applied.  See also calcined.

Cutty  A short pipe, usually with a stem of around 3” to 5” in length (7.5cm to 12.5cm).  This style of pipe became popular from about 1850 and was the dominant form during the later nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  It typically had a stocky stem and a nipple mouthpiece.  The term may well have been Scottish in origin.

Die  The actual object used to impress a mark into the surface of a pipe during its manufacture.  This usually carries the maker’s initials and/or some type of decoration.  More specifically this term is used to describe the working face and its design used to create the impression as opposed to the ‘stamp’ (q.v.), which is a more general term for the whole object.  A ‘die type’ is a specific version of a design, created by an individual die.  If the die itself is altered to change the impression that it creates, then it is regarded as a different ‘die type’, even if the bulk of the object that created it remains the same.

Dottle  A small piece of clay forced into the bowl cavity on the end of the moulding wire when making a pipe.  The same term is used by smokers for any remnant of tobacco left in the base of the bowl after smoking.

Ebonite  Another name for Vulcanite, q.v.

Fabric  The clay body from which a pipe is made.

Ferrule  A strengthening/coupling ring, typically of metal, used on mounted pipe bowls at the junction of the bowl and stem.

Fillet  The term used by pipemakers for the very top edge (rim) of a pipe bowl, formed as a single knife cut when excess clay was trimmed from the top of the mould during manufacture.

Finishing Wire  A wire rod inserted into the leather hard pipe stem to support it during the trimming process.  Unlike the moulding wire, this has a rounded end so that it followed the stem bore that had already been created.  It also cleared any dottle that had reattached itself to inside the bowl when the moulding wire was being withdrawn, ensuring a free airway for the finished pipe.

Front (of a pipe bowl)  That part of a pipe bowl furthest from away from an individual when the pipe is held facing away from them (as if being smoked).

Glazed/Glazing  In old documents the term ‘glazed’ was used to describe a burnished pipe (q.v.), and is not to be confused with the modern usage for an applied glassy coating.

Gross  The standard unit for counting/selling pipes, a gross being 12 dozen (144) pipes.  In some instances, however, the count could be higher, for example, moulders in a factory were normally expected to produce 16 dozen (192) pipes to the gross to allow for breakages during drying, trimming and firing.

Hair Pipe  The historic term found in old documents referring to the clay curlers used to shape hair for wigs.

hair pipe
Selection of hair pipes (Tatman Coll.). Photo S. D. White.

Heel  A projection underneath the bowl of a pipe with a flat base.  This usually has near vertical sides, or ones that flare out towards its base.  A heel is usually broader than it is deep, as opposed to a spur (q.v.) which is the opposite.

Heel Stamp  A stamped impression made on the base of a heel or the tool used to make such a mark.

Incuse  A letter or design sunk into the surface of a pipe.

Internal Bowl Cross (or other mark)  Relief moulded marks are occasionally found on the base of the bowl interior.  These marks were formed by designs cut into the end of the metal stopper that formed the bowl cavity during the moulding process and are not to be confused with scrape marks that may be formed across the base of the bowl interior by the moulding or trimming wires.  These marks have not been noted on seventeenth century pipes, which generally had very narrow rather rounded bases to the bowl interior, but occur across Britain from the early eighteenth century onwards.  The most common marks found on the internal base of a bowl are simple crosses.  When viewed with the stem pointing directly towards the viewer these can either appear as '+' or 'x'.  These symbols should be used in any catalogue or report to indicate which type is present.  If some other symbol or letter is found it should be described.  Occasionally multi-arm stars are found and, very rarely, initials have been observed.  The function of these marks is unclear, but it may be connected with the practice of ‘roughing up’ the end of the stopper to help prevent it sticking to the clay during moulding and sucking in the sides of the pipe as it is withdrawn.

Leather Hard  Clay that still retains some moisture within it, so that it is stiff and can be handled without deforming but it still capable of being cut, joined with slip and otherwise worked to some extent.  It generally has the consistency of a piece of leather of similar thickness, hence the name.

Left hand side (of a pipe)  All that part of the pipe to the left hand side of the central mould line when it is held facing away from the viewer (as if being smoked).

LHS  Abbreviation for ‘left hand side’ (q.v.).

Meerschaum  A naturally occurring mineral, being hydrous magnesium silicate (H4 Mg2 Si3 O10), which occurs in white, claylike masses in a limited number of locations around the world.  Historically the main source was Turkey.  Small numbers of pipes made of this material circulated in the eastern Mediterranean from the seventeenth century onwards, but it was only from the mid-eighteenth century that it was extensively exploited for pipe making, with fine quality workshops establishing themselves in central Europe, particularly around Vienna, during the nineteenth century.  Paris was also a notable centre.  Meerschaum pipes were individually hand carved, making them much more expensive then contemporary clays.  They appear to have first been introduced into Britain around 1800.

Meerschaum Wash (Meerschaum Finish)  The term used from the later nineteenth century onwards for a varnish applied to the surface of a clay pipe to make it look like meerschaum.  This was typically a light syrup colour when applied but could be darkened by heating.  The term was often used interchangeably with ‘calcined’ although calcined pipes typically appear to have been darkened all over, while meerschaum wash pipes were typically left with a pale colour all over, or selectively darkened in some areas only, particularly around the bowl rim.  See also cream wash.

meerschaum wash

Pipe depicting George V with meerschaum wash and label reading ‘SUPERIOR COLOURING PIPE’. Photo D. A. Higgins.

Milling  A narrow band of small rectangular indentations used for decoration on a pipe, typically impressed using the serrated back of a knife blade.   A band of milling was applied around the rim of most British pipes during the seventeenth century with a revival of the practice on some pipes from the mid-nineteenth century onwards (although most later examples have moulded milling).  Milled patterns were also applied to some pipe stems.  Pipes from France and the Low Countries tend to have milled rims at all periods.

Mould  The former within which clay was pressed to make a pipe.  These almost always comprised two halves, split vertically on the long axis, which shaped the exterior of the pipe.  A third part, the stopper (q.v.), was forced into the open top of the mould to compress the clay into shape and form the bowl cavity.  One very early example of wooden mould had been found but all other known examples are of metal.  Examples from the second quarter of the nineteenth century onwards survive, almost all of which are made of cast iron.  Earlier examples may have been made of brass and one or two later examples made of this metal are known, but these are much rarer.


Three-part mould comprising two halves to produce the bowl shape (top and middle) and a third part, the stopper (bottom) to form the bowl cavity. Photo D. A. Higgins.

Mould Flaw Analysis  The process of sorting pipe bowls into groups according to the moulds from which they were made, by using mould flaws to identify the individual moulds.

Mould Flaw  A surface defect in the mould itself that creates a mark on the pipes made from it.  These flaws most frequently occur in areas of the mould that were hard to finish smoothly, such as around the base or sides of a heel or spur.  These marks can be used to identify products made in the same mould and are particularly useful where there the bowl is otherwise plain and unmarked.

Mould Line  The term used for an unintentional relief moulded line, usually around the rim of a pipe, that is caused by a join in the mould.  Sometimes this is the result of a broken mould that had been repaired but, more usually, it results from a new plate having been added to the top of the mould where the bowl rim had become dished from repeated trimming.

Moulded Mark  A maker’s mark that an integral part of the mould from which the pipe is made, so that it automatically appears each time a pipe is made from the mould.  Moulded marks tend to be slightly less crisp than stamped marks (q.v.) and may have ‘flow’ marks in the clay around them, where the clay moved across the mark during the moulding process.  They may also exhibit blank or missing elements where the design in the mould has become temporarily clogged with hard clay.

Moulded Milling  A narrow band of small rectangular indentations used for decoration on a pipe, typically around the bowl rim, and specifically created using a mould - moulded milling was created by the pattern having been formed as part of the mould as opposed to normal milling, which was hand impressed after the pipe had been moulded.  Moulded milling tends to have a slightly blurred upper edge and, often, striations extending across the clay surface from the corners of each element where the clay had been forced to ‘flow’ across the design during moulding.  This type of milling was only used from the earlier part of the nineteenth century onwards.

Moulding Wire  A wire rod used to form the stem bore of a pipe during the moulding process.  This type of wire has its end hammered to form a splayed out ‘button’ at the end.  This is essential when the wire is inserted into the clay since the button forms a slightly larger hole, allowing the wire to pass freely in and out of the clay.  Without this button the wire drags against the clay, making it hard to insert, and it can suck the hole closed again as it is removed, since air cannot flow freely around it.  See also ‘trimming wire’.

Mounted Pipe  A pipe where the separate mouthpiece, usually of vulcanite, was inserted into a metal mount or ferrule.  This was normally fitted over a specially shaped rounded projection from the bowl but sometimes ordinary one piece clays had their stems broken short to take a mounted mouthpiece.  The hole to take the mouthpiece in a mounted pipe was normally smaller than that in a socketed bowl (q.v.) and the stem typically butted against the clay rather than being inserted into it.

mounted pipes

Mounted pipes from a trade catalogue produced by Edward Pollock of Manchester in c1906.  Note that the mouthpiece is fitted into a metal ferrule in this type of pipe.

Mouth (of the bowl) The term used to describe the opening at the top of a pipe bowl.

Mouthpiece  The end of a pipe stem that was placed in the smoker’s mouth and through which the smoke was drawn when the pipe was in use.  Most British pipes were made from a single piece of clay and most of the mouthpieces were simply formed by trimming the end of the stem with a slightly angled knife blade so that a smooth, bevelled end was created.  After about 1850 some ends, especially for the shorter cutty pipes, were finished with a raised rounded ridge or ‘nipple’, which was formed in the mould.

Muffle (muffle kiln)  A muffle was a larger ceramic chamber built within a pipe kiln within which the pipes were stacked for firing (hence ‘muffle kiln’).  The muffle was completely sealed once loaded so as to exclude smoke and gasses from combustion of the fuel, which could discolour the pipes.  The muffle was typically constructed like wattle and daub, with previously fired waste stems being used to make a vertical framework against which fresh clay was plastered to form the walls.   The muffle was frequently coated internally between firings with a thin layer of clay to seal any cracks.

Nib  An alternative (but less frequently used and now generally obsolete) name for the mouthpiece of a pipe (q.v.).

Nipple (mouthpiece) A type of mouthpiece where the stem terminates with a raised rounded ridge.  This could be held by the smoker’s teeth to help prevent the pipe slipping out, particularly when used with a short-stemmed pipe that could be smoked without having to be held at the same time.

Relief  A letter or design standing out from the surface of a pipe.

RHS  Abbreviation for ‘right hand side’ (q.v.).

Right hand side (of a pipe)  All that part of a pipe to the right hand side of the vertical central mould line when it is held facing away from the viewer (as if being smoked).

Roll  The clay blank prepared ready for moulding a pipe, comprising a thickened end for the bowl merging into a long cylinder for the stem.  The rolls for each mould type had to be prepared so as to have the right thickness and length of clay to form the stem, with sufficient bulk left at the end to form the bowl.  The rolls were grouped in bundles and allowed to partially dry before being moulded.

Roll-stamp  A maker’s mark or decorative border that runs right around the stem of a pipe or a tool used to make such a mark.

‘Roughing-up’  The practice of forming rough marks on the end of the stopper that was used to form the bowl cavity during the moulding process.  The function of these was to help break the suction formed between the stopper and the bowl sides during moulding.  If the clay was too soft and/or the sides walls too thin, they could be sucked if the stopper did not release cleanly, deforming the finished bowl.  A coarse file was often used to strike the end of the stopper, causing irregular dents and ridges that would help break the seal and allow air to flow in around the stopper as it was withdrawn.  These types of mark are most frequently found in eighteenth century or later bowls.

Rouletting An alternative name for milling (q.v.).

Rubber Stamp  A decorative design or lettering cut in reverse in rubber so as to make a stamp that could be used to apply an ink mark to the surface of a pipe.  Marks of this type were occasionally employed from the late nineteenth century onwards, most frequently as a large oval mark on the bowl facing the smoker.

Sagger (or saggar)  A large ceramic container made of refractory or fire-clay within which pipes could be placed to protect them during firing.  Early seventeenth century pipe saggers are known from Devon but almost all pipes elsewhere were fired in muffle kilns until the later nineteenth century, when saggers were more widely introduced following a shift to shorter patterns of pipe.  Long-stemmed pipes could be fired within ring saggers, which had a circular hole cut out of the base, leaving a narrow projecting ledge, about an inch wide.  The bowls of long pipes were balanced on this with the stems forming a cone in the centre.  The tip of this cone could them project through the base of the next ring sagger that was placed on top of it.  

Sans-Serif  A typeface that does not employ small cross strokes (serifs) at the ends of the lines used to make up each character in some lettering styles, for example, Arial.

Serif  A small cross stroke used to embellish the ends of the lines used to make up each character in some lettering styles, for example, Times Roman.

Shooter  A cheaply made low quality pipe specifically made for shooting galleries, or a broken waste pipe with at least two inches of stem that could be used for the same purpose.

Show Pipe  A pipe of giant proportions with a very large bowl, too big for normal smoking.  These were produced in very small numbers during the seventeenth and eighteenth century, presumably as novelties or display pieces, but became more common from the mid-nineteenth century onwards when a number of firms made them commercially.  By this date they were known as ‘show pipes’ and they were sometimes customised with ink stamps as tourist souvenirs or hand written inscriptions as gifts.  They were also commonly known as ‘cadgers’, the joke being that you would ask a friend for a pipe of tobacco and then produce a giant one to be filled.

Slip  Clay mixed with sufficient water so as to make it into a liquid that can be poured or used as a glue to join two pieces of leather hard clay.

Small Find Number  An unique reference number allocated to an individual object or small sub-group of objects so as to allow that specific item to be identified from within a larger collection.

Smoke-Room Pipe  A nineteenth century and later style of pipe, typically with a fairly long stem, the name presumably deriving from their common use in the smoking rooms of public houses.

Socket  A specially created cavity into which a separate stem section could be inserted.  This usually takes the form of a short flared opening connecting with the lower part of the pipe bowl.

Socketed Bowl  A socketed bowl is one where the stem is entirely contained and held within a socket, as opposed to being partially or wholly secured by a mount (see ‘mounted pipe’).  A cork insert was used to hold the stem in place.  This also provided a good seal as well as some cushioning to help prevent the stem socket from being fractured by the force of inserting the stem.

socketed pipe

Socketed pipes from a trade catalogue produced by Edward Pollock of Manchester in c1906.  Note that the mouthpiece is held by cork mount that is fitted directly into a clay socket in this type of pipe (no metal ferrule).

Spot Date  A rapid assessment of the date of an individual object or context group based on the immediately available evidence/resources.  This should only ever be regarded as a preliminary assessment to enable current thinking to develop and is subject to change when all the evidence is available and/or a more detailed study has taken place.

Spur  A projection underneath the bowl of a pipe that usually tapers to a pointed or rounded base.  A spur is usually longer than it is broad, as opposed to a heel (q.v.) which is the opposite.

Stamp  Either the implement used to impress a mark into the surface of a pipe during its manufacture or a term used to describe the impression created.  This usually comprises the maker’s initials and/or some type of decoration.  This term is often used more generally to include the whole tool (which can be a composite object made of different materials) as opposed to the term ‘die’ (q.v.), which is used more specifically to refer to the actual worked surface forming the impression.

Stamped Mark  A maker’s mark or decoration that has been added after the pipe has been moulded by impressing a die into clay before it has fully dried.  Stamped marks tend to be sharper and more clearly defined than moulded marks (q.v.) although they may also be poorly or partially impressed, or double struck so that they are hard to read.

Stem  The tube connecting the bowl to the mouthpiece through which smoke is drawn by the smoker.

Stem Bore  The hole inside the stem of a pipe through which the smoke is drawn.  The diameter of this hole is still measured and published in 64ths of an inch for two reasons.  First, it makes any measurements compatible and comparable with the pre-existing pipe literature, which has always used this unit of measurement.  Second, it enables any data collected to be used with the American based formulae for dating pipe stems by bore size, which also relies on this unit of measurement.

Stem Stamp  A stamped impression made on the stem of a pipe or a tool used to make such a mark.

Straw  A pipe with a thin stem that typically tapered to a fine tip without a nipple end.  These varied in length and bowl design but the thin stem was fragile and more difficult to manufacture than other types of pipe and so these were always regarded as a more refined product.  They also tended to be slightly more expensive because they took more time to manufacture and were more prone to breakage.

Tip An alternative name for the mouthpiece of a pipe (q.v.).

Trimming Knife  A knife used to finish pipes once they had been formed in the mould.  At its most basic, this could have been an everyday knife used without any modification to slice off extruded clay at the top of the mould or scrape surplus clay from the seams.  Many examples, however, are likely to have been modified with additional features such as different sized notches for trimming the stem or bowl seams or a serrated back that could be used to apply lines of milling to the pipe.

Trimming Wire  A wire rod used to support the stem of a pipe during the trimming process.  This type of wire has a slightly rounded end, which helps it follow the stem bore created by the moulding wire (q.v.) without creating a second hole.  The trimming wire is re-inserted once the pipe has partially dried so as to check that the airway is clear and to allow the very weak clay stem to be handled and trimmed without breaking.

Vulcanite  An artificial substance created by mixing rubber and sulphur and then heating the mixture to about 115 degrees Celsius (also known as ebonite).  The production method was patented in both Britain and America in 1843 and objects made of it exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851.  Vulcanite can be easily moulded and polished and so was widely employed in making stems and mouthpiece fittings for pipes – as well as for a few all vulcanite pipes.  Initially black, the substance tends to fade to a dark khaki brown over time, especially when exposed to sunlight.

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