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How to ... identify a maker

Many clay pipes have a maker’s mark on them and these can not only provide an accurate date for the manufacture of the pipe but also an origin for it.  Before the establishment of the railways in the mid-nineteenth century most pipes were produced in small family run workshops and generally only traded around 15-20 miles from their place of manufacture.  So, for most pipes, the first port of call are local county lists of pipemakers, many of which can be accessed online through the NPA’s ‘find by location’ page ‘find by location’ page.  Further lists and details of individual pipemakers are scattered through the pipe literature for each county and a list of the full holdings available by visiting the NPA itself and can be found in the full bibliography.

The majority of makers’ marks simply comprise a set of initials and so, for ease of reference, most lists of pipemakers are arranged by initials rather than full name. They are sorted by surname initial first, then Christian name initial and finally by date (oldest first) where the same set of initials occurs. It is also usual to substitute the initial letter ‘J’ for an ‘I’ in sets of initials (and in arranging the lists), since this is the form they usually took on old pipe marks. It is important to be aware of this order if you have a full name mark or are trying to look up details of a known maker, since their full name may not appear in a list in the normally expected place.

The date of the pipe will often narrow the search period (see bowl form typologies) as can the style of the mark. When looking at a mark it is important to distinguish between stamped marks, which were impressed into the clay after the pipe had been taken from the mould, and moulded marks, which were created by the mould itself. Stamped marks tend to be sharper and more clearly defined than moulded marks, although they may also be poorly or partially impressed, or double struck so that they can be hard to read. A moulded mark is one that is 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 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 and stamped
A late nineteenth-century stamped bowl mark (left) compared with a moulded bowl mark of a similar date (right). Note how the stamped lettering is much more crisp. Photo D. A. Higgins.

The different styles of mark produced using these two methods each have their own chronological and distributional ranges, which can be crucial in narrowing down the origin and likely date of a particular pipe. Similarly, the use of incuse or relief lettering can also be diagnostic of time or place. An incuse mark is one where the principal lettering or design is sunk down into the surface of a pipe, whereas a relief mark is one where the principal lettering or design is raised up from the surface of a pipe. The most commonly encountered types of mark are as follows: -

Heel Stamps  Marks on the base of the heel were primarily used between about 1580 and 1730. The earliest marks were often symbols rather than initials. The use of symbols continued after initial or name marks became more common and examples can be found right through to the twentieth century. Before about 1640 pipes were sometimes traded considerable distances from large centres such as London but, after this date, most production and use was relatively local within Britain (although export pipes were traded much more widely overseas). Not all makers marked their pipes and there was a lot of regional variation. In London and the south-east only around 10% of pipes were marked while in East Anglia hardly any were marked at all. In contrast, the majority of pipes in the north and west of the country were marked. There were also different styles of mark in the different regions, which can also be used to identify where a pipe was made (see Oswald 1975). Most heel stamps are found locally to where they were made but it is important to remember that some pipes were traded and so the style of bowl and mark must also be taken into consideration when looking for a maker.

A range of heel stamp types. Nos. 1 to 4 are incuse marks; Nos. 5 to 8 are relief marks (not to uniform scale). Photos D. A. Higgins.

Stem Stamps  Late sixteenth and early seventeenth century pipes occasionally have patterns of decorative stamps applied to the stem. During the seventeenth century initial marks or symbols were also occasionally applied to the stem, usually a short way behind the bowl and orientated to face the smoker. This style of marking becomes much more common from around 1680-1780 in most areas, the main exceptions being East Anglia and the south-east. In some areas roll-stamped stem borders were also used during this period, especially in the Midlands and north of the country, with notable production centres in Chester and Nottingham. Stem stamps are rare in most areas from the 1780s onwards, with the exception of the west midlands and north west. In the west midlands, especially in and around Broseley, full name stem stamps across the stem with relief lettering has been common during the eighteenth century and, from about 1780, they were turned to read along the stem. During the 1840s the lettering on these Broseley area styles of mark changed from relief to incuse, and incuse stamped marks continued in use until the last Broseley factory closed in about 1960. In the north west the Liverpool makers started using long single line stamps with relief lettering from around the 1760s and these continued in use until around the 1840s. They were placed along the top of the stem.

A range of stem stamp types. Nos. 1 to 4 are incuse marks; Nos. 5 and 6 are relief marks (not to uniform scale). Photos D. A. Higgins.

Bowl Stamps  In most areas marks were only occasionally stamped on bowls during the seventeenth century, the notable exception being the Rainford area of Lancashire (now Merseyside), where distinctive crescent shaped marks were widely used from about 1640 onwards, particularly on spur bowls (Higgins 2008).  For much of the eighteenth century bowl stamping was very rare anywhere, although a few large marks were used in the London area.  During the later eighteenth century London makers used this style more frequently, usually using large oval or circular stamps containing the maker’s name and, especially in later examples, address.  This style remained popular throughout the nineteenth century in the south east, with other areas adopting bowl stamping from the second half of the nineteenth century onwards, particularly for advertising marks or slogans. Rubber stamped ink marks were also used for a similar purpose from the late nineteenth century onwards.

Different methods of bowl marking. 1. Eighteenth-century relief bowl stamp; 2. Nineteenth-century incuse bowl stamp, which has been double struck; 3. Nineteenth-century rubber-stamped ink mark. Photos D. A. Higgins.

Moulded Marks  Moulded marks were extremely rare in England and Wales for much of the seventeenth century, although they did come into use in Scotland from around the middle of the century when the maker’s initials started to be placed on either side of the heel or spur, one initial on each side. These are usually arranged with the Christian name initial on the left hand side of the heel (when the pipe is held as if being smoked) and the surname initial on the right. Occasionally the mould maker got them mixed up but the convention is to always transcribe them in this order and then to note in any accompanying text if it is suspected that they should be read the other way round.

Moulded initials on the side of the heel or spur started to be used in the London area from around the 1670s and, by 1700, had become very common. This style then persisted in the south east as the most frequent style of marking until the twentieth century, but it was not always very common in other parts of the country, the north-east of England being a notable exception. The earlier marks always used lettering with serifs but sans-serif script was often used from the middle of the nineteenth century onwards. The initial ‘J’ was almost always depicted as an ‘I’ until the mid-nineteenth century, after which the ‘J’ was sometimes used.

moulded initials
Mid-eighteenth century pipes from London with the makers’ initals moulded on the sides of the spur or heel - in these examples the surname initials S and T respectively. Photo D. A. Higgins.

Another distinctive type of moulded mark was the cartouche, which comprised a raised border, usually circular and sometimes decorated, within which the makers’ initials, name or symbol were placed. This was placed on the side of the bowl and usually only occurs on one side. This style emerged during the late seventeenth century and continued in use until the late eighteenth century but its use was confined to the south-west of England and, in particular, to the Bristol area. Large quantities of pipes exported from Bristol to the Caribbean and North America have this sort of mark on them.

Early eighteenth-century Bristol style relief-moulded cartouche mark containing the maker's initials. This mark occurs on one side of the bowl only. Photo D. A. Higgins.

Moulded rim marks usually comprise the maker’s name and place of work arranged as a band of relief lettering running around the bowl just below the rim. This usually occurs in conjunction with other moulded bowl decoration. Marks of this style generally range from the late eighteenth century through to the mid-nineteenth century in date and are primarily found in the midlands and eastern England, with occasional examples having been produced in London and the south east. Very occasionally lettering was placed along the front mould seam, or elsewhere on the bowl, but examples are rare and scattered.

moulded rim
Relief moulded rim mark reading BIRCHALL / CHATHAM, from the Tower of London Moat, c1800-1840. The maker's initials GB, representing a previously unrecorded maker, are moulded on to the sides of the spur. Drawing D. A. Higgins.

Moulded stem marks were used across most parts of the country and can be quite diverse in character, making them hard to categorise. At the same time, they usually comprise the maker’s name and workplace, sometimes with the address as well, which makes them relatively easy to identify. Occasionally they just comprise slogans or pattern names, such as ‘DUBLIN’ or ‘BURNS CUTTY’ (both of which are pattern names and not related to specific places or individuals). Normally the maker’s name appears on the left hand side of the stem and the place of work on the right. The earliest examples were probably produced in London and the home counties during the early nineteenth century. These are generally relief moulded marks, sometimes accompanied by surrounding decoration and occasionally with the full address as well. After the middle of the century there was generally not any accompanying decoration and many of the marks changed to incuse lettering, often within a relief moulded beaded border. This style with a border was much more widespread, being found in most parts of Britain. It was particularly popular on pipes produced in the north east and Scotland and continued to be used well into the twentieth century.

moulded stems
Early nineteenth-century mould decorated pipes with moulded stems giving the name of the maker, J ROWE and the place of manufacture PLYMOUTH. Drawings D. A. Higgins.

Another type of moulded stem mark comprises a number, which was usually placed on the left hand side of the stem a short way back from the bowl junction. These numbers are usually incuse and without any border, but they occasionally occur as relief numbers and/or with a border. These are pattern numbers, used by the larger firms, which identify a specific pattern from their trade catalogue. They tend to date from around 1870 or later and are mainly found in northern England and Scotland, although firms in other parts of the country used them occasionally too. These numbers can be used to identify the maker if it can be matched up with a surviving trade catalogue. Copies of many surviving trade catalogues can be found on the PKN website.

pattern number
Nineteenth-century pipe produced by Thomas Holland of Manchester with a pattern number reading No 216 on the side of the stem. Photo D. A. Higgins.

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