Meerschaum Pipe; Bowl ca. 1810; Stem ca. 1890
This pipe was owned by one of the overseers at the Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson. According to tradition, Jackson presented the pipe to his overseer as a gift. In the 19th century, a meerschaum pipe would have cost as much as the equivalent of $1,000 today.
Meerschaum is a soft, white mineral often found in the Mediterranean, especially Turkey. Though it hardens as it dries, it remains extremely fragile and delicate, making a meerschaum pipe a prized possession. This particular pipe is believed to have been carved in Germany, since the designs on the bowl are typical to 19th century German meerschaum pipes.
Explore the model! See if you can answer the following questions:
- Look at the front and back of the bowl. What designs are carved on it? What do you think they symbolize?
- Turn the pipe around and imagine you are holding it. Think about the length of the stem and the size of the bowl. How would the pipe have been used? Where and when?
- Think about being receiving this as a gift. What kind of relationship would be established between you and the person who gave it to you?
- Compare the pipe with the advertisements below. What are the differences between the meerschaum pipe and the pipes depicted in the advertisements? What can you conclude from those differences?
Resources for college students:
Jerome S. Handler, “Aspects of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Smoking Pipes, Tobacco, and the Middle Passage,” The African Diaspora Archaeology Network Newsletter (June 2008)
David Brion Davis, Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)
Arjun Appadurai, ed, The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986)
Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies (1924)
Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (New York: Routledge, 1995)