Jasperware Pipe Bowls:
By Ben Rapaport
From the collection of Dr. Sarunas “Sharkey” Peckus. Photography by Darius Peckus
Wedgwood, the quintessential English company, has been in operation since 1759 and, today, around the globe, hundreds collect its ornamental wares with their high-relief, neoclassical and mythological scenes. Josiah Wedgwood, considered the father of all English potters, opened his first factory in Burslem, Staffordshire. His pottery created the industrial model for the next century, and Jasperware, also written Jasper Ware, which began production in 1775, became his most popular invention. Some claim that Jasperware was the most significant innovation in ceramics since the discovery of porcelain by the Chinese some 900 years earlier. Jasperware is high-fired, creamy-white, finely grained, unglazed stoneware, and metal oxides are added to color in various shades.
Today, there are more than 30 colors, but in the early years, just six: dark blue, light blue, black (basalt), lilac, and two shades of green. To produce solid jasper, the metallic oxide color is incorporated into the mix for the entire white body. For jasper dip, the surface in tinted, and the object’s back and inside are uncolored, a process used more for large ornamental objects. Both have white designs on a colored background and appear similar to the inexperienced eye.
Ms. Miranda Goodby, Ceramics Collection Officer of The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent, offered: “My understanding is that these pipe heads were made for the non-European markets and so are less likely to be found in British and American museum collections.” However, there’s other evidence: “Wedgwood, that most artistic of potters, lavished his ceramic skill for the delectation of smokers” (“The Bragge Collection,” Cope’s Tobacco Plant, No. 129.—Vol. II., December 1880, 556).
Wedgwood products were divided into two categories: “useful” and “ornamental,” but smoking-related wares were considered miscellanea or sundries. The illustrations in this essay vividly demonstrate that Wedgwood produced a respectable assortment of pipe bowls in blue Jasperware, in the occasional basalt, and in the much-less-encountered rosso antico, Wedgwood’s term for terra cotta.
The annals of pipe history are replete with criticism of the smoking quality of the china pipe, which has been ignominiously labeled ‘a veritable sink of iniquity,’ ‘a reservoir of disgusting poison,’ ‘a fetid cauldron,’ and worse, because it is not porous and is unpleasant to smoke. Nevertheless, for those who appreciate finely made ceramic pipes, Josiah created many ingeniously attractive, fashionably elegant, and sensuously tactile Jasperware pipe bowls that surely please the eye, but probably not the tongue!