Until well into the 20th century, it was common to be provided with a clay pipe when buying a packet of pipe tobacco, although most better-off smokers in Britain would use a briar pipe. Pipe smoking in general, and the use of clay pipes in particular, declined rapidly from the 1920s to be replaced by the more “sophisticated” cigarette (as seen in the “movies”).
The mass manufacture of clay pipes in the 19th century and their great fragility mean that fragments turn up very frequently in archaeological digs, including the excavation before the rebuilding of the Cottage—Taigh Iseabail Dhàidh; and enthusiasts, such as the members of the Society for Clay Pipe Research, are active in raking through old urban refuse dumps looking for special examples.
Most pipes were plain and utilitarian (e.g. LISDD.2006.59&61) but there was a fashion for recording major events. The Lismore objects collection includes a pipe bowl, found in Appin, commemorating the heroic death of General Charles George Gordon at Khartoum in the Sudan in 1885. In other clay pipes the entire bowl represented his head.
The moulding on the stem shows that it was manufactured in Glasgow, almost certainly by William White & Sons – at the famous ornate Italianate Clay Pipe Factory (1876-9) in the Gallowgate. The firm was founded in 1824 and, at its peak around 1890, was producing up to 16,000 pipes per day. It eventually closed as recently as 1951 and now functions as an art gallery.
Only the male manikin in the Cottage display has a pipe but it was common, too, for women to use clay pipes.
The Society for Clay Pipe Research Newsletter 19, July 1988.