{Netherlands} Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

October 22, 2013


When you think of Amsterdam and museums, you probably immediately think of the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum, and I will get to writing about those in good time. But Amsterdam also has many little curiosities to offer museum lovers, one of those being the Amsterdam Pipe Museum.


Ancient pipes from Mexico (on the left)


Although it’s tucked in to the rooms above a specialist pipe shop in one of Amsterdam’s 17th century canal houses, it’s not just one of those “shops that have a so-called museum”, as my guide was quick to point out. The Amsterdam Pipe Museum, formerly known as Pijpenkabinet, is proud to be an accredited member of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), and *the* go to reference collection worldwide for pipe related matters. Apparently, it’s not unusual for an archaeologist digging up a clay pipe in upstate New York to give them a call.


A selection of clay pipes


Even if you are not a pipe smoker (which I’m not), this little museum is full of interesting things to learn. For example, did you know that Gouda is not only famous for cheese, but also as a hub for pipe making? Previously many places in the Netherlands fashioned pipes, but in the mid 17th century the pipe makers in Gouda formed a guild and their pipes of superior quality became known as the best in Europe.

The oldest pipes on display come from Mexico, where tobacco was discovered, and date to around 500 BC. The pipe displays then take you on an interesting social history of the world, with e.g. war and peace pipes from North America, opium pipes from China, and bottle pipes from Turkey. The scale of the pipes ranges from giant pipes used as status symbols in Cameroon, to Asian pipes with metal bowls so tiny that the tobacco required to smoke them is as fine as hair.


Museum entrance & Cambodian status pipes (on the left)


The European collections show the ‘new’ fashion for so-called portrait pipes from the 19th century – where e.g. a visit from Tsar Nicholas II of Russia prompted souvenir pipes with his likeness – and the move from clay popes to new materials. If you’ve ever wondered where a ‘Meerschaum’ pipe gets its name from, it’s actually the name of the mineral, also known as sepiolite, that the pipes are carved from. It gets its nickname from its natural resemblance to sea foam (German: “Meer Schaum”). Incidentally, Meerschaum is usually white, cream or grey but changes its colour through the tobacco it takes on when smoking.


Portrait pipes (on the left) & Meerschaum pipes (on the right)


Other interesting displays include lidded pipes to regulate airflow, no longer common today, and intricately carved porcelain pipes from Meissen and Wedgewood. There is also a ‘cabinet of curiosities’, which holds pipes made e.g. from agate, antler or briar wood, as well as displays of the distinct white clay pipes that the Netherlands is famous for.

The museum opened 20 years ago, and around 10% of it’s 22,000 strong collection is on display. The majority of the collection, which grew over the space of 40 years and is still growing now, consists of pipes themselves, but also includes e.g. pipe making molds, pipe tools, and stamps for stamping the paper certain pipe brands were wrapped in. One of the more unusual objects on display guild board from Gouda for checking pipe makers’ marks. At the height of its trade, the guild included around 450 different marks.


Cabinet of curiosities


The entire pipe collection, of which around 70% have been photographed, is in the process of being added to an informative online database. The museum itself has no interpretative text. The choice to set it up in the style of a ‘collector’s cabinet’ was deliberate, and you’ll have to take a personal tour with one of the volunteer guides to unlock the museum’s interesting secrets. Languages available include Dutch, English, German and French.


Painted porcelain pipes


The Amsterdam Pipe Museum is located at Prinsengracht 488, and open Wednesdays to Saturdays from 12 noon to 6pm. Admission for adults is 8 Euro, children age 6 and up pay half price, and ICOM members get in for free.


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