(original article published in CIGAR Magazine, Fall 2008)
|Aerial view of the Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893|
In America, two meerschaum masterpieces, in particular, automatically come to mind; both are gigantic sculptures, super-sized showpieces, when compared with an average-size pipe. The first, known as the “Battle of Bunker Hill,” was carved by Gustav Fischer Sr. of Boston, Massachusetts in the 1930s modeled after a painting, “The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill,” by the artist John Trumbull.This 34-inch-long pipe depicting 31 high-relief-carved figures remains with descendants of the Fischer family in the USA.
The other is the “Christopher Columbus” pipe made for the World’s Columbian Exposition. One hundred years later this pipe was relocated from Richmond, Virginia to Vienna, Austria.
These two pipes are artistically, without question, sui generis. Thus far in my research, no other American-made or -commissioned meerschaum pipe of record comes close in size, embellishment, or grandeur, and few other centerpiece pipes of this caliber were produced elsewhere; if they were, none has been outed… until now.
The William Demuth Company of New York, claiming to be the largest pipe production company in the United States, exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition with nothing exceptional in pipes, but it consciously commissioned the Columbus pipe for the Columbian Fair that took two years to make. It depicts Christopher Columbus claiming the new land for the Spanish empire, alongside his shipmates, a priest, and Native Americans (altogether, 21 high- and low-relief-carved figures), and measuring 33 inches in length, including a very ornately crafted, sectional, multicolor amber mouthpiece.
Why a pipe in honor of this event? Well, the exposition was all about commemorating the 400th anniversary of the landing of Columbus, 1492-1893. The conceptual idea for this pipe may have been any of a number of artists’ renderings of this explorer coming to America, perhaps Moritz Rugendas’ painting, “Columbus Landing in the New World,” or maybe the image borrowed from an actual 19th century national banknote described as follows:
The pipe appears in Carl Ehwa, The Book of Pipes & Tobacco (1974), and both the postcard and the company catalog page are prominently illustrated in my Collecting Antique Meerschaums (1999), and in my article, “Antique Smoking Pipes,” Brandywine River Museum Antique Show 2003 Catalog.
The Columbus pipe was the centerpiece attraction in October 1992, when AT celebrated the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America… and tobacco; there, it was simply identified as “Meerschaumpfeife, New York, ca. 1893.” I was at that celebration to see the pipe encased in Plexiglas, restored and rejuvenated to a pristine, snow-white color, as if it had just come from the carver’s workbench, not a pipe that should have shown the signs of age and gradual decay. Unfortunately, in 2003, the Columbus pipe went back into storage when the AT Museum was shuttered.
But enough about this Columbus pipe.
This booklet, as you can readily see, was written in German and published in Chicago, I must assume, at the time of the fair, but bears no publication date. Between 1893 and the present, too few details have been revealed about the Demuth Columbus pipe, and absolutely nothing, until now, has ever appeared in print about this companion piece… companion in the sense that it was also made for the same exposition and bore the same appellation, but that’s where the similarity between the two pipes ends.
This pipe is also meerschaum, but of a markedly different configuration, harking back to a much earlier European stylistic era, the first half of the 19th century.
This style—what the Germans call a Gesteckpfeife—is comprised of several interconnecting parts; when assembled, the bowl’s height is six inches, and the combined length of the stem and mouthpiece is 21 inches, or an overall height of 27 inches, almost as tall as the Demuth pipe is long.
Now to some of the more significant and interesting details from this written account.
According to the author, the inspiration, idea for and the images on this pipe bowl came to the creator-carver, a resident of Chicago identified only as “ein katholischer Priester, ein alter amerikanischer Millionär” (a catholic priest, an old American millionaire) from the many tobacco pipes exhibited at several earlier international exhibitions, including the 1876 Centennial Exhibition.
|The creator-carver and his masterpiece|
A table in the monograph identifies everything that is intricately carved in-the-round on the bowl, 370 assorted figural symbols of both heaven and earth, the world in miniature: 56 angels; 12 men including Columbus and Juan Perez who blessed him and his fleet as he set sail in the Santa Maria; 160 architectural elements; 16 animals; 59 plants; and 67 assorted other embellishments that the artist believed were expressive of the event and its significance.
The concept for the pipe’s final appearance evolved slowly and took shape over a lengthy period of time; he began carving it in 1875, adding features, script, and nuances when the spirit moved him, and finished it just in time for the exhibition in 1893 (the inclusive dates, 1875 -1893, are incised near the top of the bowl).
The ornately carved stem is a blend of meerschaum, amber, silver and ebony wood.
Because there is no mention in the text that this pipe was actually displayed at the Fair, or what was its fate thereafter, and no one has turned this jewel up anywhere, perhaps a trace of this family name might yield the current whereabouts of this elusive pipe. Wouldn’t that be a find, so much better and more valuable than my little, new-found booklet.