No pipe dream: artistically carved period pipes on display

Although not a big smoke, the Polish city of Rzeszów is likely to attract tourists with its District Museum’s latest exhibition of beautifully carved 19th/20th-century pipes, whose opening took place on Friday’s afternoon.

A joint effort of the West Slovak Museum in Košice and Poland’s District Museum in Rzeszów, the exhibition teaches visitors about pipes as signifiers of 19th/20th-century smokers’ social status, profession and interests.

Huntsmen, guildsmen and student fraternity members’ pipes capture visitors’ eyes with their finely modelled bodies of sepiolite, wood and porcelain adorned with silver details.

The exhibition is also an opportunity to learn about the history of tobacco, its Native American roots and how Europeans became hooked on the activity.

Visitors may learn that the British Pipe manufacturers were the first in Europe and that protestants migrating from England since 1603 grafted the craft onto the Netherlands. The custom was disseminated deeper into Europe, namely into the Holy Roman Empire, with mercenaries participating in the Thirty Years' War. From there the practice of pipe smoking rooted deep in Hungary whose climate and soil enabled cultivation of tobacco.

In Slovakia, the production grew in the 17th and 18th centuries. Pipe manufactures were established in the vicinity of earthenware factories in Western Slovakia, namely in the towns of Modra, Košolná, Smolenice.

In Central Europe, smoking was reserved to men and pipes were used only by soldiers, peasants, craftsmen and physical workers while noblemen and the well-off bourgeoisie were indulging in snuff-sniffing.

Pipes were greatly venerated objects placed in a household on honorary wooden props. As for tobacco, it was stored in earthenware containers of various shapes.

The exhibition is a result of the Polish and Slovak museums’ cooperation. Established in 1872 by Imrich Henszlmann, the West Slovak Museum in Košice is one of the oldest museums of Slovakia.