From the Vault - featured items from our collection

Cloisonné Chinese Water Pipe (PH8.13)

Cloisonné Chinese Water Pipe

                  Our newest From the Vault item is a Chinese water pipe with cloisonné decoration. This would have been produced and used during the late 19th century and early 20th century to smoke, most likely, tobacco. The item may have been obtained overseas but was more likely to have been imported and purchased in North America.
                This particular water pipe measures 29cm tall, 8cm wide and 4cm deep at its most extreme dimensions. The main body of the item is metal decorated in the cloisonné style. This is an ancient technique for decorating metalwork objects. The decoration is formed by first making compartments on the metal object by adhering or soldering thin strips or wires of gold or silver to the object. While the process has changed over history the most common way today to adhere the strips of metal or wire to the base is with gum tragacanth. The compartments are then filled in with the corresponding materials and colours to make an image. The strips of metal or wires remain visible in the finished piece, separating the different compartments of the enamel or inlays.
                This water pipe dissembles into four pieces: the bowl, the water jar/mouthpiece, the storage compartment and the main body. Initially there would have been two cleaning implements and a stopper for the mouth piece. The cleaning implements would have been stored in the sheaths between the water jar and the storage compartment and the stopper would have been attached with a cord similar to the one present. The storage compartment is removable, as mentioned, and has an attached lid which opens at the ¾ mark to allow for easy access. The bowl is easily removable to allow for cleaning and adding or removing water. There is an approximately 25cm cord that attaches to the mouthpiece. The cord is adjustable but moving the metal ornamentation up and down. The underside of the water jar, the underside of the storage compartment and the interior of the storage compartment are stamped with Chinese characters. 
                The water pipe's system is rather simple and ingenious. The basic design is similar to a hookah where smoke or vapour is passed through water to purify and cool before being inhaled. The water jar at the bottom of the pipe is filled with enough water to submerge the tube leading down from the bowl but not so much as to make inhalation difficult. Tobacco is placed in the bowl and instead of being heated by coals, such as in a hookah, the tobacco is lit directly. Inhalation causes the smoke from the lit tobacco to pass through the water and into the mouth and/or lungs of the user. 
                This unique item was donated to the Sam Waller Museum on April 8, 1974.
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Added: September, 2013

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