The history of the Amsterdam Pipe Museum

Benedict Goes (Benedict Goes)

Original Title:
De geschiedenis van het Amsterdam Pipe Museum

Publication Year:

Amsterdam Pipe Museum (Stichting Pijpenkabinet)


With the launch of the website in 2010, the entire possession of the Amsterdam museum is revealed and the tremendous wealth of knowledge that has been collected over the years came available via the internet. After forty years of collecting, researching and presenting, an even larger part of the work becomes public. From the very beginning, the museum displayed its knowledge in publications, from the year 2000 also via the website, including dozens of specialist articles. From 2010, virtual visitors can search the reserve collections for objects of their interest. Every target group can find what he or she needs: archaeologists find our finds, pipe smokers browse the collection of briar pipes, genealogists trace their ancestors, curators make unexpected discoveries between the museum objects, film producers inform themselves about smoking in a certain period.

The globalization of the museum also asked for a new name. Experience had already taught us that our well-established name Pijpenkabinet was not only unspeakable for foreigners, but also incomprehensible. That is why the name Amsterdam Pipe Museum was chosen because that name is clear to everyone. The English language is useful for the predominantly foreign guests received by the museum, but also fits in well with the future plans to put the collection on the international map.

Digitization goes much further behind the scenes. The web-based data files provide the first opportunity to display various documentation files in conjunction. The combination of object information with archive data, literature and documentation is now mutually linked and provides an approach that is unique in museum digitization. Thanks to the global tendency to open up museum collections on the web, our museum has acquired a place in a much larger knowledge infrastructure. The only obstacle in showing the available material is the copyright of more recent sources. A suitable solution will certainly be found for this in the future. The Amsterdam Pipe Museum web facility was built in 2009-2010 with support from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the VSB Cultural Fund. Digitizing and adding all available information is a process that has started but will require the full commitment of the employees for years to come.

Our position at international level is even strengthened by our initiative for In partnership with other European tobacco and pipe collections we show each other's collection in conjunction through a central database to a wide audience on a multilingual website. Another textbook example to present the legacy of smoking in the 21st century.

The care and dedication of the museum for the unappreciated tobacco subject that has last for half a century now has attracted the attention of Europa Nostra, the organization that assembles caretakers for heritage, supported by the European Commission. As a result, we were honoured in 2021 with the European Heritage Award as a recognition for safeguarding and recording the heritage of the pipe.

Collecting in the twenty-first century

Aquisition in meerschaum in A-quality.

Until now, this century seems to be, as to speak of museums, the century of deaccessioning. Where until 2000 the emphasis in museums was on collecting, a sudden change occurred. It was more modern and refreshing to clean up the collection and tidy up parts. However, this does not apply to specialist collections such as the Amsterdam Pipe Museum. Our museum manages a national reference collection and will not sell out due to its research function.

Just because the Amsterdam Pipe Museum has nurtured and expanded its smoking collections in contradiction with the Zeitgeist, the museum has become a world leader. The virtual presentations witnesses that. In the digital phase, the virtual display of the richness of the global smoking culture will continue.

In fact, digitization unexpectedly offers a new stimulus to collecting. Up to 2010 almost all our purchases were stored away in the reserves. The presentation in the museum was perfectly balanced and didn’t require change. Now that all collection items can be consulted through the online database, they can all play an important role in the story of smoking. Visible as they are now, anywhere in the world.

The collection strategy has since changed. The collection is complete to tell a general story, even in detail. What is still missing are key- and masterpieces for the wow factor, which arise surprise and wonder. In that respect, collecting over the wide range shifted to looking for high-quality core pieces. So-called D-objects are hardly paid any attention, it now is more about the best objects from the A and B category. The fact that additional study objects sometimes come along in the slipstream is not a goal, but it does strengthen our reference collections.

It is impossible to predict whether the collection of the Amsterdam Pipe Museum can and should continue to grow. The aim of the Pijpenkabinet Foundation is, however, to continue to pursue the current line. It is now becoming clear that this unique museum in Amsterdam is virtually the last institution to present itself as the guardian of the heritage of the smoking pipe. The responsibility to nurture this legacy weighs heavily. The ensemble proves that the pipe can be seen as a mirror of society, a reflection of cultural, social, economic and technological developments in the history of humanity.

Research in the digital phase

Studying a seventeenth century pipe find.
Web publication on antique meerschaum pipes.

In future the Amsterdam Pipe Museum will continue to be active with focused research into the world's smoking cultures in relation to its own collection. The collection holds countless unexplored aspects to study. Publishing in web presentations offers optimal opportunities to reach the public on a global level. It is clear that web publications are gradually replacing the printed books, although some titles, still in preparation, will appear as a traditional book.

Acquisitions give new stimulus to the research. The depth of the collection makes it possible to approach subjects more thoroughly. Every year, a number of themes are examined, which are elaborated in an article and thus bundle and publish the background knowledge of the collection. Translations in English will gradually progress in order to serve the international audience.

The importance of the research work of the Amsterdam Pipe Museum has now been amply proven. Since the 1970s, the curator has been guiding Dutch collectors with his articles, later also for enthusiasts elsewhere in Europe. Not only the themes of their articles follow the line of the museum, even our vocabulary developed over the years has been adopted. Numerous technical terms, mostly traced from historical sources, have been introduced or re-introduced by Duco. Since the 1990s, the method of object description has also been widely adopted, also by museums. For decades, the curator has set the standard for the interpretation of pipe finds among professional archaeologists. Today, the influence of his work can be seen all over the world in museums, books, articles and online.

Public function

The Amsterdam Pipe Museum during Museumnight.
Tasting tobacco during museum night in Amsterdam.

The Amsterdam Pipe Museum will continue to distinguish itself in the coming years as a unique and in a certain way quirky museum. As a specialized museum without the benefits and burdens of government support and interference, the Amsterdam Pipe Museum can set its own course. While the door is hospitably open to everyone, exclusivity is retained for any visitor, individually or in groups, in our museum canal house. We are convinced that coming into close contact with authentic objects remains of great value to the visitor. The personal reception with a tour is part of our hospitality. Multilingual volunteers are called in for this. The global collections offer numerous leads to start a meaningful dialogue about typical Dutch up to cultural diversity.

Now that the sharp edges of the anti-smoking movement have been smoothed after some decades, the Amsterdam Pipe Museum can effectively stimulate museum visits again. In this light, the shop function is also reinforced, partly online, but more importantly physically. It is vital for the economic balance of our private foundation to generate sales beyond ticket sales.

The digital innovations and the greatly increased supply of knowledge about the collections of the Amsterdam Pipe Museum via the web are creating a new dynamic with society. Apart from the quite advanced search form to enter the database, we provide a low-key entrance to the collection by introducing new pages: browsing the collection, showing an attractive series of representative pictures, directly linked to the database. External interested parties are enabled and even challenged to respond. In practice, our response will initially depend on the personnel capacity, where necessary the museum will look for expansion with volunteers.

The future

Exhibition on pipes in the Arnhem Open Air Museum 2004-2014
Registered museum since 2006.

The Amsterdam Pipe Museum is now the only and therefore national museum for the pipe and also fulfils the role as a platform for the culture of pipe smoking. The various aspects such as history, design, use and enjoyment can each find their place here. The Amsterdam Pipe Museum is convinced that in-depth knowledge and ultimate expertise remain important. In addition to the physical collection, this is and will remain the second pillar of the museum. We can offer that expertise on our collections and we give access to a huge knowledge base on smoking culture in general.

There is a strong tendency in the museum world to generate large visitor flows with temporary exhibitions, in many cases even at the expense of permanent presentations. This is not within the scope of the Amsterdam Pipe Museum. Instead, the museum focuses on the well-considered in-house presentation with optimal public service. In addition, the museum generously makes loans available to exhibitions elsewhere, temporarily or semi-permanently. The long-term presentation in the Netherlands Open Air Museum as an advanced post of the Amsterdam Pipe Museum is a good example. Exhibitions that we develop ourselves can also be placed in museums with which there is a collection-related link.

The historiography of the Amsterdam Pipe Museum as a collection and public attraction is never finished. It stops at the present, while the future still has all the promises. In any case, all factors together that determine the well-functioning of a museum as an institution that acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment, are to be continued.* In what form and to what extent depends on the given era. This is only driven both by our own priorities and by the space society offers.


© Benedict Goes, Pijpenkabinet Foundation, Amsterdam, 2021


*) These are the basic principles that every museum must meet. Together with a series of additional requirements, they are the prerequisite for admission to the list of Registered Museums of the Dutch Museum Association. Since 2006, our museum has amply met these criteria, as well as those of ICOM (International Council of Museums).