The history of the Amsterdam Pipe Museum

Benedict Goes

Original Title:
De geschiedenis van het Amsterdam Pipe Museum

Publication Year:

Amsterdam Pipe Museum (Stichting Pijpenkabinet)


Gable of Oude Vest 159 in Leiden.

With the professionalization of the activities and the expansion of the collection, the desire arose for an independent location with its own corporate identity. This was found in the smaller, but cultural much more active city of Leiden. Contacts with the municipality made it happen that the gatehouse of Hof Meermansburg - a 17th century old women’s convent - could be rented for the pipe museum. In 1982, a select group of guests was present at the opening of the museum Pijpenkabinet in the representative regents' room behind the monumental facade. Located along one of the main canals of the city, the museum acquired a respected position in Museum Town Leiden and national fame as well.

At that point the core of the museum was still the Gouda pipe placed in the national history of pipe smoking including its European setting. It is not surprising that the opening was performed by Georg Brongers, curator of the Niemeyer Netherlands Tabacological Museum in Groningen. He presented the first copy of a new publication by Don Duco to the mayor of Gouda. That publication Marks of Gouda pipe makers 1660-1940 marked an important step in the national reputation of the museum and its activities. For two decades, this handy publication has been the key for any amateur or prof archaeologist to identifying their excavated clay pipes.

The Leiden period is characterized in all aspects by the increasing professionalization. In the first place because Don Duco completed his studies in museology and art history, specializing in arts and crafts at Leiden University. A second important factor was the entrance of Benedict Goes, who as a student in art history took the opportunity to gain practical museum experience in publicity and public interaction. Finally, the Pijpenkabinet Foundation was established in 1989, making the museum an independent legal entity.

The number of public-oriented activities was enormous, always supported by press releases and radio talks. Although the opening hours of the museum were limited, an annual visitor number of around 2,000 people was reached. In addition, there was an exhibition program at other institutions far beyond the city of Leiden. In the course of a decade the permanent exhibition in the museum would improve considerably through an active policy of finding antique pipes throughout Western Europe.

Exhibition in Leiden

Interior Pijpenkabinet in Leiden.
Interior Pijpenkabinet in Leiden.

The Regentenkamer of Hof Meermansburg, the largest of the more than twenty social housing courtyards in Leiden, had a spacious meeting room measuring eight by nine meters. At almost five meters high, a huge sun as the central motif in the stucco ceiling looked down on the visitors. The matching white plastered chimney breast rested on a black marble mantelpiece. When closed, the entrance door to this room was completely incorporated in the light wood panelling and the dark red velour wall covering. On the walls hang a dozen portraits of former regents and their wives from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A set of twelve fruit-wood chairs around a table covered with Leiden cloth formed the centre of this stately hall.

The history of the Dutch clay pipe was shown in a large display case in which the fineness of the Gouda pipe in all details was clearly visible at a pleasant viewing height: the radiant white of the material, the ultra-fine stems from the eighteenth century, the artful engravings of the decorations and the unexpected richness of the heel mark stamps. Three standing display cases were devoted to the history of the pipe in a wider perspective. The Gouda pipe from 1850 to 1920 including the mystery pipe and the nineteenth century French figural pipe as the European themes. The third showcase showed an overview of pipes of ethnographic origin: from pre-Columbian American to Africa and Asia.

This made it possible to show the worldwide distribution and variation of the pipe in a concise manner. In the entrance hall, a display case contained the pipemaker's tools which, with their brown tones of wood and brass, formed an aesthetic ensemble. Along the wide oak staircase, the most beautiful bridegroom pipes in their folk art cabinets gave colourful accents. The display case at the entrance showed various ceramic pipes and the hand-painted German porcelain pipes. In total, nearly 1,000 representative objects were exhibited.

However modest the permanent exhibition was, after the significant increase compared to the situation in Amsterdam, the Pijpenkabinet presented the leading collection of pipes in those years. In the Pipe and Pottery Museum De Moriaan in Gouda, the exhibition had not changed since it opened in 1938 and hardly more than a hundred pipes were on display. In the renovated Niemeyer Netherlands Tabacological Museum in Groningen, the pipe was shown in the light of smoking culture. There, about 300 pipes were included in the exhibition.

Collecting and research in Leiden

Handbook on Dutch clay pipes, 1987.
Handing over the De la Court Award to Don Duco.

With the location in Leiden and the opening of the museum, the collection embarked on a new phase in building up. Dutch finds from the soil were still actively collected for the study collection, now mainly through the purchase of entire collections from diggers who lost their interest after years. A representative overview was added from various parts of the country, always strictly selected for duplication, variants and always aimed at quality improvement.

Still, the focus was broader than archaeology. The objective had been extended for years to pipes of all types of ceramics, including the historical ones, i.e. the antique ones instead of excavated. Not only Western European but also ethnographic. Contacts with specialized antique dealers in Brussels, Paris and London ensured the acquisition of high-quality pieces. Special objects were also found in the antique trade and at flea markets all over Europe.

The sub-collections of French and Belgian pipes, but also the non-Western pipes, were built up during this period. Occasionally, auctions of pipe or tobacco collections were visited, resulting in exceptional acquisitions for the museum. The known provenance and sometimes even documented age of the object is an added value for a museum collection.

At the same time, systematic research was carried out in Gouda one day a week. Volume after volume the archives of Gouda were gone through over the period from 1600 to 1940. Every deed about pipe making has been excerpted, whether it was the guild, a notary protocol or baptism and burial records. Everything is filed in copy in our own documentation, fully indexed by name and date.

The unique combination of collection building and historical research formed the starting point for publications that quickly became part of the archaeologist's basic instruments. The handy pipe mark booklet, the first manual on the clay pipe and many dozens of studies and articles in professional magazines were launched. The quality of the research was recognized in 1988 by the Royal Academy of Sciences in Amsterdam by awarding the Johan de la Court Prize for scientific research. Due to the innovative research, the publication of the Duco handbook in 1987 gave reason to award this prize. The quality of the work was reason for the Ministry of Culture and Science to designate the collection in 1989 as a National Reference Collection with A status because of its calibration value.

Public activities

Researching pipe makers in the archives by youngsters.
Young people digging for clay pipes in Gouda.

In the 1980s, well before the electronic age, archaeology was still a popular hobby for the youth. Finding a pipe bowl was often the first physical introduction to history for young people. The countless sessions for identifying finds in the museum attracted dozens of families to the Pijpenkabinet. The Antique Road Show-like days for smokers' antiques were also popular activities that were announced nationally via radio and newspapers. Thanks to the enormous amount of pipe moulds in the collection, the Pijpenkabinet was the only museum in the Netherlands capable of giving demonstrations of clay pipe making using original tools. Time and time again, making the hole through the stem of a pipe aroused surprise and admiration in both the museum and on craft markets.

For the youth, several holiday camps were organized annually in collaboration with the NJBG (Youth Association for History), which offered a combination of archaeology and archival work. There, young people between the ages of 15 and 21 were introduced to the technique of excavation and the way to conduct their own research in the archive. The results of these weeks again stimulated the research into the Gouda pipe industry that was a spearhead in those years.

Despite the limited exhibition space in the museum, some specialist exhibitions were held. About the French pipe, for example: ‘Koppen met een eigen gezicht’ (Pipes with remarkable portraits) (1988). The exhibition ‘Pijpen uit den Vreemde’ (Pipes from other continents) (1985) was realized with loans from the National Ethnographical Museum in Leiden, and the double exhibition ‘Pipe makers’ tools’ together with Gouda was held on the occasion of an important purchase. Larger presentations by the Pijpenkabinet were given in other museums. Firstly, in the Gasthuis Chapel room of the Stedelijke Musea Gouda. The summer exhibition of 1983 was the first and last time that the pipe city Gouda exclusively dedicated an exhibition to the clay tobacco pipe.

Other exhibitions followed, for example, in the Niemeyer Tabaksmuseum in Groningen and in the Tabaksmuseum Wervik in Belgium. The biggest project was the traveling exhibition about Orange Pipes (Commemorative Pipes for the House of Orange) that started in Rijksmuseum Paleis Het Loo. Afterwards, this exhibition toured Hoorn, Breda, Groningen, Rotterdam and finally Dillenburg in Germany. Numerous smaller exhibitions in regional museums, cultural centres and libraries drew attention to the pipe and the Pijpenkabinet. As a transition at the time of the move from our museum to Amsterdam, our masterpieces went on a journey. An impressive retrospective with a beautiful catalogue in the Austrian Tobacco Museum in Vienna was the most prestigious exhibition ever of the Pijpenkabinet.

Contacts with enthusiasts and collectors were maintained with the irregularly appearing ‘Vlugschrift’, a low-key magazine that followed Pijpelijntjes. In addition to news and description of acquisitions, this informal magazine gave an overview of the activities of the Leiden museum.


Loans from the Pijpenkabinet to De Moriaan in Gouda.

Working from Leiden, the Pijpenkabinet has invested a lot of time and energy in collaborating with target groups and fellow museums. The longest relationship exists with the Pipe- and Pottery Museum De Moriaan in Gouda. Since the seventies, substantive questions that Gouda received were answered by the Pijpenkabinet. This service resulted in an order to register the entire Gouda pipe collection. Twelve hundred inventory cards were typed and provided with professional descriptions and determinations by Duco and Goes.

Until 1992, the Pijpenkabinet supplied long-term loans to Museum De Moriaan to complete the permanent exhibition of Gouda pipes. The Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (National Museum of Antiquities) also received clay pipes on loan for the historical overview. The Leiden museum occasionally provided loans to other museums, such as unique archaeological finds for the retrospective exhibition Nederland Ondersteboven. Other exhibitions were 1492 Columbus sailed overseas in Rotterdam, Turkey in the Princessehof in Leeuwarden and a major contribution to the grand exhibition 500 Years Tobacco in the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam in 1992.

The Society for Clay Pipe Research, a new research group of British amateur archaeologists, looked in its early years for inspiration to the Netherlands, which was ahead in historical and archaeological research, with the Pijpenkabinet as the anchor point. A few years later, a similar initiative flourished in Germany, where professional and amateur archaeologists met at an annual meeting, including the publication of the magazine Knasterkopf. This initiative was the result of a traveling pipe exhibition co-organized by the Pijpenkabinet, which visited Soltau, Uslar (1988), Hamburg and Uelzen (1989). There too, the staff of the Pijpenkabinet was a seen guest because of the contribution of knowledge and experience. Incidentally, these exchanges were also educational and instructive for the museum.

The bundling of the pipe and tobacco collections in the Netherlands was not realized. A proposal for collaboration between the Leiden and Gouda collections was cancelled by the museum director of Gouda. A few years later, the merger of Niemeyer with the two pipe collections was also blocked by Gouda. As a result, the museums continued to operate independently and did not encourage each other. For this reason, the Pijpenkabinet made the decision in the mid-1990s to continue after a fresh reset.