Schipwreck 'Dortse Kil' near Dordrecht

Don Duco

Original Title:
Scheepswrak Dordtse Kil bij Dordrecht

Publication Year:

Stichting Pijpenkabinet

Archaeological find report in which a handful of clay pipes shed light on the smoking behavior of a Dutch skipper.

The characteristic sailor’s pipe between the lips of Dunkirk hijackers as well as from Dutch fishermen on land always kept between their teeth, is not as characteristic as we think. In the Dordtse Kil, a short side river near Dordrecht, a ship wreck was investigated that gives a completely different insight in the smoking equipment of a skipper. The find is again a fine example of how interesting the study of shipwrecks can be. As an archaeological object the micro-household of a ship does not only provide an insight into the life of a family on the water, but also gives information about the cargo that was transported. That is also the case with this find.

Fig. 1.

In total only 24 pipe fragments were found, subdivided into 14 pipe stems and 10 pipe bowls (Fig. 1). In the material we distinguish two groups: consumer goods and merchandise and the difference is evident. The used pipes show signs of smoking while the merchandise is always unsmoked. Completely contrary to expectations, the used pipes are identical to the products that were smoked simultaneously on land in the civil environment. It concerns the so-called maatpijpen, clay pipes with an oval bowl and a long straight stem measuring about 50 centimetres. We can only guess about the original stem length, but there is no reason to assume that these pipes were shorter than the mentioned half a meter.

Fig. 2a.
Fig. 2b.
Fig. 2c.

On the heel, the cylindrical foot at the bottom of the pipe bowl, these pipes show their mark, of which three different designs were recovered. Two show a seated fisherman, a mark officially used in Gouda by the widow of Hendrik Sparnaay until 1846 (note 1). Possibly the mark remained in use for several more years because the heirs continued the widow's workshop for a while (Fig. 2). The second mark is the 81 crowned, also from Gouda in use by Willem Marinus Weyman (Fig. 3) (note 2). The third mark, the DVA initials is originally also a Gouda mark that has been used until 1842 (Fig. 4). However, this mark has been imitated in large quantities, for example in the city of 's-Hertogenbosch, and only the trained eye distinguishes the added token on the side of the heel (note 3). Since 1818 it was obligatory to place a city mark on the heel side, here it concerns the arms of the town of Den Bosch, a tree on an shield (note 4). The products from this town in the province of Brabant were sold mainly in the region and the clay pipe will also have been purchased there.

Fig. 3a.
Fig. 3b.
Fig. 3c.

It is rather unexpected that this shipwreck only produced fragments of the standard Gouda pipes, long ones that must have been smoked on board of the ship. They served in the fore deck or on deck when the ship was anchored. Long pipes were smoked during moments of relaxation, preferably when seated and that calmness also existed on the water is evident from the fire traces in the bowls. All found specimens have been smoked intensively and the bowl got a lot of cake on the inside, which proves many dozens of smoke moments. Only one pipe was only smoked two or three times; this is discussed in more detail later.

Fig. 4c.
Fig. 4b.
Fig. 4c.

We can only guess at the manner of keeping these long stemmed clay pipes unbroken by the owner of the boat. Presumably a wall rack hung on board in which the long pipes could be safely stored away. The fact that several smoking pipes were found indicates a rack for half a dozen. Another option is a pipe drawer in a table or cabinet or a pipe box on the table. The reason for owning several smoked pipes was clear. Every nineteenth-century smoker had long experienced that well-smoked pipes taste better: the aroma of the tobacco becomes deeper as the clay pipe is used over a longer time. So the taste was reason enough to economize with the object. These clay pipes have therefore certainly not been a disposable item, but an instrument that could be used for a longer time, even years. We can only guess about the duration of use and the usage habits: did the skipper smoke the pipes alternately or did he keep the pipes smoked as a reminder of his peaceful leisure hours?

What is most interesting about the discovery, however, is not the smoking pipes of the skipper or his family members but the pipes belonging to the cargo. Apparently a stock or supply of pipes was transported, because three unused pipes were found of a comparable but extremely fine type (Fig. 5a). These are again clay pipes with the Gouda oval bowl shape, but with a much greater fineness and with a somewhat smaller bowl, the so-called kleinkop (litt. small bowl). Particularly characteristic is the extremely thin straight stem of this product. The exclusivity of this speaks from the diameter: the shard near the bowl is the thickest and measures between five to six millimetres, the mouthpiece has a diameter of only four millimetres. Again, it will be a standard length pipe of 21 inches or little less than 55 centimetres. Such fine pipes are the finest merits of the best Gouda companies. Especially the business of Pieter van der Want Gzn. in the Kuiperstraat in Gouda was renowned for this product. Their clay pipes were marked WS crowned of approval and the factory had a significant export to Belgium. Especially in Flanders people smoked a finely cut locally grown tobacco, which burns hot and results in a sharp smoke. Precisely the smaller pipe bowl and a long stem meant an important contribution to a milder taste.

Fig. 5a.
Fig. 5b.
Fig. 5c.

However, remarkable here is that the cargo does not concern Gouda pipes but a local product from an unknown Belgian factory. Two characteristics prove imitation of Gouda pipes by a maker elsewhere. Firstly, is the absence of the additional mark, namely the coat of arms of Gouda obligatory in the Kingdom of the Netherlands since 1818, which had to be applied to the side of the heel of the pipe (Fig. 5b). Secondly, the heel mark itself, the initials VS registered in Gouda only until 1723 and of which the last owner was a certain Klaas van Strale (note 5). After that, the mark remained without use. Our regional maker may have chosen this mark most possibly because of the comparison with the famous brand WS crowned, which was until far into the nineteenth century imitated in numerous Belgian companies using the products from the Van der Want family in Gouda as example. By choosing for the variant VS crowned (Fig. 5c), the local producer bypassed any claims from his colleagues in the same region. The much-demanded brand WS crowned was produced in almost all places where clay pipes were made.

The characteristics of the recovered pipes with the mark VS crowned are in fact fully consistent with the Gouda counterparts with the WS mark. They have the same tight oval-shaped small bowl that is in perfect harmony with the modest heel and the long extremely thin straight stem. The fineness also manifests itself in the finish: a sharply carved pipe shape pressed into a fresh pipe mould and thereafter carefully and accurately finished. The mould seams are smoothed out invisibly and the pipe bowl is provided with a milling round the bowl opening. In addition, the bowl is carefully stroke burnished with agate, giving it a shiny appearance.

Anyone who realizes the perfect refinement of this product gets all the respect for the maker and is genuinely surprised about the discipline of labour that could be raised to that level outside Gouda. In the 21st century we would hardly be able to smoke such a pipe without breaking it immediately. The old-time workers succeeded in handling this product dust-dry and stacking it in pipe pots to allow the pipes to be used by cautious smokers after baking. Unfortunately, no maker can be identified. Most brands of regional companies have never been registered. Two centres are eligible for manufacture. The first is West Belgium where, among others, in Ghent, Tournai and Kortrijk a pipe industry was located where this product could basically be made. In addition, in the Meuse region around the city of Liège, there was an important concentration of pipe makers with the towns of Chokier, Andenne and Andennelle as main centres. There too, the pipe industry had developed into supra-regional and coincidentally we find in Andenne the registration of the VS mark by a certain Charles et frère Smet, although there is no further evidence that they would be the makers of these clay pipes (note 6).

A stem fragment from the wreck shows the impression of a band stamp in which a text with the name of the maker is included. Unfortunately, the print is insufficiently sharp to be able to read the name of the maker. The illegibility of the text is partly because in that later period it was customary to apply the band stamp shyly and, above all, hastily. This quality reduction came out well for the local maker, because he could continue to speculate on a Gouda origin with an unreadable text.

Fig. 6a.
Fig. 6b.
Fig. 6c.

Given the origin of the clay pipes, the skipper could have gained his cargo on the Schelde river. At that moment he also purchased a new pipe himself. A comparable fine clay pipe was found in the wreck, also stamped with the crowned VS mark (Fig. 6a). However, this specimen was smoked three times and also originated from a different, qualitatively slightly less press mould. Especially at the heel we see a careless way of finishing, not only the result of sloppiness of the maker, also the press mould has been of lesser quality, which manifests itself in the finish around the heel (Fig. 6b). Finally, the heel stamp is also hastily printed (Fig. 6c). It seems to be a second choice or lesser kind, obviously with the advantage of a slightly lower sales price.

Possibly the found pipe with the mark VS crowned was purchased by the skipper when the cargo was taken by the maker or a wholesaler in pipes. Our sailor bought or was presented the cheaper version of the pipes he carried in his cargo for his own use. It is tempting to suppose that this new pipe was smoked several times before the ship reached Dordtse Kil where it went down. If the pipe was smoked every day after the voyage at the moment that people were on shore for rest and relaxation, the journey from the Schelde river to the Dordtse Kil could have lasted three days and nights. There, in the Dordtse Kil, the ship sank and the pipe snapped to be dug up later.

The moment of the ship's demise is of course later than the date of the most recent object. As far as the Gouda pipes are concerned, it is the late 1840s, but this can just as well be the 1850s. This is related to the turnover rate of the pipes from the factory to the retail and from there again to the consumer. Between production and use can sometimes be a decade, the well-smoked pipes may have been smoked for years.

Fig. 7.

Certainly, and this is also apparent from this article, that the interpretation of standard pipes is a matter of detail, speculation about this is an added value. Only those who learn to pay attention to subtle differences in shape and minimum details in the moulds, marks and additional characteristics will be able to discover that there is more to learn than these clay pipes makes us think at first. Moreover, it turns out that "not everything is Gouda that shines", certainly when the location is further away from the production site Gouda.


© Don Duco, Pijpenkabinet Foundation, Amsterdam – the Netherlands, 2008.



  1. Fragments of clay pipe from the shipwreck in the Dordtse Kil near Dordrecht.
  2. Oval pipe bowl, heel mark fisherman. Gouda, widow Hendrik Sparnaay, 1840-1850.
  3. Oval pipe bowl, heel mark 81 under crown. Gouda, Willem Marinus Weyman, 1840-1855.
  4. Oval pipe bowl, heel mark DVA. Brabant, Den Bosch ?, 1840-1855.
  5. Oval pipe bowl, heel mark VS under crown, first quality. Belgium, Andenne, Charles et frère Smet?, 1840-1860.
  6. Oval pipe bowl, heel mark VS under crown, second quality. Belgium, Andenne, Charles et frère Smet ?, 1840-1860.
  7. The salvage of the shipwreck.
    Photo Rijksdienst voor Monumentenzorg (National Agency for Monument Conservation).



  1. H. Duco, Merken en merkenrecht van de pijpenmakers in Gouda, Amsterdam, 2003, p 134, nr 151.
  2. Duco, (Merken), 2003, p 196, nr 1023. Werkzaam 1825-1863.
  3. Duco, (Merken), 2003, pp 50-51.
  4. Duco, De Nederlandse kleipijp, handboek voor dateren en determineren, Leiden, 1987, p 78, afb 376, 377.
  5. Duco, (Merken), 2003, p 167, nr 604.
  6. Henri Javaux, La pipe en tere d’Andenne, Namur, 1935. Charles-Joseph Smet 1813, Charles Smet 1819-1840.