Elephant with long snout
In China, the water pipe seems to consist of one single type. The well-known pakton smoking sets date mainly from the nineteenth century: a small water pipe together with a tobacco jar and a few smoking tools in a box, extremely handy to take with you. They were the instrument of every Chinese who wanted to smoke water-cooled. Still, there have been other models, but they are significantly rarer. Figural water pipes seem to have been made much earlier, an example of which is shown here. It is the depiction of a reclining elephant with a long trunk that forms the stem of the pipe and is bent very elegantly in an S-shape. The animal is decorated with a harness with bells and wears a saddle cloth with relief decoration over the back. The embroidery shows a very Chinese depiction of a dragon with a curly body with long fringes along the edges. Pontifically on top of this is a vase in which the pipe bowl has been slid in the form of a blooming flower, with a stem that extends below the surface of the water. The whole is made of brass and then patinated black. Some elements have kept their own color and add an attractive accent. For example, notice the silver elephant tusks on the stem of the pipe. Other parts are gilded and enliven the appearance. There is some uncertainty about the date of these pipes. Although the light version of the metal appears recent in terms of age, the literature gives very early dates. The finish of this copy in black lacquer also reflects that. Given its great rarity, production in the eighteenth century is certainly possible, although we lack evidence. Other examples show a nineteenth-century atmosphere, so that we can conclude that the elephant water pipe was made over a long period, albeit sparsely since it remains an extremely rare object.
Amsterdam Pipe Museum APM 24.613Permalink