The High Plains Museum began collecting in 1959, and those many years of collecting have yielded a collection of fascinating objects. The HPM cannot display all these objects at once, instead we curate an exhibit to feature certain objects. Ever wonder what objects the museum has stored? Each week we will bring you one fascinating object from our collection so you can see the variety of objects we have.
To start off our behind the scenes look at our collection, we have a white porcelain smoking pipe with tassels. This pipe was donated by Hugh Graves where he found it in two pieces at his grandmother’s house. Smoking pipes have been used in the United States since 1500 BC where American Indians would use pipes for ceremonial purposes. When Christoper Columbus came to America he took tobacco leaves back to Europe with him and shared his discovery of tobacco for the pipes; since tobacco is not a native plant to Europe, Europeans would not have smoked it prior to Columbus bringing it back with him.
Chalk pipes are believed to be some of the first tobacco pipes to be mass produced, followed by iron pipes and briarwood pipes. Briarwood is still the wood top tobacco pipe manufactures use today. Our pipe, however is porcelain.
Johann Friedrich Böttger is credited with discovering how to make porcelain. Böttger boasted that he could make gold from base metals and Frederick Augustus 1, Elector of Saxony heard of this claim and hired him. Unfortunately Böttger did not know how to make gold and for almost six years was under house arrest until he could fulfill his claim. Instead of making gold however he made porcelain. This was helpful because porcelain was a costly import from China and Japan and now it could be manufactured and sold locally. This led to porcelain pipes which were first manufactured in Meissen, the factory the Elector of Saxony set up to make porcelain after Böttger made his breakthrough in 1708.
Porcelain pipes however had some serious drawbacks. Most notably porcelain is not an appropriate material for pipes as the bowl would become very hot very quickly and caused large amounts of condensation to be produced. The pipes were popular despite this for a time because of the painted motifs used for decoration and the relatively low cost which made it available for all social classes.
Our little porcelain pipe has quite the backstory! Unfortunately, we do not know much about the owner or the life of its use. If you think to all the objects in your home, what pops to mind as something that you use regularly? What does that object mean to you?
Tell us in the comment section below and look for more posts in this series about our wonderful collection of Sherman County history.