Tobacco Stoppers and Tobacco Tampers for the Collector

A collection of tobacco stoppers tobacco tampers

A rare early 19th century West Indies carved horn pipe tamper, with a head finial having braided hair and a pewter collar, replaced base, 3¼in (8.2cm) high, an 18th century boxwood squirrel pipe tamper, 3¼in (8.2cm) high, an 18th century boxwood pipe tamper with chip carved geometric decoration, a 19th century treen boot and leg pipe tamper, a 19th century treen shoe pipe tamper and a brass bust of the Duke of Wellington pipe tamper.

The tobacco stopper, also known as a pipe stopper or a tobacco tamper, is used to enable a pipe to be filled by evenly distributing the tobacco within the length of the bowl, and to press the tobacco down. What started as a utilitarian device developed into a vast array of designs and carvings in a rang of materials. Many were often one-off designs being made by the smoker themselves and varied from crude creations to intricate carvings.

The tobacco stoppers made of cast metal are the ones that have survived in more numbers than the wooden carved examples. They include busts of full length figures of historical characters such as Charles I, Nelson, Napoleon and figures Dickens. The Duke of Wellington was a popular figure for tobacco stoppers having published an edict banning tobacco in barracks he was actually nicknamed the ‘greatest tobacco stopper’.

19th C Derby porcelain Wellington  and Napoleon Pipe Stopper or Tamper

19th C Derby porcelain Wellington and Napoleon Pipe Stoppers or Tampers. Sold for £240 at Chilcotts, December 2016.

The commonest designs included legs bent at the knee, heads, trade tools such as hammers and animals. Some stoppers had a dual purpose including scrapers, burning tools and corkscrews. Tobacco stoppers forming parts of signet rings were also popular. As well as cast metal and many varieties of wood, examples can be found in ivory , bone, horn, hooves, teeth, claw, and silver.

An ivory tobacco stopper probably 18th century depicting a lady and a hound

An ivory tobacco stopper probably 18th century depicting a lady and a hound. Sold for £140 at Sworders, Sep 2015.

In the 1750s the Reverend Francis Gastrell cut down the mulberry tree supposedly planted by Shakespeare at New Place, Stratford-upon-Avon, having grown tired of tourists asking to see it. The second half of the eighteenth century saw a brisk trade in souvenir objects claimed to be made of wood from Shakespeare’s tree. Tobacco stoppers such as this were common and were used for pressing down tobacco in a pipe.

Tobacco stoppers vary between 1 and half and four inches, with the majority being around two inches. The diameter of the tamper end may give an indication of age with the earlier ones having a smaller end as the bowls of the earlier pipes are smaller. Outside of tobacciana collectors and enthusiasts tobacco stoppers are not widely known about and exampled can still be collected cheaply.

Two early 19th C brass caricature tobacco tampers stoppers in the form of The Duke of Wellington Old Nosey

Two early 19th C brass caricature tobacco tampers stoppers in the form of The Duke of Wellington Old Nosey. Sold for £95 at Stroud Auctioneers, Sep 2015.

Related
Tobacciana Tobacco Collecting
The University of Cambridge Digital Library has a 3D rendering of a Tobacco stopper (From the Lewis Cabinet) reportedly from the mulberry tree in Shakespeare’s gardens – click here to view.

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