Monday, September 26, 2016

The Mystery of the French Clay Pipes

How did six elegant clay pipes make their way from a town in northern France to my mother's house in Vermont? Anyone who has ever emptied out a parent's attic is familiar with this type of puzzle. It took me four years to go through the contents of my mother's house. The last box I opened was in the basement, and it contained an assortment of dishes, a hand mirror, and the six pipes. The newspaper that had been used as packing material dated from the summer of 1968, suggesting the contents might have belonged to Grandma Tucker, since it was around this time that my parents began clearing out her house in Randolph Center. The pipes were wrapped in tissue and stored in a white ceramic pitcher (the pitcher is in the upper right corner of the photo). They are in pristine condition. They were made by Gambier, a French company, probably in the 19th century. How did they come into my possession? I know of nobody in the family who smoked a pipe (and indeed these pipes have never been smoked). Maybe Justin Tucker, my grandfather, whom I barely remember, was a pipe smoker. These pipes are beautiful, and Grandma Tucker had an eye for beauty. She was also a great collector of domestic treasures. Grandma's collection of pitchers hung from hooks near the ceiling and encircled the dining room; it numbered in the hundreds. The littlest pitchers were barely bigger than a thimble. It was broken up, I am sad to say, when my parents sold the contents of her little cottage at auction; my siblings and I have remnants of the original collection. The pitcher that contains the pipes was made by the Homer Laughlin China Company, the manufacturer of Fiesta dinnerware. Homer Laughlin still makes its dishes in the U.S. Maison Gambier opened in Givet (a town near the Belgian border) in 1780 and closed in 1928; at the height of its production, in 1860, it employed 600 workers. I will never know how these pipes found their way to 36 Highland Avenue. The best I can do is to learn more about the factory that produced them. You probably have items like this in your family, too. I have so many it's mind-boggling. I fully expect to spend the rest of my life figuring out what to do with them.

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