Heather Coleman at her kiln

The rare luxury of dream pipes: Heather Coleman’s collection at Exeter RAMM

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Exeter collector Heather Coleman has turned her passion for old clay tobacco pipes into a business and now supplies crafted clay pipes worldwide for television, film and theatre.

Most recently a selection of her pipes appeared in the popular TV series Poldark and she has also made special pipes for many well-known people including President Obama, Johnny Depp, the late Terry Pratchett, and comedian Phil Jupitus.

Her collection of historical pipes is currently on display at Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM). They date from the 1580s right through to the 1920s and include examples from England, Scotland, The Netherlands and France.

Heather’s interest started in the 1970s when she first noticed small fragments of broken clay pipes during country walks.

She explains: “The white clay stood out against the brown soil revealing these past relics, some having lovely decorations of plants or pictures or writing on them. They were unlike anything else I had ever seen.”

She now has over 2,500 pieces in her collection.

“I have many favourite pieces including a Tudor period pipe bowl from the River Thames which is one of the earliest pipes made in England. It has a tiny bowl because tobacco was a rare luxury back then and the base of the bowl has been hand carved into a small heart with the maker’s initials stamped into it,” she says.

“My main love however is for early 17th-century English and Dutch pipes that have small plain bowls or have simple but striking patterns.

“Over the last 40 years I have collected so many of my dream pieces but there are just a few that still escape me. An original two-part metal pipe mould would be high on my list.

“Also a 19th-century portrait bowl by a French pipe maker shaped like the Duke of Wellington with his fancy hat and behind him a soldier thumbing his nose at the Duke because he banned tobacco smoking in the military. And of course I always dream of finding more of those small Tudor pipes.”

Heather’s collection is on display in RAMM’s Finders Keepers? gallery where visitors are also introduced to some of the collectors who helped make RAMM a world-class museum and invited to question the impact and ethics of collecting. A local collection of inkwells will follow in April.

Contemporary clay pipes can be purchased from Dawnmist Studio in Exeter.

 

(from a press release)