Clay Pipes and Snuff boxes

Tobacco was introduced to Scotland in the early 17th century, probably from England (Calder 1989, 178ff). Its use became widespread, both for smoking and taking snuff. Clay pipes in particular are common finds, used by all levels of society, into the 20th century. There have been studies of pipes elsewhere in Scotland (Davey 1987; Gallagher 2011) but none for the Highlands.

Clay pipes from Golspie Heritage Centre. ©Susan Kruse

Soldiers stationed at Castle Sinclair, Girnigoe, Caithness (MHG417) in the 17th century may be responsible for the large quantities of pipes found during recent excavations at the site (Spall and Clark 2020). Nor were pipes only used by men. The Inverness Burgh accounts of January 1812 show that the women who cleaned the Inverness Town Hall were given clay pipes. A photograph taken in the early 20th century in Cromarty shows a boy smoking with a clay pipe.

The common presence of pipe fragments on archaeological sites is not hard to understand: mass produced for all markets, these objects were easily broken and tossed away in the midden then later spread onto fields. The presence of makers’ stamps allows archaeologists to trace movements of these common articles. Some Scottish pipes, for example, can be found all over the world, presumably carried by emigrants and travellers alike. Information about clay pipes made in the Highlands, along with those found in the Highlands but made elsewhere, still needs to be pulled together as it might indicate regional patterns; this could also be combined with an investigation of local clay sources.

Snuff was very popular in Scotland with all classes, and proportionally more people took snuff, both men and women, than smoked pipes. Some elaborate and costly snuff boxes in silver and horn survive. Some were made in the Highlands; there are high quality silver examples particularly in Inverness and Tain. Snuff mulls of horn, mainly cow horn, were made by Travellers. Snuff was ground using small stone querns or small cow horns, with apothecaries using wooden mortars. Many of these objects survive, some with provenance. Inverness Museum has a good collection and further work looking at other museum collections would undoubtedly provide further insights (Grant forthcoming). By the 18th century milling had become mechanised, and a few Highland sites are known, for example Gordon’s Mills on the Black Isle (MHG8765) and possibly Crosskirk, Caithness (Wright 2008, 80).

Silver snuff box by Alexander Stewart (c. 1765 – 1845). © IMAG

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