French figural pipes > Themes

The monarchs can be most easily recognized: Napoleon, Leopold II of Belgium, Edward VII of the United Kingdom and even Queen Wilhelmina. Other 19th century personalities have also been portraited – from the eternally famous such as Victor Hugo, Nicolo Paganini and General Wellington to almost forgotten names, such as the poet Boileau, the writer Frédéric Soulié and the politician Molé. 

Lion as pipe bowl

Another popular theme was mythology. Various examples can be found among the figural pipes, often with exquisitely executed designs. The scene of Leda and the swan was, for example, made into a subtle erotic work of art, Zeus and Ganymede are rather more touching while Pan and Neptune, on the other hand, were portrayed with lots of color.

In the category in which countries, people and professions are characterized, the portraits of famous people are not directly evident. But the portraits on these bowls can often be easily recognized: the Zouave with his characteristic headgear, the pasha with his turban, a detailed Chinese in dressing gown and beautifully carved Negro portraits.

Popular and common were depictions of animals. Sometimes only the head of the animal (horse's head, lion's head) and sometimes the entire figure (poodle, bear, parrot) was represented but the designers always displayed great ingenuity and originality. Very appropriate and making good use of the shape of the pipe is the bird's beak, where the bird's head serves as the tobacco chamber and the long beak is the stem. One of the latest designs, in Art Nouveau style, was a frog on a leaf.


The themes of the figural pipes shifted in the period between 1830 and 1870. Initially, particularly historical figures and general characters were depicted but from the 1830s onwards pipe producers targeted a more literate audience. Pipes that follow on from the political events at the time or depict figures taken from popular novels or songs are most common. The prices for these pipes could be increased as smokers could manifest themselves when seen with such pipes. In the 1850s, Napoleon III’s tight reign tolerated no opposition and the pipe became a political instrument for monarchists.

Caricature of Napoleon III

In 1870, the political climate changed. The Franco-German war triggered strong nationalistic feelings upon which the pipe manufacturers acted. Furthermore, the war sparked the revolution that made France a republic. The heroes of the revolution and a series of presidents were immortalized as pipe bowls and sold in large numbers as political mascots. From the 1880s onwards, figural pipes became less popular resulting in simpler themes and lower prices.

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Examples from this collection French figural pipes

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