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Very Unusual Pair of Copper & Brass Chinese Water Pipes Disguised as Vases

19th century

height: 15.5cm, width: 6.5cm, combined weight: 568g



UK art market

This very unusual pair of Chinese tobacco water pipes have telescopic paktong mouthpieces which collapse into the body of the pipe and screw-on caps so that when not in use, the two look as if they are a pair of baluster-form vases. The exteriors are of copper and brass and are decorated with applied prosperity and long-life symbols.

Each of the feet are fitted with semi-circular trays that swing out. These would have been for storing the tobacco.

Such pipes were not used for opium, but for tobacco. The base was filled with water and the pipe worked by drawing the tobacco smoke down through the water before being drawn into the user’s mouth so that it was cleansed of ash and cooled. It essentially functioned in the same manner as a hookah used in the Middle East and Mughal India. Tobacco was imported into China in the 19th century but mostly it was grown locally in Shandong and Gansu provinces where it was grown after the Spanish had introduced tobacco to the nearby Philippines.

The two here are in excellent condition but with fine patinas and obvious age. This is the first time we have encountered pipes in this form, published or otherwise.



Johnson, I., & M. Brooke, ‘The Chinese water pipe’, Arts of Asia, November-December 1977.

Rapaport, B., ‘Tobacco pipe curiosities of the Orient’, Arts of Asia, January-February, 1997.

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