Artifact Post: French Briar Bulldog Tobacco Pipe

During our time in the Missoula Mercantile, one of the project’s eight sites (thus far), we conducted an archaeological surface collection in a basement room. A surface collection involves a systematic recording and collection of artifacts without digging and minimal disturbance to the ground. During the initial deconstruction for renovations on the building, the wooden floor had been removed because it was not in the greatest condition and not salvageable. Left behind as a result was a dirt and rubble floor.

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The dirt and rubble floor of the basement room which was once part of the the Garden City Drug Store before becoming the tobacco and liquor department of the Missoula Mercantile.

During the initial walk through the room, one of the crew almost literally tripped over a tobacco pipe, much to everyone’s surprise. This is when it was decided that the surface collection could provide some potentially valuable information.

Since the pipe was the first artifact to garner our attention, it will be the first of future artifact posts on this blog. Many interesting artifacts were found during collection!

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Tobacco pipe in situ (in place as found). The tobacco pouch was moved there as a reference. Finding them together would have been quite the coincidence.

Upon cleaning and careful examination, it was noticed that the pipe had a broken – not wooden – bit and nearly illegible maker’s marks. After some research and a very good microscope, we were able to determine that the inscription read “French Briar.” Briar is the primary wood from which tobacco pipes are made.

The French Briar Bulldog pipe “has a slightly forward tilting bowl, beveled at its top portion and tapered toward its bottom, and a diamond shaped shank. Traditionally there are one or two small grooves, called bead-lines, cut around the bowl.¹” The broken bit was made of amber, a fossilized resin that is present under tree bark and commonly used for pipes in the 19th and 20th centuries.

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French Briar Bulldog pipe. Approximately 7 cm of pipe with 2 cm of the bit still remaining.

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Professor Kelly Dixon showing the pipe to an archaeological survey class. The flashlight beam shows the amber bit.

The pipes could be purchased from the Sears, Roebuck, and Company catalog for anywhere from 98 cents to $3.48 depending on the detail.

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Page from the Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog circa 1900.

¹Smoking Pipes Glossary

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