Franklin Pierce Anthropomorphic Tobacco Pipe – September Artifact of the Month
By Kathleen Cande
Arkansas Post National Memorial commemorates events associated with the first European settlement in the lower Mississippi River valley. Trade and exploration were of overriding importance at the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers as early as the 1500s. The first European settlement was concerned with trade with local Native American groups, including Quapaw Indians. The French, who established this first trading post, used the post as a jumping off point for hunting and exploration of the upper Arkansas River. Under later Spanish control, the post was part of a “barrier” protecting Spanish colonies in the southwest (Coleman 1987). After 1803, the post was a thriving American town with taverns, trading houses, and a branch of the State Bank of Arkansas. It was a center for early cotton production in Arkansas Territory. Arkansas Post was the first capital of Arkansas Territory from 1819 to 1821. The Arkansas Gazette newspaper was founded in Arkansas Post in 1819 by William Woodruff.
The Arkansas Archeological Survey curates archeological collections from Arkansas Post National Memorial. As part of this responsibility, we have cataloged the collections in the National Park Service’s cataloging system and provided copies of the catalog data to the regional headquarters at the NPS’s Midwestern Archeological Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. The cataloging included artifacts on permanent exhibit at the park (Cande 2002:6).
One of the finest artifacts on exhibit at the park is an anthropomorphic ceramic pipe of President Franklin Pierce’s head (Figures 1 and 2). The word “anthropomorphic” describes an object that is made to resemble the human form. In other words, it is the endowment of an inanimate object with human characteristics. Many of the objects studied by archeologists have either animal or human likenesses. Pierce was the 14th US president, serving from 1853–1857. He was a relatively obscure politician from New Hampshire who hoped to avoid the outbreak of the Civil War. He is not considered to have been a strong president, and his worst mistake may have been signing the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 which repealed the Missouri Compromise and re-opened the question of slavery in the western United States (The White House 2019).
There was a series of clay pipes manufactured in Germany in the mid-nineteenth century in which the pipe bowl showed the face of an American presidential candidate in profile. Some, like those depicting George Washington, were commemorative, while others were a way to promote a favored candidate for office. This type of pipe is also known as a reed stem pipe because it was made for a reed or wooden stem to be attached to the clay pipe bowl (Figure 3).
The presidential candidate pipes, originally manufactured in Germany, have been found at many American fur trade-era trading posts. Logically, they were made specifically for export to America. Pipe-making began in Germany during the mid-eighteenth century in two major areas, Uslar (lower Saxony) and Grossalmerode (Hesse) (see Figure 4). In German, these pipes were known as Stummelpfeifen, literally, “stub pipes.” The presidential pipes were imported into America from 1836 to 1856. Pfeifer et al. (2006) note that over 4.5 million clay pipes were exported from Germany to America in 1845—all made by only one company!
Copies of the German presidential candidate pipes were made by many companies in America, but were crude in comparison. One clear way to tell the difference between a figural pipe made in Germany rather than an American copy is the angle of the pipe shank in relation to the pipe bowl. For the pipes made in America, the shank is at a 90º angle to the bowl. The German-made pipes have the shank at a 45º angle to the bowl.
This pipe was found during archeological excavations at the Arkansas Post branch of the Bank of the State of Arkansas in 1966. Excavations were directed by National Park Service archeologist Rex Wilson. The bank was established on December 24, 1838 (Walker 1971:17). It is not known where the bank was housed from its creation until a new building was built in 1839–1840. It remained solvent for only three years, closing in 1843 (Wilson 1966:7). The excavations revealed evidence that the rectangular, two-story brick building burned down. It had been used during the Civil War as a Confederate hospital during the bombardment of nearby Fort Hindman (1863). The Franklin Pierce pipe was found in excavation units inside the bank’s foundation containing ash, melted glass fragments, pieces of metal roofing material, nails, and brick rubble (Wilson 1966:8).
For more information about visiting Arkansas Post:
2002 Summary Report on Arkansas Post National Memorial (3AR47) Archeological and Related Archival Collections and Automated National Catalog System (ANCS) Data Reintegration. Final Report, ARAS Project 01-04. Submitted to Ms. Carolyn Wallingford, Curator, Great Plains System Support Office, Omaha, Nebraska.
Coleman, Roger E.
1987 The Arkansas Post Story, Arkansas Post National Monument. Southwest Cultural Resources Center Professional Papers No. 12. Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Pfeiffer, Michael A., Richard T. Gartley, and J. Byron Sudbery
2006 President Pipes: Origin and Distribution. Paper presented at the 63rd annual meeting of the Southeastern Archaeological Conference, Little Rock, Arkansas.
1971 Excavation of the Arkansas Post Branch of the Bank of the State of Arkansas, Arkansas Post National Memorial. Southeast Archeological Center, Division of Archeology, National Park Service.
Wilson, Rex L.
1966 Archeological Explorations at Arkansas Post – 1966. Southwest Archeological Center, National Park Service, Globe, Arizona.
Artifact of the Month Series
A first principle of archeology is that the significance of artifacts depends upon documented information about the context of their discovery. At what site was the artifact found? Can we figure out the age of the artifact? Where was it found in relation to site features (houses, trash deposits, activity areas, etc.) and the distribution of other artifacts? Only with knowledge of those facts can we assess further information about the manufacture and use of artifacts, and their role in other spheres of activity such as social organization, trade and exchange, and religious practice.
In this series, we feature select artifacts that are extraordinary both for the context of their discovery and for their unique qualities that contribute exceptionally important information about Arkansas culture and history. New artifacts will be added monthly. Find the list of artifacts here.