• Well I never! Find out about some of the more unusual treasures in the Wedgwood Museum’s collections.

Fascinating Objects

  • by the Wedgwood Museum team

Bell-shaped hookah

Theme

An apparatus used in the Near and Middle East for smoking tobacco, often in the form of a pottery bottle or container. A study of the Wedgwood shape and oven books of the late eighteenth century reveal evidence of production of many hookah shapes, in a wide variety of ceramic bodies including jasper, caneware, and rosso antico.

As early as 1773 the Ornamental Ware partnership of ‘Wedgwood & Bentley’ planned their first attempt on the Turkish market when Josiah I mentioned that he was – ‘…setting our people at the ornamental works of making a few of each of the Turkish articles.’

An oven book entry for March 1781 reveals that  - ‘8 black for backo [ie tobacco] bools’ had been made. In April of the same year the production of - ‘6 to-backo red and black ornament’ was also noted. Neither entry was illustrated. The bell shaped hookah form in jasper first makes an appearance in the oven book records in March-April 1800. Featuring as number 497 in the Shape Number One Book, this unusual example has been made in Wedgwood’s traditional jasper body. The bell structure is of white jasper, and the exterior has received a mid blue ‘dip’. The white bas reliefs of ‘Acanthus and Bell’, traditional ‘oak and acorn’, and the classical ‘Arabesque Scroll’ give the hookah a readily identifiable Wedgwood ‘feel’.  

Although the shape books reveal that many hookah forms were produced during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, these fragile structures did not necessarily stand the test of time. The Wedgwood Museum’s collections include two hookahs – the large size jasper version illustrated here – and a smaller caneware bell-shaped version decorated with bas reliefs of Apollo and some of the nine Muses.

Catalogue

This undeniably Turkish hookah was translated into Wedgwood’s characteristic jasper as early as 1800. Some 27 years before Josiah I was already considering the creation of Turkish inspired objects.In this instance the form and function of this object are unquestionably exotic, while the jasper body and decoration with bas reliefs is undeniably English. Coupled with the object’s rarity this makes the hookah especially interesting.