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Discovering the Colonial Pipe

pipe 1

Full image of the Pipe. (Photo Credit: Sam Wright)

This 17th-century pipe fragment was found in Historic Huguenot Street in New Paltz, in late 2012. This particular fragment was part of a clay pipe fashioned by Hendrik Gerdes, a Dutch pipe maker, as his initials can be found on the heel of the pipe. Although a seemingly mundane object, this pipe gives us particular insight on colonial life in the Hudson Valley.


The pipe is in four separate pieces and appears to have been white at one point or another. But, of course with the passage of time, the outside has become jaded. While there are scratches and points of discoloration that have made the stem of the pipe brown. Because the pipe is broken, you are able to see inside, and again there is the same brown discoloration along the smooth interior of this piece. The hole in the mouthpiece is notably very small, and if memory serves me correct, Professor Diamond said that you could not actually smoke out of this pipe. On one of the pieces, there is an impression of the initials “HG” on the heel, which signifies the Dutch pipe maker, Hendrik Gerdes.


Called a “little ladle” by the Elizabethans, the tobacco pipe was almost an essential piece of colonial living and there are clues that these pieces give us into the diverse community of Historic New Paltz. These pieces were discovered by Professor Diamond–a professor of archeology at SUNY New Paltz–and his team at Historic Huguenot Street on September 18, 2012. The pipe piece was discovered in a dig done North of the Freer house in “unit 215”.


During the 17th century approximately 1668-1685, Hendrik Gerdes, and Edward Bird were two prominent watchmakers. Bird, an Englishman moved to Amsterdam where he claimed to “fight for the Dutch”, there he met his future wife, Anna maria van der Deide. After Bird died, she remarried to Gerdes a competing watchmaker and confectioner (Bradley 111).  

 The heel appears to be a type 2 style heel, which includes a simple border around the initials. While this insignia is relatively simple, Gerdes did have another one that had a three-pronged crown above his initials. Besides New Paltz, his pipes have been found everywhere from Caughnawaga Mohawk in Canada to my birthplace of Staten Island.