Huqqa (pipe) by Hamilton & Co, 1860s

Huqqa or pipe, Calcutta, India, around 1865. Museum no. IS.2510

Huqqa or pipe, Calcutta, India, around 1865. Museum no. IS.2510

This magnificent smoking apparatus standing almost a metre high, was made by Hamilton and Co. of Calcutta, almost certainly for the Paris International Exhibition of 1867. A mixture of High Victorian and Indian taste it showcased to a European audience Indian bidriware - an alloy of zinc, copper, lead, and tin inlaid with silver. It is currently the only known piece of Hamilton bidri.

Hamilton and Co was one of the best known English or Scottish silversmithing companies in India during the 19th-century. They acted as agents for some of the largest firms in London including Rundell, Bridge and Rundell and Barnards.

The huqqa was a common feature during meals and was used increasingly by Europeans in India during the first half of the 19th-century. Linney Gilbert, writing in around 1840, gave the huqqa almost poetic treatment. '… and 'ere the last course is off the table, an isolated bubble announces the first houkah … a rich though rather overcoming odour pervades the air, handsome mouthpieces … insinuate themselves from under the arms of the chairs, and the pauses of the sometimes languid and ill-sustained conversation are deprived of their former awkwardness, by the full, sonorous drone of a dozen of these princely pipes. … Inveterate smokers have their houkahs transferred to the drawing room. They are not bad companions in the silence of the whist table, but prove rather a barbarous accompaniment to the music and singing, in the piano passages of which, its monotonous growl chimes rather discordantly.'


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