Bawdy Pipe Tampers (and others) found by Metal Detectorists

12th December 2014 — 24 Comments

In October 2013 I blogged about a pipe tamper found by Jim Crombie in Fife, Scotland. I went on to add another two blogs on the same subject and have now managed to resurrect and amalgamate them.


© UKDFD and Jim Crombie – Nice Patina

From the UKDFD we learn that the copper alloy tamper dates from the late 18th to early 19th century and that bawdy tampers of the type shown here were particularly popular during the second half of the 18th century. They go on to say:

“Pipe tampers have been produced since the late 16th century to provide smokers with a tool for compressing the tobacco in their pipe bowls. This was necessary to ensure a firm draw, as well as slow and uniform burning.”

This was an exciting find in more way than one. When Jim submitted it to Ms Jenny Shiels who was in charge of the Scottish Treasure Trove Unit at the time, he had a good giggle at what her reactions were likely to be after viewing it.

At the time, Stuart Campbell was Assistant Administrator of the unit and is now in charge. It seems that The feisty fella also excited Stuart. Earlier this year he presented a paper,‘The Naked and the Seditious’ on Georgian erotic objects at the Erotica, Pornography and the Obscene in Europe conference held at Warwick University.No doubt Jim’s pipe tamper got a mention.

Stuart also contributed an article to the Love Archaeology magazine  where he stated that one of the advantages with chance finds is that objects can appear rather unexpectedly. He said:

“Recently the Treasure Trove  system has been swamped in a tsunami of filth, its staff gazing in horrified fascination at objects of an increasingly depraved and inventive nature.”

And he pointed out Jim’s pipe tamper, ‘of a man in a state of strenuous arousal, clad solely in a top hat.’

Then follows an interesting piece of information. ‘The type of hat known as a Beaver dates the temper to 1800 -1810′. Rather obviously the figure is engaged in the act of masturbation, popularly thought to be both moral, evil and  unhealthy by 18th century medical standards.’

Thanks to Stuart Campbell of the Scottish TTU, Jim Crombie and the UKDFD

Incidentally, there is plenty of humour in the Love Archaeology Magazine, brought to you by postgraduates from the University of Glasgow. Definitely worth a look!


Some of the artefacts discovered by detectorists can prove to be strange and often baffling to identify. For the younger searcher the pipe tamper – a little gadget used by smokers to squeeze tobacco down into their pipe bowls – is perhaps one of those strange implements.

I look upon my paternal grandfather as a kind and benevolent man. He was a pipe smoker, which gave him an aura of being sensible and reliable. I don’t remember him ever using a tamper and, from my hazy recollections, he relied mainly on his forefinger.

I think what appealed to him was the ritual of pipe smoking, thus his digit was forever mahogany stained and seemed impervious to fire. I conclude he was not only a great man but also a hardened smoker, both physically and metaphorically!

It is thought that the tamper first made its appearance in the 17th century and was made from different kinds of material, including the copper ally (pewter) versions of which metal detectorists are familiar. Before that, many smokers would improvise and use the nearest piece of twig of perhaps a nail.

Broken pieces of 17th-century clay pipes happen to be relatively common finds, but the purpose-made temper is just a little more elusive. Any detectorist fortunate to unearth such an artefact realises that they were more than just simply made tools. Often or not they are functional works of art, treasured for their beauty as well as their utility and they come in a wonderful variety of shapes.

The Little Big Fella

The tamper shown opposite depicts another cheeky tamper found in Yorkshire by Richard Last. It’s in the form of a naked man exposing himself, a type particularly popular during the second half of the 18th century and, for some reason, highly prized by collectors!

Would he be considered politically correct today, I wonder? Of course not. We may think differently about the the folk of 250 years ago but, in many ways, they were more liberated. How times change! For example, we now know that tobacco can cause cancer and other terrible illnesses, yet in those days it was actually recommended as a cure for cancer, toothache, bad breath, worms and much more!

It was also believed that moderate pipe smoking was so good at keeping people healthy that doctors would soon become redundant!

Richard says that when he found the tamper and showed it to his wife, she couldn’t stop laughing. After composing herself, she named him The Little Big Fella!



The tampers shown below were all found by Steve (aka ‘the barnacle’) of the the BMD forum. The example in the form of a woman’s naked lower body, with legs spread apart at the knees is probably circa 18th century when they were very popular. I thank him for the contribution.

Steve's Tamper

© The Barnacle

Glen’s Exciting Find

In October 2015, Glen Fulcher (WallytWetFeet, also of the BMD forum) unearthed an exciting tamper of which he was very proud. At first he didn’t know what he’d found, but we have no doubts! Glen’s find – a good example, you must admit – was found on pasture land in Norfolk. I thank him for allowing me to use it here.


© Glen Fulcher

The Ring Pipe Tamper

You may have seen this example in another place, a brass ring tamper incorporating a spring device, probably a corkscrew threaded into the sheath. They are from my own collection.

Pipe Tamper

© JW – From my own collection

When I first found it I tried so hard to carefully extricate the screw, but failed; it proved to be hard fast! I didn’t want to snap the stem and resorted to several methods of trying to make it free, including bathing it in WD40 for at least a week. Nothing worked!

I decided to make ideas for it’s release into a little competition and invited suggestions from readers. The most imaginative – and unexpected – response to solving the problem came all the way from Victoria in Australia.

Don Brereton offered a solution (literally and metaphorically) and said that he’d had a lot of success with similar items. Now, I don’t know whether he was trying to wind me up or not, but he suggested soaking the tamper in a mixture of 25% molasses and 75% water and leaving it for several days. I decided to have a go, but encountered problems from the start.

Mr Tesco and other retailers didn’t stock molasses and a couple of dim assistants hadn’t a clue what I was on about when I enquired! Eventually I found what I thought was probably the same thing, but with a different name for the English market – black treacle! Suffice to say that the method didn’t work. I tried other ways and eventually ended up snapping the ring from the shaft!


© JW

A Caricature

A detectorist friend of mine, Sally Atkinson (aka Sukisal), presented me with the tamper shown opposite because I had coveted it so much. For years I didn’t know who the figure represented and even used it in an earlier blogpost on ‘scanning’. With the help of Gordon Bailey and his book Detecting Finds, I now know who the tamper represents. Gordon writes:

Tampers became ‘stoppers’ at the beginning of the 19th century with figures depicted such as Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon.

The Duke of Wellington versions were a great favourite with the army, and it is possible that the word ‘stopper’ resulted from the function of extinguishing tobacco rather than just tamping it down. The Duke disliked smoking and imposed strict controls on smoking in barracks, i.e. he stopped’ it!

The tamper is a caricature of the Duke of Wellington and meant to poke fun at the man. One of the nicknames the soldiers had for Wellington was Old Nosey since his nose was rather prominent. With his exaggerated features and his jaunty cap he looks almost animated. 


An ‘Erotic’ Lady

There are many ‘erotic’ pipe tampers featuring people in various compromising positions such as this lady displaying her ‘wares’! They can be extremely vulgar – and very imaginative! – like this one supplied by detectorist Mal Scott.


© Mal Scott

Mal doesn’t know whether it is Georgian or Victorian. He says that he found it about four inches down and, “I am led to believe that the Georgians were fond of their erotic items but that could also apply to the Victorians,” he said.

Mick Smith has shown me a picture of a tamper found many years ago by his friend, Peter. I’ve never seen one like this before!

Peter's Find

© Mick Smith


Philthedig from the DetectoristUK Forum has sent me his offering, “For what it’s worth … thanks for adding my tamper to your blog, it looks good and I must add that my wife thought that my careful cleaning of the various crevices, very amusing.” Thanks Phil … I’ve never seen one like that before!


© philthedig

An American detectorist wasn’t impressed with these bawdy tampers and said:

With my luck I could be in a huge field full of other detectorists and be the only one to locate such a weird and disturbing item. I think after finding it I would place the detector and gear in the car, sit in the car and wonder if I should ever detect again.

Poor little precious. If he ever visits the UK on a swinging holiday then his host should have a quiet word with the trauma team at the local hospital to be on stand-bt … just in case our friend comes across a ‘Little Big Fella’ or a pair in a compromising position! Perhaps he was having a laugh!


WOW! Paul Murphy of the Unearthed MDC on Facebook posted a cracker of a tamper, the best I have seen, and has allowed me to show on here. He said, “Couple of hours on rough over-grown pasture and found my first erotic pipe tamper.” he excitedly proclaims. Thanks, Paul.

© Paul Murphy


‘Advent’ of the Northumbrian Search Society has sent me a tamper showing two faces … one side happy and the other sad. Thank you!


© ‘Advent’


An Enigma

I have placed John Wright’s comment in the body of the post and repeat the comment he made, because he has now supplied a picture of the tamper. He says:

Referring to Mick smiths addition … I found one also … mine has a women scorning a child on the other side. I found one somewhere that explained it as ‘man and women copulating under the tree of life … the women scorning the child was a humorous way of saying if you play with fire you get burned.


© John Wright – Click to enlarge

The woman has literally turned her back on the child … shunned or snubbed, it is a strange situation. Can anyone confirm John’s explanation … or provide another? I thank John for his interesting contribution.


Lie Back and Think of England. The last word goes to my good friend Randy Dee who can always be relied upon to come up with something just a little different. His offering this time is a pipe tamper in the shape of Britannia!

Britannia Pipe Tamper 1

© Randy Dee – Click to enlarge



© BOB – Click to enlarge

I am pleased to to show you the next tamper found by Bob Carr (aka EMU) of the Australian Metal Detecting and Relic Hunting forum (AMDRH). He found it in a local park and it’s 4.5cm tall and made of bronze.

I reckon it’s from the late 18th century, perhaps commemorating when the tower was built and quite a unique find for Australia, showing the Longships Lighthouse just off Lands End in the UK. The lighthouse is still in operation and looks a little different from the tamper because a helipad was added to the top of the tower in the 1980’s. Check it out with Mr. Google.

Bob said:

I didn’t twig at first what it was, it was only when I got home that the penny dropped. If I hadn’t of read some of John Winter’s blogs a while ago, I’d still me none the wiser.

Thank you to Bob for allowing me to add the tamper to my blog – it’s the first of this kind that I have seen.


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24 responses to Bawdy Pipe Tampers (and others) found by Metal Detectorists

  1. Got the same as Mick Smith found in the Thames in 2014

  2. Hi John, I’ve found two similar to the last one in your article. Both from around Chester. Do you know where Peter found his?

  3. Great article John loved reading the additions to the original blog and viewing the new pipe tamper examples added to it.

  4. Referring to Mick smiths addition…I found one also…mine has a women scorning a child on the other side. I found one somewhere that explained it as ‘man and women copulating under the tree of life….the women scorning the child was a humorous way of saying if you play with fire you get burned….

    • Felt sure i’d seen the tamper on the PAS site where the word Scorning was used but as yet cant find it…

      • Maybe you are right John, but is confusing when used in that context.
        Perhaps she was viewing the child with contempt and it was the ‘scorn’ she showed in her voice when chastising the child … hence, ‘scorning’.

    • Sounds interesting, John.
      Do you mean ‘Scolding’ ?
      Love to see both sides … and perhaps add pictures to the blog?

  5. Yes John as soon as i find it!!

  6. Dr. Bernd Becker 31st August 2015 at 9:48 AM

    Great to see those pipe tampers – especially the bawdy ones!!! I collect this field.

  7. thanks for the update John.

  8. I have what I think is a pipe tamper what web site do I send it to for a opinion? Many thanks
    Mr craske

    • Hello Ian
      I don’t usually provide an ID service, but if you send it to me, I’ll take a look. There are also plenty of detecting forums out there. You may like to join one and also ask there …

      Regards / John

  9. Bloody Yanks, he should learn that, had it not been for couples “Tamping” the US of A would not be what it is today……………………………………….full of gobby, self opinionated, morons who know nothing of their heritage. We Brits have a lot to answer for.

  10. I was just wondering if anybody knows the age of this tamper? Any help would be appreciated!

  11. Hi John I’ve found 3 tampers on the same field, the earliest being from 1750, that one is an erotic one of a lady the next a squirrel and the last an acorn of all things. Must have been a field where they met for a smoke though, had a few bowls and stems too.

    I would be interested if you knew anymore about them.

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  3. clay pipe tamper. - Page 2 - 23rd December 2014

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