Once again, the intrepid Midweek reporter delves into the dark underbelly of the Whanganui Regional Museum, this time with Kathy Greensides, collections assistant and photographer. There, on an archival table, she had arranged a collection of archaic smoking paraphernalia.
“I’ve pulled out a bunch of smoking related items, which are interesting,” she says, “old tobacco tins, matches, lighters, opium pipes … interesting pipes, and this tobacco tin that George V sent out to all his troops at the request of Princess Mary.” She asked that all soldiers and sailors serving in the war (World War 1) receive a Christmas gift from their sovereign. The gift consisted of the tin, tobacco, confectionery, spices, pencils, a picture of the Princess Mary, a Christmas card and a message from the King: “The Queen and I wish you Godspeed and a safe return to your homes and dear ones. A grateful Mother Country is proud of your splendid services characterised by unsurpassed devotion and courage.”
Three intricately carved pipes are part of the haul Kathy brought out; one, in the form of a Biblical prophet; one, a carved skull; the other a fully carved Maori head. Seeing these items, some now obsolete, brought home the fact that smoking utensils of any kind will, one day, belong only in a museum, and smoking as a concept will be relegated to an unfortunate past. People of the future will marvel at the whole idea of setting leaves on fire and inhaling the smoke.
So, why did Kathy choose these items for her Vaults story? “It’s dying out; you don’t see these things any more, so when I saw them it sparked my interest. And in looking into the history of the [soldiers’] tin, I thought it was kind of touching.” Kathy is not now, nor has ever been a smoker, so for her this was a peek into a foreign lifestyle.
Among the smoking treasures is a Vesta match tin with matches still inside. Although there was a piece of abrasive material attached to the tin, it was generally accepted that these wax matches would strike on almost any surface (including facial stubble).
The opium pipes are of bamboo, but are missing some of their smaller pieces such as the ceramic bowls in which the drug was placed to burn.
Little is known of the provenance of these items, but they are intrinsically interesting. The tobacco tins, designed to be displayed with their creative pictures and slogans, promoting the superior lifestyle of the smoker and suggesting success, good looks, wealth … all can be yours if you smoke this brand of tobacco. Words like “cool” and “satisfying” were standard in tobacco advertising, the very notion of which has already been put into a box labelled “obsolete”.
Interesting that this legacy of Sir Walter Raleigh lasted as long as it has, but its future belongs in a place like the Whanganui Regional Museum.
Original article by Paul Brooks appeared in ‘The Wangnaui Midweek’ on 13th February 2013. Reproduced with permission from the author.