Alaska Department of Education & Early Development
Alaska State Libraries, Archives & Museums
The Sheldon Jackson Museum’s April Artifacts of the Month are three tobacco pipes (listed from top to bottom in adjacent photo: SJ-II-N-73, SJ-II-N-56, and SJ-II-N-76). The pipes all vary greatly in design but all are believed to have been collected by Sheldon Jackson in the 19th century, show heavy signs of use, have small fragments of tobacco remnants inside of their bowls, and highlight the history of trade and relations between Russians, indigenous Siberians, and Alaskans. Two of the pipes have small cylindrical bowls that flare at the top illustrating a likeness to early pipes traditionally used in Japan and China.
The smallest pipe is made of ivory and measures only 2 1/8” x 1 5/8”. There are various horizontal and vertical lines and dots etched into the surface of the pipe on all sides and a bullet casing between the bowl area and the place where the stem, which is missing, would be inserted. The mouthpiece is loose, but still intact. The bowl is narrow and small and appears to be solid unlined ivory. According to museum records, this pipe was collected from Cape Sabine, a cape in northern Alaska at the mouth of the Pitmegea River extending into the Chuckchi Sea and northwest of Mount Kelly and northeast of Point Hope.
The second largest pipe, measuring 10” x 1 ¾”, has a substantial wooden body and elaborate lead ornamentation inlay and a lead mouth piece. The bottom of the body features trap doors to allow for the removal of nicotine residue, which could be mixed to form a quid, a small wad of concentrated tobacco, for a potent flavored chew. The lead bowl is riveted to the pipe with four irregularly circular round pieces of lead. Below the bowl is a hide thong complete with an attached wooden pipe tamp. This pipe was collected in 1890 by Jackson from Cape Navarine, Siberia.
The largest pipe, measuring 13” x 2 ¼”, has a long, sleek wooden body wrapped in hide thong, and a two-part stem made of ivory. The bowl is stone and extends off the top, secured in place with the lashing. A very finely made pipe, it is unusual compared with the majority of other pipes in the Sheldon Jackson Museum’s holdings because it is made with four different materials – ivory, stone, wood, and hide. Most pipes in the collection, even if composite, are only made of one to three materials. This elegantly shaped pipe is also in the best condition of all three artifact of the month pipes. It is documented, rather simply, as having been collected from “Siberia,” but is similar in style to some from Yup’ik and Inupiaq regions including those in the plate LXXXVII E.W. Nelson’s The Eskimo about Bering Strait.
Although Russians, who first came to the Aleutian Islands in the 1740s, brought tobacco to the Unangax (Aleut), whom they forced to hunt sea otter, tobacco use in Alaska predated contact with Europeans and Euro-Americans. Inupiaq, Yup’ik, Tlingit and Haida peoples utilized a Native-to-Alaska tobacco before the arrival of commercial tobacco, chewing it, preparing it as snuff, and smoking it.1 Alaska Native women and children generally used snuff, but in some areas smoked tobacco as the men did.
Russian traders also provided tobacco to many indigenous peoples including the Chukchi who traditionally inhabited the northeastern most part of Siberia, the Chukotskiy okrug (district); to the Koryak who traditionally lived in the okrug (district) of the northern Kamchatka Peninsula; and to the Siberian Yupik who traditionally resided along the coast of the Chuckchi Peninsula and St. Lawrence Island in Alaska. Indigenous Siberians brought tobacco, brought pipes, boxes, pouches and paraphernalia to Alaska through trade.2
The Sheldon Jackson Museum April Artifacts of the Month will be exhibited until April 30th. The museum has nearly ninety pipes in its permanent collection, but only around twenty of them are identified as being Siberian in origin. The public can see the April artifacts of the month during hours of operation – currently Tuesday through Saturday between 10am and 4pm. General admission is currently $8, $7 for seniors, and free for those 18 and under or members of either the Friends of the Sheldon Jackson Museum or Friends of the Alaska State Museum.
Director, Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums
1 The Tlingit and Haida cultivated their own variety and species of tobacco, smoked it at memorial ceremonies and funerals to commune with their ancestors, and burned it to send it to the sky to their deceased family members.
2 Although geographically part of Asia, Siberia was colonized and incorporated into Russia in the latter half of the 16th century.
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