This bowl of a clay tobacco pipe has one notable feature – the face of Ally Soper, one of the first ever comic book characters, moulded onto the base. His large rounded nose sticks out as the spur of the pipe, with his eyes, ears, mouth and stiff collar moulded above it.
Adding such decorations to clay pipes was a common practice, and their mass-produced nature means that they are easily datable. As cheap disposable objects they are a common feature found by archaeologists from the late 16th to the early 20th centuries.
In this case, the clay pipe featuring the Ally Sloper character was most likely given away with the comic book Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday, an 1884 spin-off from the original Judy comic which he featured in from 1867. A page from the comic featuring Ally can be viewed in the 'Gallery' section.
These 'readers’ rewards' were a pioneering marketing technique which is still used by today’s comics and magazines. In Ally Sloper’s case, merchandise was not restricted to clay pipes, but also included tobacco jars, shaving razors and bottles of sauce.
One of the more morbid prizes offered by the magazine was the reward of £150 to “the next of kin of any Man, Woman, Boy or Girl… who shall happen to meet with his or her death in a Railway Accident…. PROVIDED a copy of the current issue of 'Ally Sloper's Half Holiday' be found upon the Deceased.” The magazine was a popular railway staple, and train accidents were common in that era. The offer is apparently meant in complete seriousness – according to the magazine, 11 claims had been paid out by the time of print of the issue of Saturday January 2nd, 1904, shown as an image in the Gallery!
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