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The Art History of Water Pipes


When you smoke using a water pipe, you’re holding art history in your hands. Seriously. The art of glass blowing dates back to 2nd millenium BC ChoghaZanbil. When you buy water pipes here at Thick Ass Glass, you may not think of the art history angle to your purchase, but it has taken glass blowers many years to cultivate and craft the ideal smoking experience for you and make it look good. Archaeology shows that glassblowers produced pipes in the time before Christ.

Glass bottles found at the excavation of the city of ChoghaZanbil provide the first evidence of glass blowing, but a later find in Jerusalem turned up the first blow pipe. The early pieces date from 37 to 4 BC and include glass tube fragments, glass rods, rudimentary blow pipes and small bottles. The Roman Empire encouraged the glass blowing art, but disallowed trade by its glassblowers. Their well-developed techniques were considered a “trade secret” of sorts of the Empire. The process proliferated throughout the Empire though and artisans founded large workshops in what is now Lebanon, Israel and Cyprus. It continued to spread throughout the Roman Empire. In the mid-1st century AD, Phoenician craftsmen escaped the Romans to the Swiss Alps and shared their glass blowing knowledge. Once forbidden to travel by the Empire, these escaped artisans moved throughout Europe, first establishing significant workshops in France and Belgium. Their early post-escape works consisted of flagons, jars, perfume bottles, indented beakers and bowls, some in blue-green glass. These pieces showed some of the first use of the colorful glass so common to today’s water pipes.

During the Middle Ages, the Franks created corrugated molds to develop the “claws decoration” motif. Glass drinking vessels in the shape of animal horns became popular, produced by artisans in the Rhine and Meuse valleys, and in Belgium. Byzantine craftsman wrought mold-blown glass decorated with Jewish and Christian religious symbols. In Italy, the Renaissance inspired Venetian glassblowers using the mold-blowing technique to create fine glassware known as cristallo. The invention of what is now called crystal occurred in sequestration. In 1291, Italy forced Venetian glassblowers to move to the island of Murano, a natural fire break island that protected Venice. It was on Murano that Venetian artisans also created the first glass mirrors. We have them to thank for our finest glass works, the etchings now possible on glass, and the ability to see the funny faces we make while smoking.

Jamestown colonists introduced blown glass to The New World in 1607. Artisans moved to the colony and began the tradition of American glassworks. In 1784, the youthful United States made its first major contribution to glass, when Benjamin Franklin invented the bifocal eyeglasses. Another notable modern invention occurred in 1903, when Michael Owens invented the automated bottle blowing machine. It revolutionized light bulb manufacturing and ended the use of child labor in the glass making industry.

Today, the U.S. enjoys a thriving glass blowing industry. A U.S. non-profit, the American Scientific Glassblowers Society, devotes itself to documenting new glass blowing techniques, procedures, and materials. Its more than 650 members create much of the artisan glass products you buy, and create and improve the crafting techniques.

Thank the English for the snazzy black glass used in crafting many water pipes. In England, glassblowers focused, not only on aesthetic, but also, utility. In the mid-17th century, the English began creating a glass so dark green that it appeared black. The attractive product served a preservative service when used to blow storage vessels. The black glass blocked light and prevented damage to the contents within. This helped households preserve their food longer.

When you shop for a new water pipe at Thick Ass Glass, you’re enjoying the artistic and scientific benefits of hundreds of years of research to deliver to you a beautiful and productive smoking experience. Although some glass-related inventions didn’t focus on pipes themselves, they gave the industry the ability to automate glass production and manufacture many pipes at once, for instance, Owens’ bottle blowing machine.




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