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Bully Dog

Interesting, in the Wikipedia age, how an idle question about a pipe shape name can sprout tangents and lead one afield. Take the Bulldog ( . . . please: It’s a very old shape and pipe name; the earliest catalog entry I’ve seen is 1892 (George Zorn catalog, down the page a ways) but there are doubtless earlier ones. What I haven’t seen is an authoritative “how the Bulldog got its name“ account. I’ve looked through my pipe books and the web pages of the usual suspects and read a bunch of old forum threads, so let’s look at the history of the actual dog because why not.

Among the many entries in the long annals of human brutality and blood lust is the practice of bull baiting. Popular in (not exclusively) England from the 1200s until it was outlawed by the Cruelty to Animals Act in 1835, bull baiting, like bear baiting, involved tethering a bull and setting dogs on it. Wagers were placed on individual dogs, several of whom could be expected to be trampled, gored, or battered to death before the victor clamped onto the bull’s nose and suffocated it. Thus the bulldog, first codified in 1666 by English scientist Christopher Merret as “canis pugnax, a butcher’s dog or bear dog.” The breed’s traits of courage, tenacity, and toughness made it practically a national mascot.

Bulldog, 1790, by English painter Philip Reinagle

Such were the ancestors of today’s purebred English Bulldog, a medium-sized, docile, wheezy pet noted for its gentleness with children but short-lived and bred into an overwhelming propensity for hip dysplasia. One could get lost in dog breed tangents — the modern establishment of the Olde English Bulldog breed, intended to recreate the extinct bull baiting dog, is interesting, as is the history of crossing bulldogs with terriers to create bull terriers that were more suited for both vermin control and dogfighting. Despite its pugnacious Latin name, the bulldog was bred to attack bulls, not other dogs, and was a poor performer in combat.

Bulldogs came to the New World with colonists, obviously, and there is, in The Epic of New York City: a Narrative History by Edward Robb Ellis, mention of their use in mid-17th-century New York to round up wild bulls in the city. The dog‘s instinct to seize the bull by the nose aided in the bull’s capture. While New Amsterdam was a Dutch settlement, it teetered on the edge of economic failure and the Dutch had lured a number of English settlers with the promise of free land, bountiful crops, and ideal climate. Presumably some of these brought their dogs. There had been no fences or brands in New Netherlands up to this point so, apart from dairy cows, cattle basically roamed wild and the bulls were a problem. This rounding up, branding, and containment of livestock was part of the governance of Richard Nicolls, who had sailed with four British men-of-war and 450 soldiers to New Amsterdam in 1664 on a secret commission from the Duke of York to wrest New Netherlands from the Dutch, part of a larger strategy leading to war to break Dutch control of slave-trading ports on the coast of Africa and seize more land in the New World. War was not declared until 1665 and the warships sailed under the ruse of going to Boston to enforce observance of Church of England rites, lest the Dutch inconveniently send their own warships.

Piracy 101.

The fleet arrived in New Amsterdam on August 24. Their arrival was not a complete surprise — amazingly, given the absence of cell phones. Although the West India Company-appointed director Peter Stuyvesant scrambled to buy gunpowder and urged the colonists to prepare to resist, he was the last in a succession of unpopular directors and his immediate predecessor’s ill-advised war with the native inhabitants had left the colonists, if not quite ready for a change of government, at the very least unmotivated to rumble with well-armed professionals. Even if they had wanted to fight, they were poorly suited to do so, having neglected their defenses on the grounds that the Company should pay for them. Nicolls offered reasonable terms and the surrender was signed on September 8. I had vague memories of this from history classes and might have been able to answer “How did New York get its name?” but the business about wild bulls running amok and bulldogs helping capture them was new, and I’d never have read the book if it weren’t only two tangents away from my pipe question.

More rabbit holes await the Google searcher who casts about for the naming origins of the Bulldog pipe shape but I fear your patience wears thin so on to the pipe.

There is general agreement among pipe name sources on the Bulldog’s characteristics: truncated cone upper bowl, diamond-shaped shank, gently conical lower bowl connecting the two. One or two thin circumferential grooves are usually cut at the transition between upper and lower cones. There is a class of pipes whose names readily relate to objects — Egg, Acorn, Pot, Apple. A Brandy, whatever it has for a shank or stem, has a bowl reminiscent of a brandy snifter. Other shape names, not so much. The Bulldog? I dunno, Perhaps one can squint head-on at a Bulldog pipe and kind of see a bulldog face. With its broad stance and deep chest I guess the dog has a sort of diamond-shaped cross section. Or its head is diamond-shaped, maybe that’s it. Then again, maybe those grooves are the dog’s furrowed brow and the proper perspective is looking down at the top of the dog’s head.

Or maybe not. I looked at a lot of dog pictures before I saw a pipe in one of them and the bulldog looked different 150 years ago. Inconclusive.

The use of briar for pipe manufacture dates from the mid-1800s and the Bulldog pipe shape was well established by the turn of the century, so somewhere in those early few decades of pipe making the name of a muscular dog with a wide head and pushed-in nose was applied and it stuck. The shape would almost necessarily be a French invention, along with many shapes that we think of as quintessentially British, simply because the French got there first. Although success has many fathers, most impartial research seems to mark the French town of Saint-Claude as the birthplace of the briar pipe. The French pipe company GBD (Ganneval, Boundier and Donninger) was formed in 1850. While the firm initially dealt in meerschaum pipes, Ganneval, a craftsman, was probably from Saint-Claude, which would explain GBD’s early entry into the briar pipe market. A picture of an 1892 GBD Bulldog on might as well be the archetype for the shape. It is a very elegant, trim, well-proportioned and beautifully made pipe, clearly not a first attempt.

George Zorn & Co. Pipes & Smokers Articles, Fifth Edition Catalog c. 1892

In 1902, GBD was sold to A. Oppenheimer & Co. of London and became a British company. GBD, with 1500 shapes (many variations were minor) in its catalog years before Alfred Dunhill dreamed up the Windshield Pipe, had been selling pipes in England from its start. Oppenheimer had been the importer since 1870. While I had always thought of GBD as an English company making English pipes, at the time the Bulldog got its name the company was as French as Camembert, but obviously paying close attention to the preferences of John Bull. The simplest explanation I can see, with the disclaimer that this is shot from the hip and not the result of anything resembling research, is that the Bulldog, however much or little it looked like the dog, was a name that resonated in the English market. Prince, Dublin, Liverpool, Billiard, Bulldog, etc. Not many French names among the old standards although the French were carving them. Maybe we have the Cutty because in English shops a Belge (French for Belgian) wouldn’t sell. Or vice versa. Marketing — a Billiard doesn’t have to look like anything in billiards or a Liverpool like a Liverpudlian any more than a Jeep Gladiator has to look like the Roman variety. Although with those external hinges and armor-plate-like doors and things hanging off it, it kinda does. Bad example.

It’s just speculation but it has a Law of Parsimony ring to it. If someone has better information, perhaps there will be a comment below. In any case, after my morning’s reading I am less edified by the history of GBD than I am troubled by bull baiting and various colonial episodes — by the reminder that humans, as a species, have always loved violence. Maybe not all of us, but enough to keep the wheel turning. If we can’t get it one way, we’ll get it another.

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2 comentários

15 de jul. de 2020

Ah, it’s you, Reto. Thanks. I thought, who the hell is calling himself howellhandmade?


15 de jul. de 2020


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