From the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford: a Coke Bottle Water Pipe—one of the selected “English objects,” given a detailed biography on their website. Some excerpts of this object’s biography follow below. (The entire article can be read: here)
At the back of the Pitt Rivers museum in the far right-hand corner is a case full of different smoking devices. Number 1999.41.1 is described on the label as a “water pipe for smoking marijuana”. Marina de Alarcon, a curatorial assistant at the museum, bought the pipe on the 25th of November 1999, from the Bombay Emporium on East Oxford’s Cowley Road, and donated it to the collection. The device is fashioned from an empty 330 ml Coca-Cola bottle.
Upon closer examination it is obvious that the contraption is made simply, but is functional as opposed to merely ornamental. For its water jar, the pipe is comprised of a standard, glass Coca-Cola bottle of the iconic shape and design found across the world. Into the neck of the bottle the pipe’s maker inserted simple a bung with a valve, hose and a body valve on top of which is the bowl and plate, as indicated by the diagram.
The markings on the bottle – “Mainland U.K. Distribution Only” – indicate that the pipe was probably made in Britain from a container used in the country. While Coca-Cola is ubiquitous, this particular combination of recycled glass Coke bottle and common laboratory equipment is unusual in the world of water pipes, even those of the homemade variety. By contrast, the most frequently cited instructions found online for fashioning such smoking devices call for using larger, 2-litre plastic bottles. It’s not clear if the smaller water capacity of the Pitt Rivers’ example would affect the pipe’s utility in filtering the smoke.
(More excerpts follow, after the fold…)
After being used as a drink container somewhere in the U.K. and then transformed into a smoking pipe by an unknown craftsperson, the Coke bottle made its way to the Bombay Emporium… One of the Emporium’s founders and owners, Maya Angrish, says the shop bought the pipe either from merchants at the outdoor market in Oxford’s Gloucester Green or from a supplier elsewhere in England, perhaps London. Otherwise, she says she has no specific record or memory of the pipe’s origin.
When de Alarcon bought the pipe, the surrounding East Oxford neighbourhood had been known through the 1990s for drug use, crime and a transient population often housed by social service agencies in bed-sits. In 1999, the year of the water pipe’s purchase, a community group called East Oxford Action, working in part with local businesses, began a turnaround program aimed at reviving the area, which had ranked in the lowest levels nationally among indices of deprivation factors. East Oxford has since rid itself of much of the blight, such as lots littered with hypodermic needles. The Bombay Emporium’s owners say they no longer re-stock smoking pipes because they set a bad example for children.
Curatorial assistant Marina de Alarcon purchased and donated the Coke-bottle pipe in November 1999 for inclusion in a Pitt Rivers exhibit called “Transformations – The Art of Recycling,” which she was helping set up for the following spring…
The purchase and exhibit coincided with a growing anti-globalisation movement in which brands such as Coca-Cola were cast as symbols of corporate domination. Naomi Klein, a Canadian writer and activist, published her book “No Logo” in 2000 in an attempt to rally young people against the power of global conglomerates. Against this backdrop, the making and using (and even purchasing and displaying) of a Coke bottle pipe can be seen as subversive acts against the worldwide brand.
… The role of Coca-Cola in globalisation is frequently debated, with local uses of the drink and its containers a matter of contention and fascination for anthropologists who study the impact of the worldwide brand. Coke has been seen by some as an example of American culture taking over local traditions. But local adaptations, such as this English twist on the smoking pipe, can be seen as a way in which local identity can assert itself through a subversive act against the global brand. Seen in these ways, the Coca-Cola water pipe is uniquely English.
ENGLAND: THE OTHER WITHIN
Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum