Some of you reading this may recall that over the past 12 months or so there has been some discussion regarding the origins of a certain Nargi pipe purchased by one of our customers.
“I bought a beautiful NARGI water pipe at an estate sale and I cannot find out any information on the internet about it, except it is hard to find and very rare. I would like to know the value of it and if a collector would be interested in buying it. Any help would be appreciated.”
Following that plea for help we finally struck gold when this response was posted on our Facebook page…
“I know all about the Nargi water pipe. My grandfather, Ernest Borglin, and his friend, Toby David, developed and manufactured the Nargi pipe in the 1950′s in Detroit. My grandfather, an entrepreneur, and Toby David, a local TV personality, partnered in the venture. Unfortunately, the pipe never took hold in the marketplace and the production was very limited. None of the family members have a Nargi pipe today, although at one point we all had one. I would love to have a picture of your pipe if you would be kind enough to email one to me. With most of the grandkids growing up in the 1960′s and 1970′s, we used to call the Nargi pipe the “pocket bong.”
I hope to hear from you.
And at last our own research has borne fruit as we stumbled upon the following brief history of the Narghile pipe, the idea behind the Nargi.
“For what appears to be a Rube Goldberg contraption, turn to the narghile, a water pipe that is related to the chibouk and is popular with the Turks and Asians. Persians, Dutch, English—all claim to have invented the water pipe, but a considerable case can be advanced for the pygmies and bushmen of Africa, who used sections of bamboo and water-filled gourds to smoke hemp. Coconuts were also used, being tough, durable, and easy to hollow out, and, indeed, the Indian word narghile means coconut shell. Called hookah by the Turkish and kalian by the Persians, the water pipe consists of a glass bowl that holds water — sometimes scented — and two tubes. One tube conveys the smoke from the burning tobacco to the sealed water chamber, the other enables the smoker to draw the smoke through the water. One early writer on the subject of Persian smoking habits states, “The excessive use of the pipe dries up the Persians and weakens them. They admit this fact, but when asked why they do not quit the habit, reply, ‘There is no joy for the heart except by tobacco!’”
In point of fact, the narghile offers the coolest, mildest smoke of any pipe, and in terms of design and ornamentation often constitutes a genuine work of art. If the tubes, wrapped in gaily colored silk with a proliferation of tassels, are not enough to titillate one’s imagination, it may be remembered that narghiles are also used for smoking a large variety of narcotics, including opium.
A truly stupendous description of the proper setting for smoking a narghile occurs in a 19th-century tract titled, A Peep into the Harem: A fair idea of the importance attached to smoking by Turkish women of high rank may be obtained by a visit to the Harem of the Khedive of Egypt at the Ismailia Palace on the banks of the Nile. The audience chamber of His Highness’s only wife is a casket fit for a jewel. The furniture is of ivory and mother-of- pearl, and the hangings of silvery satins, embroided with pale roses and violets in silk and silver thread. The ceiling and woodwork are painted with groups of flowers . . . while the floor is covered with thick Aubusson rugs strewn with a design of rose leaves and buds. Here, lying back on a low divan, is the Queen, clothed in white silken tissues cut a l’Europienne with a great profusion of marvelous lace and a perfect shower of pearls and diamonds glittering in her hair . . . (and) her slippers thickly sewn with brilliants.
On her heart she wears a miniature of her husband framed with huge diamonds and rubies and around her waist is a broad band of the same stones to which is suspended a fan of snowy ostrich feathers, its handle encrusted with pearls; emeralds and sapphires.
The author notes that “in spite of all this, there is nothing discordant in the sovereign’s appearance,” and then goes on to describe the Queen’s narghile pipe: “The bowl is of engraved rock crystal mounted in chased gold, fashioned in the form of a lotus flower. The tube is concealed by a deftly wrought network of pink silk and gold thread while the amber mouthpiece and gold plateau are one mass of sparkling jewels.”
A somewhat extravagant description as one might expect from the era, but fascinating nonetheless. The description of the setting and the pipe’s appearance as its centrepiece demonstrates just how important pipes and tobacco have been historically as a status symbol. Even more fascinating would be knowledge of what was being smoked in the Queen’s narghile pipe, and whether she had a team of staff trained specifically to clean and prepare it!