Masonic Pipe in 3D


Click on the photo for to link to a 3D image the you can zoom, rotate, and manipulate.

Recently, a 3D image of a smoking pipe was added to the Virtual Curation Lab, an online project of Virginia Commonwealth University.  You can view rotate, zoom, and manipulate the image by clicking the photo above or by clicking here.  The smoking pipe was discovered within the fill of the main cellar of the Washington family house at George Washington’s Ferry Farm, his boyhood home.  The pipe features the square and compass and twin pillars that distinguish this as a masonic pipe.  Such motifs were very popular.  The masonic symbols faced the smoker and fluting characterized that portion visible to surrounding friends.  The design elements used suggest that this pipe was likely made in the northeast of England sometime between 1770-1810, in places like Hull.

George Washington was initiated as an apprentice mason on November 4, 1752, passed to fellow craft on March 3, 1753, and became a master mason on August 4, 1753. He achieved all of these masonic ranks at Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4.  While it is certainly possible the masonic pipe belonged to George, he was one of four notable masons associated with Ferry Farm.  The other three were Fielding Lewis, Hugh Mercer, and George Weedon, who each may also have left this specimen behind in the archaeological record.

The Virtual Curation Laboratory (VCL) at Virginia Commonwealth University, headed by Dr. Bernard K. Means, scanned this pipe bowl in three dimensions.  3D scanning provides two types of digital models: a three-dimensional image to be viewed on a monitor and, with the use of a special 3D printer, a plastic replica of the item.  Replicas can be printed at a larger scale, allowing details to be viewed more easily.  VCL has used the technology to scan bones from extinct passenger pigeons, allowing researchers from around the nation to compare these known digital models to bird bones in their own assemblages so that they can identify passenger pigeons in their collection.


The pipe bowl being scanned in 3D.

Three-dimensional scanning allows The George Washington Foundation to provide greater public access to fragile artifacts both on the Internet virtually and as 3D printed copies that visitors can see and hold.  Making 3D images available online allows more people to see these artifacts than could ever visit Washington’s boyhood home.  We can even make these digital files available to researchers on the web, allowing others to 3D print them wherever in the world they may be.  In the field, 3D replicas allow staff to engage visitors, showing them (for example) a wig hair curler or tobacco pipe, then inviting them to guess how the object was used in the past.


3D replicas allow Ferry Farm archaeologist Lauren Volkers to share rare and unique artifacts with visitors when the archaeological dig site is open.

Fragile ceramic sherds can be printed in plastic, allowing visitors to mend the pieces together as an educational exercise.  Such access allows the original objects to be on exhibit while simultaneously allowing maximum access to the replicas physically and digitally.


Archaeologist Vivian Hite uses a 3D printed plastic replica of the masonic pipe to engage young visitors.

Laura Galke, Archaeologist
Site Director/Small Finds Analyst