By Katherine Taylor-McBroom, Curator of Exhibits and Collections
The tiger skull smoking set elicits numerous reactions from visitors ranging from an enthusiastic “Cool!” by students to a look of shock and horror by others. Reactions aside, the smoking set is a striking example of artistry with its two attached sterling silver repoussé mounts depicting a tiger and elephant in a wilderness setting. Other parts of the smoking set are equally ornamental. Connected at the base of the head is a serpentine arm, which leads to a matchbook holder depicting a praying figure. Less decorative but functional are removable cups for ashes, one in each eye and one in the nose. Resting on the lower jaw is a mount for a cigarette or cigar.
This smoking set was given to Major General Briard P. Johnson (1905–1980) as a presentation piece from a Field Marshall of Thailand on December 25, 1960. Johnson most likely received this piece when he was part of the US Military Assistance Group to Thailand from 1959–1962. Johnson was an engineering student at Norwich University who graduated in 1927, and later graduated from the Army Command and General Staff School in 1947 as well as the Air War College in 1950. The tiger skull smoking set is a rare piece of craftsmanship currently on view in our 200 Years–200 Objects exhibition.