What’s the story behind this object?
I found this vintage item for sale on eBay. It’s an old pipe tamper, used to pack or "tamper" tobacco in a pipe. The end that you hold shows an ambiguous optical illusion portrait.
If you view the portrait one way, you can barely make out the words "aliquando sapientes", which is Latin for "sometimes wise".
One way – "Sometimes wise"
When you view it the other way, it reads "stulti aliquando", for "sometimes foolish" or "sometimes a fool".
Upside down – "Sometimes a fool"
So what does that mean? Is it referring to man being either wise or foolish depending on how he looks at things? That would make sense, but that’s not it.
I discovered that the design on the side of the round emblem shown above is similar to the one on the right side of this English print from 1689 in the collection of the British Museum. (The other side of the pipe tamper emblem, which I haven’t shown because it was so worn, matches the figure on the left.)
(click to enlarge)
The Latin words "Ecclesia Perversa Tenet Faciem Diabloi" next to the left figure mean:
"The Church subverted takes on the appearance of the Devil".
The "Church subverted" is the Catholic church. These optical illusions are not benign; they’re satirical anti-Catholic propaganda. The reversible portrait on the left is of the Pope and the Devil, and the one on the right is of a Cardinal and a Fool.
That means the optical illusion pipe tamper was originally created to be used by an anti-Papist.
– Ecclesia Perversa …., The British Museum>>
– Examples of satirical coins by Sergio Rossi contains some optical illusion examples>>