Meerschaum is found in a handful of places around the world, but the most famous source for the stone is in and around the city of Eskisehir in western Turkey. A porous mineral, meerschaum is soft enough to be carved but hard enough to be polished, revealing the incredible skill of the artisans who began making pipes out of the material in the 18th century. By the late 19th century, an ornately carved meerschaum pipe or cheroot holder was a status symbol for the men who smoked them in their clubs and book-lined studies. But by the end of World War I, fancy meerschaum pipes had been superseded by the clean, geometric look that would become Art Deco.
During its heyday, from roughly the 1870s to the 1920s, pipe makers in Hungary and other Eastern European countries, many of whom were Jews who passed their trade from son to son, transformed blank blocks of white meerschaum into everything from the heads of figures from history and literature to angels in repose and hunters on horseback. Cheroot holders, which have smaller bowls than full pipes, feature some of the most intricate carvings, while cylindrical cigar holders are less detailed due to their small surface area. Some of the most popular subjects of antique meerschaum include depictions of leaders such as Napoleon, knights and noblemen, and sailors, who often appear inebriated, sometimes clutching a bottle as they lean against the pipe's bowl.
Beyond the appeal of their decorations, meerschaum pipes are popular with smokers for the quality of the smoking experience they produce. Unlike pipes made of briar root or cherry, meerschaum does not impart any flavor when smoked (although it must be added that many smokers enjoy the subtle flavors produced when smoking tobacco in a wood pipe). Because meerschaum does not conduct heat well, the bowl is always cool to the touch. And the porosity of meerschaum causes the pipe to change color over time as it used. Thus, the stone, which is carved white, turns a butterscotch brown when transformed into a pipe, filled with tobacco, and smoked, a process that’s frequently hurried along by rubbing a finished pipe with beeswax and sometimes ox blood.
Today meerschaum is not allowed to be exported from Turkey in its raw, block form, which has spurred new generations of carvers there. In many cases, the characters and subjects of contemporary carved meerschaum are positioned between the bowl, which is often left unadorned, and the end of the pipe's stem. Other styles emulate the classical saxophone shape of a large carved bowl attached to a stem that angles up to meet the smoker's mouth. The pipes are considered handsome enough, but in general, the details on contemporary pipes are less ornate and more formulaic than those on their forebears.
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Recent News: Meerschaum Pipes
Source: Google News
Changing upgrade route would 'save koalas and money'Northern Star, March 4th
THERE are cheaper and more direct routes for the Woolgoolga to Ballina highway upgrade that would not destroy important koala populations around Meerschaum Vale, Blackwall Range and Coolgardie. That was the message a group of koala supporters ...Read more
A Man and His Pipe, Part I: “Considerable Noteworthy History”Whitman Pioneer (blog), March 1st
The material is meerschaum, a rare mineral found almost exclusively in a valley in western Turkey. Fresh out of the ground, meerschaum is a bright white and very malleable. Gradually it turns a rich brown when exposed to tobacco smoke. The pipe...Read more
Koala expert quits Pacific Highway project, slams RMSNorthern Star, February 24th
Koala ecologist Dr Steve Phillips. He had been on it for a couple of weeks but when he made comments in the media last week about populations around Meerschaum Vale being a "linchpin colony" for the region, he was effectively told "to pull his head in"...Read more
Eyewitness 1847: Harmonists' patriarch dies in unique townPittsburgh Post Gazette, February 15th
"There are no dances and frolickings of youths and maidens on the village green, and no happy young bridegroom may be seen sitting in his porch, serenely smoking his meerschaum." But neither were there drunkards or shrews. "In the chill night, no...Read more
The Counterfeit AgentNPR, February 12th
Instead, he wandered into a pipe store and watched Ethcon's entrance as he pretended interest in an overpriced meerschaum. He'd come early. The bazaar was almost empty. After a few minutes, the Ethcon clerk poked his head out to talk to his counterpart ...Read more
Highway upgrade threatens major koala colony near BallinaNorthern Star, February 10th
The report, written be respected ecologist Dr Steve Phillips, identifies the Meerschaum Vale, Blackwall Range and Coolgardie koala population as "a key source population for breeding and dispersal" and suggests it should be listed as an "important ...Read more