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 But by the end of World War I, fancy meerschaum pipes had been superseded by the clean, geometric look that would become Art Deco.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

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Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Disappearing Copyright
The Conversation, July 30th

Holmes lit his meerschaum, and exhaled noisily towards the ceiling. “I vaguely recall the author. A hack.” “Well, that's as may be. This lawyer cove said that 50 of your so-called hack's stories had fallen into the public domain, which apparently means...Read more

Not what we planned (3): Red fairy chimneys and black amber
Today's Zaman, July 30th

We shook the dust of Horasan from our feet, we jumped into our young doctor nephew's car the morning after our arrival, and we didn't wave bye-bye; I'm sure there are plenty of fine folk there, but we didn't have time to get to know them. Our hosts...Read more

Cath a unique link to past
Byron Shire News, July 15th

As she got older Cath and her friends and siblings attended the many dances at the local halls. "Every night we went to a dance and would come home at daylight to milk the cows," she said. "One night on the way to Meerschaum Vale, a friend was taking...Read more

The birds and the tease
The Globe and Mail, July 13th

I thought Kevin in his tweeds and ever-present meerschaum pipe certainly looked the part of an expert ornithologist. Every time he'd stopped, the others did the same. I could hear whispers from one or two birders, but after 10 minutes an expectant hush...Read more

46 Canal St., Bellows Falls, VT 05101
Maine Antique Digest, July 9th

walnut Chippendale desk; grain painted blanket chest; Federal lolling chair; Black Forest carved clock; Tiffany sterling; CDV's of Lincoln, Civil War, black man, Edwin Booth; decoys; autographed duck stamps; Meerschaum pipe collection; and other...Read more

MÉXICO: Diez datos desconocidos de Sherlock Holmes
EntornoInteligente, July 8th

El Informador / CIUDAD DE MÉXICO (08/JUL/2014) .? Este 7 de julio se cumplieron 84 años de la muerte de Sir Arthur Connan Doyle , médico y novelista inglés, creador del inolvidable Sherlock Holmes. El mayor homenaje que se le puede hacer a un autor ...Read more

Sherlock Holmes: 10 datos desconocidos de la obra original
De10.com.mx, July 5th

La pipa meerschaum tampoco pertenece a la literatura de Doyle, pues casi no existió durante el siglo XIX. La primera vez que se le atribuyó a Holmes fue en una dramatización para el teatro en 1899 por William Gillette. 4. El 221b de Baker Street ahora...Read more

From the files
Chippewa Herald, July 2nd

We observe that many of the rye fields are coloring as beautiful as a genuine meerschaum pip. We expect that some time next week the reapers will be slaying them. There has been considerable fresh meat sold in town during the past week under the name ...Read more