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 But by the end of World War I, fancy meerschaum pipes had been superseded by the clean, geometric look that would become Art Deco.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

Objects bring back long ago memories
McPherson Sentinel, September 19th

Do you remember what kind of pipe tobacco your dad smoked in his old Meerschaum pipe for his after-mealtime smoke? Why, it was Prince Albert in a can of course! What were the ingredients mom used to make her Clara Bowers chocolate cake? I don't ...Read more

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club (Critic's Pick)
Cincinnati CityBeat, September 15th

Now it's 2014 and the guy in the deerstalker cap, puffing on his meerschaum pipe or playing his violin, still captures our fancy. Over the past century, there have been no fewer than 20 film, television and radio versions of the mysteries solved by the...Read more

Biennale des Antiquaires: 10 Beautiful Objects on a Budget
Artinfo UK, September 11th

The smoking set, circa 1850, of Henri of Bourbon, Count de Chambord, which contains a pipe, a tobacco box, and tools, in meerschaum, amber, ivory, silver, and iron for 25,000 euros at Galerie Delalande. -A comb, Tchokwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, ...Read more

Playing an unfamiliar role
Chippewa Herald, September 5th

Ben Bromley, patron of the arts: Clearly my costume for this role should involve an ascot and a meerschaum pipe. I am blessed to live in a community that has an honest-to-goodness palace of a playhouse. Built by circus impresario Al. Ringling as a gift...Read more

Pierre Huyghe's Unpredictable Retrospective
New York Times, September 3rd

At 51, Mr. Huyghe looks the part of the 21st-century French conceptualist, with a stylishly weathered Gallic face and an ever-present electronic cigarette smoked in a pensive way that makes it seem like a Meerschaum pipe. He grew up in a suburb of...Read more

Bromley column: Playing an unfamiliar role
Sauk Prairie Eagle, September 3rd

Ben Bromley, patron of the arts: Clearly my costume for this role should involve an ascot and a meerschaum pipe. I am blessed to live in a community that has an honest-to-goodness palace of a playhouse. Built by circus impresario Al. Ringling as a gift...Read more

Medical marijuana approval might eliminate Florida's bong ban
Naples Daily News, August 29th

Rouson, who has been open about his past struggles with drug addiction, carved out an exception for what he called “grandpa's pipe” — anything made from “briar, meerschaum, clay, or corn cob.” Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill (HB 49) into law and it...Read more

Advocate: 'Bong ban' falls if pot amendment passes
TBO.com, August 24th

Rouson, who has been open about his past struggles with drug addiction, carved out an exception for what he called “grandpa's pipe” — anything made from “briar, meerschaum, clay, or corn cob.” Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill (HB 49) into law and it...Read more