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 But by the end of World War I, fancy meerschaum pipes had been superseded by the clean, geometric look that would become Art Deco.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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Jeffrey Smart set to storm Shapiro Auctions saleThe Australian Financial Review, April 22nd
Among the pipes, examples carved with the soft, white mineral meerschaum stood out: a pipe carved with a jester in its original case 14cm long brought $610, a pipe carved with a lady's head went for $549 and a cased pipe stem and mouthpiece carved with ...Read more
Guilty PleasuresThe Advisor, April 16th
That's an actual one near Amsterdam where maybe one day a bunch of Dutch architects was probably chillaxing 'round the communal meerschaum with half a pound of sweet Blueberry Kush and, cranial light bulbs ablaze, thought, “Well Hellootjes! Wouldn't ...Read more
Side-splitting, my dear WatsonWinnipeg Free Press, April 9th
No need to be a meerschaum pipe-smoking Sherlockian to know Hound, judged as the most famous Holmes mystery and the source of the most adaptations. The novel, about a vicious hellhound that has terrorized the Baskerville family for generations, has ...Read more
Elegant pipe made of meerschaumWaterloo Record, March 28th
A. The body of your friend's pipe is made of meerschaum, a form of magnesium silicate found primarily in Turkey. Its cool, dry nature made it an ideal material for pipe bowls and cigarette holders. As you see, it becomes coloured with time and use...Read more
Antiques & Collectibles: Meerschaum pipe bowl is a special heirloomPress of Atlantic City, March 20th
Answer: The item shown in your photo appears to be an antique Meerschaum - German for sea foam - pipe bowl. Meerschaum, a soft, light, porous mineral mined in Turkey, is naturally white but gradually shades to yellow, amber, then brown or deep red as a ...Read more
Portraits of People and Their Essential Everyday ItemsPetaPixel (blog), February 25th
She has a Meerschaum pipe as a “daily” item but no tobacco? Unless its in that Owl bag…i guess… I have aMeerschaum and it definitely isnt a daily out and about item… but it sure is pretty isnt it? Also that Meerschaum pipe has almost zero patina (or ...Read more
Inside The World's Only Corn Cob Pipe Factory, Missouri MeerschaumSt. Louis Public Radio, March 26th
The Missouri Meerschaum factory in Washington, Mo., is the only place in the world that manufactures corn cob pipes made famous by such historical figures as Mark Twain and General Douglas MacArthur. Sales at the company have grown over the last two ...Read more
Faces of Kaleiçi: (3) The Waning Art of Meerschaum CarvingToday's Zaman, April 16th
For those who missed the first two installments of this series, kaleiçi is a district in the original walled city of Antalya. Its narrow, stone-paved streets, often no more than lanes, meander with no apparent design. With twists and turns they lead...Read more