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 But by the end of World War I, fancy meerschaum pipes had been superseded by the clean, geometric look that would become Art Deco.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

Ancient underground city in Cappadocia will 'rewrite history'
Hurriyet Daily News, November 23rd

An underground city found in Turkey's touristic Cappadocia will “rewrite the history of the city,” according to the mayor in the Central Anatolian Nev?ehir province, adding they had discovered people had permanently lived in the underground city...Read more

DAVID HOLSTED: A law by any other name is just as confusing
Harrison Daily (subscription), November 21st

You might recall Emily Litella, a character played by Gilda Radner in the early days of Saturday Night Live. Emily was hard of hearing and often got hot topics confused during her Weekend Update commentaries...Read more

Istanbul's top 10 historic shopping arcades
The Guardian, November 12th

Among the 5,000 French words absorbed into Ottoman Turkish before 1914, one of the most recognisable is pasaj. Half a century after their emergence in Paris, these covered arcades flourished in Istanbul, drawing on French, Italian, and Ottoman ...Read more

Artifact of the Month: English smoking pipe
Kenosha News, October 31st

The November artifact of the month is a unique carved meerschaum pipe bowl, which was given to the Kenosha County Historical Society in the summer of 1952. At that time, the English smoking pipe was reportedly 100 or more years old. According to ...Read more

'The Hound of the Baskervilles'
Santa Barbara Independent, October 28th

Sherlock Holmes has to be one of the most instantly recognizable of all fictional characters, and it's not merely his deerstalker hat and meerschaum pipe. What makes Holmes so identifiable is of course his extraordinary mind, which is the repository of...Read more

Victorian-set 'Sherlock' special 'The Abominable Bride' gets an airdate, October 26th

among other things, Cumberbatch's Sherlock donning his character's iconic deerstalker hat ("You're Sherlock Holmes. Wear the damn hat," Martin's Watson barks at one point), as well as toking from an equally iconic Meerschaum pipe. Check it out in...Read more

Joe Rosson: Writer's pipe is Meerschaum cheroot holder with original case
Knoxville News Sentinel, October 24th

Cheroot holders, such as the one in today's question, were often made from "Meerschaum" — which is German for "foam of the sea." It is a hydrous magnesium silicate that is often off-white, gray or cream colored. It has been found floating in the Black...Read more

Antiques & Collectibles: Meerschaum pipe bowl is a special heirloom
Press of Atlantic City, March 20th

Initially used to make somewhat plain pipe bowls, Meerschaum eventually became a favorite material of craftsmen who created exquisitely carved bowls by using a process during which a block of the mineral was changed through turning, carving, soaking in ...Read more