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 But by the end of World War I, fancy meerschaum pipes had been superseded by the clean, geometric look that would become Art Deco.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

They're privy to habits of 1800s Lower East Siders
The Villager, February 10th

The find included detritus that was 150 years old or more, including a ceramic ginger beer bottle, meerschaum clay tobacco pipes, plate fragments and small bottles for medicinal tinctures. “Scott insisted I keep several of the bottles and the clay...Read more

Artistic project to honour memories of Meerschaum Vale
Northern Star, February 5th

MEERSCHAUM VALE: H.W Collective co-founder Sophie Hexter (middle) will work with Josephine Saunders (left) and Debbie Clements (right) to create an artistic work for Meerschaum Vale Hall. Cathryn McLauchlan ...Read more

Peter Falk: Common and Preferred
Modern Times Magazine, February 1st

I remember one case where it was 20 minutes into the teleplay before he realized he hadn't taken off his pajamas. Colombo is an ass-backward Sherlock Holmes. Holmes had a long neck, Colombo has no neck; Holmes smoked a Meerschaum pipe, Colombo ...Read more

Updated adaptation doesn't give actors, director much to work with
Camarillo Acorn, January 28th

When he does produce the one familiar item left to Holmes, his ever-present meerschaum pipe, it's used only briefly as a prop and then immediately set down in an ashtray. Similarly, Holmes' sidekick, the stuffy, droll Victorian physician Dr. John...Read more

Modern adaptation is lacking
Agoura Hills Acorn, January 27th

THE GAME’S AFOOT—Hugh McManigal, left, as Sherlock Holmes and Michael THE GAME'S AFOOT—Hugh McManigal, left, as Sherlock Holmes and Michael Keane as Dr. Watson in “The Hound of the Baskervilles” at Conejo Players Theater...Read more

National Review goes all-out 'against Trump' – as it happened
The Guardian, January 22nd

I can only imagine the author pushing emphatically back from a massive rolltop desk, taking the antique meerschaum pipe in hand, and blowing bubbles out of it, each borne aloft on hot, damply satisfied breath, before bursting near the ceiling, a...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

Your detailed pipe bowl, featuring a carved hunter and a deer scene, typifies intricate bas-relief and high relief bowls crafted by Continental, English and American carvers from the mid-1800s to the turn of the last century, the heyday of figural...Read more