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 But by the end of World War I, fancy meerschaum pipes had been superseded by the clean, geometric look that would become Art Deco.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


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Match World

Match World

This ambitious site showcases the 20,000-item Rankei Library matchbook collection, owned by the Japan Match Manufac… [read review or visit site]

Kensitas Silk Flowers

Kensitas Silk Flowers

Don Wearmouth and his wife showcase the 230 beautiful silk designs that were distributed free with Kensitas cigaret… [read review or visit site]

Matchbox Labels

Matchbox Labels

Jane McDevitt's huge Flickr photoset of matchbox labels, primarily Eastern European, from the 1950s and 60s. These … [read review or visit site]

Truth in Advertising

Truth in Advertising

This gallery of cigarette magazine advertising from the 1940s and 50s contains no surgeon general's warning, just p… [read review or visit site]

Matchbook Museum

Matchbook Museum

James Lileks' gallery of 400 matchbooks from coffee shops, hotels, motels, bars, banks, restaurants and more. Lilek… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

New In Box Peterson's Sherlock Holmes Meerschaum Pipe W Sterling Band & "p" LogoPeterson's Dublin Meerschaum Pipe W/ Sterling Silver Shank End CapAustrian Antique Old Meerschaum Pipe Worrier Good Condition With Case Antique 19th Century, Meerschaum African Woman's Head, Amber Stem, Estate Pipe.Dunhill? Meerschaum Prince Pipe W/ 14k Gold Capped Shank * Coopersark No ReserveAntique Meerschaum Pipe Skull Pipe With Case By J. MirejovskyBekler Meerschaum Bulldog Pipe * Unsmoked * With Custom Fitted Hard CaseC.1880 Signed French Antique Meerschaum Ecume Veritable Smoking Pipe Carved ClawAntique/vintage Ehrlich Finely Hand Carved Meerschaum Pipe W/case “monk’s Head”Unsmoked Townsman Amboseli Tanganyika Block Meerschaum Estate Pipe.Austrian Antique Old Meerschaum Pipe Hand Amber Steam Good Condition W/caseF. Baki Meerschaum Carved Bent Pipe Unsmoked Peterson Dublin Sherlock Holmes Original Smoking Pipe Sterling Silver RingAustrian Antique Old Meerschaum Pipe Africain Good Condition With Case Junk Drawer Lot Gerber Applegate, Seiko Watch, Meerschaum Pipe, Case Xx KnifePeterson's Dublin Rosslare Smoking Pipe Sterling Silver RingVintage Jambo Genuine Block Meerschaum Chunky Apple Estate Pipe Pipa PfeifeFinely Carved Antique Ehrlich Meerschaum Pipe W/case “indian Chief W/headdress” 19th Century,sightly Risque Carved Lady Meerschaum Pipe. D Macropolo, Bombay.Unusual F.edwards & Co Big "tiger Head" Meerschaum & Amber Victorian Pipe & CaseVintage Large Carved Turkish Block Meerschaum Long Bearded Bacchus Smoking PipeAntique Singleton & Cole Calabash Meerschaum Sherlock Holmes Estate Pipe Pipa Austrian Antique Old Meerschaum Pipe Eagle Claw Deers Amber Steam W/caseAntique Genuine Carved Meerschaum Pipe Victorian Lady With Case Bakelite Stem Xl Austrian Antique Old Meerschaum Pipe Amber Good Condition W/caseImported Claw Meerschaum Pipe W/ Case From Turkey - Estate Junk Drawer FindAntique Meerschaum With Amber Stem, Egg Shaped Bowl, Cased.Andreas Bauer Meerschaum Pipe In Original Case-- Nice!!Antique Meerschaum Pipe With Amber Stem & Silver Mount.Aboseli Tanganyika Block Meerschaum Estate Pipe.Top Meerschaum Pipe Laxey Pipes Ltd Isle Of Man For Peterson'sFine Hand Carved Meerschaum Pipe Winged Cherub & Beast Cased AntiqueVintage Genuine Block Meerschaum Pipe-original Box & Paperwork-unsmoked- NiceRare Vintage Falcon "sl 3" Meerschaum Briar Estate Pipe Pipa Pfeife England Sl3Hand Carved Meerschaum Smoking Pipe - Smooth (ak0508) Xl American Antique Old Meerschaum Pipe Amber Good Condition W/case Antique Carved Turks Head Meerschaum Estate Pipe. No Stem.Antique Meerschaum PipeVintage Large Carved Turkish Block Meerschaum Cavalier Smoking PipeFalcon Meerschaum Bowl Pipe Super Rare BowlAboseli Tanganyika Block Meerschaum Estate Pipe.Peterson's Block Of Meerschaum Sterling Silver Spig Estate Pipe,pipa,pfeife,pijp Antique Singleton & Cole Gourd & Meerschaum Calabash, Silver Hallmark 1910.Simba Genuine Meerschaum Smoking Pipe Made In Tanzania Boxed Kikob Amboseli Tanganyika Meerschaum Estate Pipe.Cased Antique Eagle Claw Carved Meerschaum Amber Estate Cheroot Pipe Pipa Pfeife Antique Salmon & Gluckstein Meerschaum Pipe/cheroot Holder. Hall/mark C 1900.Judd's Vintage Meerschaum Cheroot Holder In Fitted CaseBarling’s Meerschaum Pre-transition(?).Meerschaum Pipes Austrian Antique Old Meerschaum Pipe Deer Amber Steam W/caseVintage Meerschaum Eagle Claw Estate Tobacco PipeAntique Meerschaum Estate Pipe Cased.Churchill's Vintage African Block Meerschaum Rustic Bent Estate Pipe Pipa PfeifeMeerschaum Pipe (brand New)Meerschaum Pipe With Custom Case3 X Puffin Meerschaum Estate Pipes.Smoking Pipe Meerschaum Octagon Bent Mineral Original Block Turkey HandmadeFull Bent Nude Bathing Block Meerschaum Pipe Woman Smoking Wholesale No Res 2653Viking Skull Hat Block Meerschaum Pipe Fullbent Turkey Gift Case No Reserve 4712