Meerschaum is a soft white mineral sometimes found floating on the Black Sea, and rather suggestive of sea-foam, whence also the French name for the same substance, écume de mer.
Meerschaum is opaque and of white, grey or cream color, breaking with a conchoidal or fine earthy fracture, and occasionally fibrous in texture. Because it can be readily scratched with the nail, its hardness is placed at about 2. The specific gravity varies from 0.988 to 1.279, but the porosity of the mineral may lead to error. Meerschaum is a hydrous magnesium silicate with the formula H4Mg2Si3O10.
Most of the meerschaum of commerce is obtained from Asia Minor, chiefly from the plain of Eskisehir in Turkey, between Instanbul and Ankara. It occurs there in irregular nodular masses, in alluvial deposits, which are extensively worked for its extraction. It is said that in this district there are 4000 shafts leading to horizontal galleries for extraction of the meerschaum. The principal workings are at Sepetci Ocagi and Kemikci Ocagi, about 20 miles southeast of Eskisehir. The mineral is associated with Magnesite(magnesium carbonate), the primitive source of both minerals being a serpentine.
When first extracted meerschaum is soft, but it hardens on exposure to solar heat or when dried in a warm room. Meerschaum is also found, though less abundantly, in Greece, as at Thebes, and in the islands of Euboea and Samos; it occurs also in serpentine at Hrubschitz near Kromau in Moravia. It is found to a limited extent at certain localities in France and Spain, and is known in Morocco. In the United States it occurs in serpentine in Pennsylvania (as at Nottingham, Chester County) and in South Carolina and Utah.
Meerschaum has occasionally been used as a substitute for soapstone, fuller’s earth, and as a building material; but its chief use is for smoking pipes and cigarette holders. When smoked, Meerschaum pipes gradually change color, and old Meerschaums will turn incremental shades of yellow, orange, and red from the base on up. When prepared for use as a pipe, the natural nodules are first scraped to remove the red earthy matrix, then dried, again scraped and polished with wax. The crudely shaped masses thus prepared are turned and carved, smoothed with glass-paper and Dutch rushes, heated in wax or stearine, and finally polished with bone-ash, etc.
Meerschaum products traditionally were made in manufacturing centres such as Vienna. Since the 1970s, though, Turkey has banned the exportation of meerschaum nodules, trying to set up a local meerschaum industry. The once famous manufacturers have therefore disappeared. Nowadays, meerschaum pipes not obtained from Turkish producers are usually made of pressed meerschaum or African meerschaum, which are inferior in quality.
Imitations are made in plaster of Paris and other preparations.
The soft, white, earthy mineral from Langbanshyttan, in Varmland. Sweden, known as aphrodite ( sea foam), is closely related to meerschaum.
All of these pipes were made in Turkey and are of the highest quality. Hand carved and occasionally signed by the carver.
Sherlock and Holmes in a beautiful presentation case.
Titled “Pasha” hand carved by Cevher, from Turkey ca. 2008
Titled “Sultan” hand carved by Tethi in 2009 from Eskisehir, Turkey.
Very well done “Chief” meerschaum pipe. Carved in 2010, unsigned.
An “Eagle’s Claw” clutching the pipe bowl carved by Artestika ca. 2009 in form fitted case.
Meerschaum is a very rare mineral, a kind of hard white clay. Light and porous structure of the pipe keeps the smoke cool and soft. Simply put, it is a unique smoking experience. Meerschaum is the most flavorful and beautiful pipe you can own. This Pipe is made of high quality Eskisehir meerschaum which is very well known to pipe experts. Unlike briar, meerschaum does not burn. Meerschaum pipes do not need pre-smoking for quality performance. Each pipe is hand crafted art. The stone acts as a filter, absorbing tobacco tars and nicotine, and yields a most satisfying smoke. Meerschaum smokes cool and dry with a flavor unrivaled by any other pipe. Because of its peculiarity, meerschaum pipes slowly change their color to different tones of rich honey-brown. This adds a pleasing esthetic enjoyment to its great smoking pleasure. The longer the pipe is smoked the more valuable it becomes due to the color change.
Titled “The Viking”. Purchased in the 1970s still in original box with papers. Lightly smoked, just starting to change color.
You can see all of my hand-carved, museum quality, Meerschaum pipes at my eBay store Kelekchens. Put your cursor on my assistant (the duck), double click and your there.
Until next time, Happy Collecting and remember “the best is yet to come!”