A brief history
Meerschaum translates from German to English as ‘Sea Foam’. This term was employed as the material could sometimes be found afloat the Black Sea. This incredibly workable material, also known as sepiolite, was first given the name meerschaum in 1788 by Abraham Gottlob Werner. That being said, some of the earliest
examples of meerschaum pipes date back to sixty years before. The material was (and still is) sought after for it’s highly porous and easy to carve nature. Meerschaum has become synonymous with Turkish pipe makers. The skills used to apply such detail to these pipes has made them world renowned, and quite rightly so.
To retrieve this wonder material is not as simple as one may assume. Meerschaum is made from fossilised microscopic sea life that has been condensed and compressed on the seafloor some 50 million years ago. As a result, to get to material one must mine. These mines litter the Turkish landscape (as many as 4000) varying in scope and output. The people of this land had been using meerschaum for many centuries previous to its application to pipe making, be it for incense burners and other artifacts.
Benefits for use in pipe-making
Bone white in appearance, the pipes fashioned from this material can be made to resemble anything the artist deems worthy. Many of these pipes are decorated with ornate symmetrical patterns, others are emboldened with figures or animals protruding from them. The non-smoker would assume these are merely decorative ornaments rather than fully functional pipes… they would be mistaken.
Meerschaum pipes may be delicate to handle at first but over a period of time build up a toughness through their service. Absorbing the nicotine causes them to go through various stages of transformation. The end result is tortoiseshell in appearance opposed to the original bone white. By the time the meerschaum has reached this stage it has also vitrified, thus making it more resilient.
Buying a meerschaum pipe
When looking to purchase a meerschaum pipe pay attention to the product specifications. If it says it’s made from ‘Block’ then it’s of the highest grade, mined as a solid piece. If it is not stated that it is from the block, more likely than not it will be made of ‘pressed’ or ‘reconstituted’ meerschaum. This is often left over shrapnel from the production of the higher grade pipes. These flakes of meerschaum are taken and bound together with an agent and have a speckled appearance as a result.
Meerschaum pipe care and maintenance
When one has bought a meerschaum pipe there are a few things to bear in mind. Firstly, when new, you should use your meerschaum pipe continuously for a month. Do not smoke it until it gets too hot or you may eradicate the wax coating. After this allow it to rest for the same amount of time before returning to it. This will allow it time to rest and in the process of cooling, vitrify. This is not a quick process and the pipe will take many years to reach its full colour potential. The second important thing to pay close attention to
is the way you remove the stem from the bowl. Unlike most conventional briar pipes that have a fitting that can be removed either clockwise or anti-clockwise, many meerschaums opt for a plastic screw fitting. This means they require care when removing the bowl and should only be turned a specific way (most commonly anti-clockwise to remove the stem). Heavy handedness could spell disaster. Most of these meerschaum pipes come in a one off pipe case designed specifically to fit the pipe in question.
Benefits of meerschaum
The experience of smoking a meerschaum pipe vs a briar pipe are quite noticeable. Thanks to the porous nature of the meerschaum, a smoother, cooler smoke is provided when compared to a briar counterpart. This reduces the chance of tongue bite quite drastically and makes the material optimal for those who suffer this affliction, be it through hasty smoking or the choice of aromatic tobacco being smoked.
At The Pipe Shop LTD. we are proud to boast an extensive range of high quality meerschaum pipes. From more reserved pipes such as the ‘Turkish Block Meerschaum – Bulldog Pipe (Sterling Silver Band)’ to the ostentatious and gaudy ‘Turkish Block Meerschaum – Adam & Eve Pipe XXL’ we have something to cater for all tastes. These pipes are truly pieces of functioning art and would make the ideal gift for any pipe smoker or collector.