Page Content Top
Meerschaum Tobacco Pipes
Meerschaum tobacco pipes are exquisitely carved works of art that are highly valuable and collectible. The fine art of Meerschaum pipe-making began in the late 1600's, though the exact date and origins are debated to this day. Meerschaum is a rare mineral found mainly in Eskisehir, Turkey, and although some small deposits exist in other parts of Mediterranean Europe, Northern Africa and even in Pennsylvania, Utah and South Carolina, the purest quality meerschaum comes from Turkey.
Soft and porous, meerschaum is a mineral mined from the ground, but is sometimes found floating on surface of the Black Sea. When raw, meerschaum nodules are creamy white or bone coloured and so much resemble frothy sea foam, that it was named Meerschaum, which means “sea foam” in German, or, in French, écume de mer.
The raw mineral hardens with exposure to heat and is dried in the sun or in heated rooms and treated with beeswax throughout the refining process in order to polish and protect it and also to aid in the colouring process. As the pipe is used, it acts as a natural filter for nicotine, and with time, incremental changes in color from yellow to amber to a deep leathery red-brown appear. The longer a pipe has been smoked and the more color the mineral has acquired, the greater its value.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, at the height of its popularity, the center of meerschaum pipe production was Vienna, Austria. Similar to soapstone in its texture, Meerschaums were beautifully carved by master artisans with elaborate scenes, faces, figures, animals and natural motifs. They were collected and prized by the wealthy in Europe, but the popularity of cigarettes after World War I pretty much brought about the end of the European meerschaum industry.
In the 1970s, the Turkish government banned the export of raw meerschaum to stimulate this local industry and today, all meerschaum pipes are made in Turkey.