How Your Meerschaum Pipe Was Created and What Makes It Better Than Other Pipes
Meerschaum smoking pipes are something few people ever give even a passing thought to yet they’re something virtually everyone is familiar with. Most notably by way of the unmistakable profile of Sherlock Holmes with his trademark calabash pipe and its meerschaum insert. Yes, meerschaum pipes are part of the cultural landscape but if you’ve just bought your first one or received one as a gift you may have a few questions about the pipe, why its better than other pipes, the material and how it all comes together. We’re here to answer those questions. So sit back, light up a bowl and enjoy.
The word “meerschaum” is actually German and, roughly translated, means “sea” (meer) “foam” (schaum). Meerschaum is composed of the fossilized remains of microscopic sea creatures that died and came to rest on the seafloor during the Paleocene and Eocene periods as many as 50 million years ago. Over time those remains were compressed by successive layers of oceanic debris and finally pushed upward and exposed for harvesting by the unbelievable forces of plate tectonics that are so active in Asia Minor even today.
The meerschaum that you hold in your hand as well as most of the rest of the world’s meerschaum (“sepiolite” is it’s technical name) is harvested today from more than 4,000 mines spread out across the plains of Turkey. Meerschaum mining is an ancient craft and there are Turkish families that have been engaged in little else for centuries. Though the first meerschaum pipe dates back some 300 years ancient cultures in Asia Minor and the Middle East have used meerschaum for thousands of years to make incense burners.
Turning Sea Foam into Meerschaum Pipes
Now that you know a bit more about the material that meerschaum smoking pipes are made from let’s go through the steps involved in creating your meerschaum pipe.
- Harvesting, washing and grading - As we already learned the meerschaum for your pipe came from mines sunk deep into the plains of Turkey. Once brought above ground it was washed thoroughly to remove centuries of dirt and grime and then graded based on its size, color, density and overall consistency. The manufacturer of your pipe then purchased the meerschaum from the mining company and had it shipped to the pipe workshop.
- Splitting the blocks - Once the pipe maker received the meerschaum they split it into carefully determined smaller pieces from which they would carve their pipes, including yours. Splitting is always done by the most experienced artisans to ensure maximum quality. It’s possible that 3/4 of the block your pipe came from was eventually determined to be unsuitable and was discarded.
- Carving the pipe - Once the artist chose the smaller block that would become your pipe they soaked it in water for up to half an hour to soften the material and make it more amenable to carving. Once properly softened it was then carved with patience, a steady hand and a keen eye for detail until the final form emerged.
- Fitting the stem - Until the mid-20th century stems were commonly made of pure amber. However, because of the time, cost and hassle associated with securing enough high quality amber the switch was eventually made to amber-toned Lucite. So unless yours is a collector’s pipe it likely was fitted with a Lucite stem and then moved along for polishing and waxing.
- Polishing and waxing - Once pieced together your meerschaum pipe was carefully polished using gentle, time-tested abrasives and then dipped in beeswax to create a lustrous finish.
- Inspection - The last step in the production of your meerschaum pipe was the final inspection conducted by the manufacturer’s quality control experts. Not every pipe passes this final step so you can be sure that yours is a meerschaum pipe of distinction.
Meerschaum smoking pipes are one of a kind art objects with a rich history that are sure to provide you with many years or even decades of pleasurable service. They have long been one of our staple products and we have a vast array of meerschaum pipes available both through the Paykoc website and at our retail outlet on Logan Court in Denver. Stop by and have a look for yourself.
Want to make your Meerschaum Pipe truly special? Why not get it engraved with your initials or better yet your favorite quote, at Paykoc Imports we can engrave just about anything, that includes our signature Meerschaum Pipes.
What They Offer that Other Pipes Don’t
Now that you know the history of Meerschaum Pipes let's take a look at why they dominate the competition. As pipe smokers, we have a lot of options when it comes to buying that most basic and important pipe-smoking necessity: I’m talking about the pipe, of course. Shapes, materials, colors, designs—there is as much variety in pipes as there is in the pipe-smoking community. While so many options can be overwhelming, they also give pipe smokers the ability to choose a pipe that is uniquely suited to their personality and their preferred smoking experience.
In this article, we’ll give you the lowdown on one of the most popular types of pipe: meerschaum pipes.
What are Meerschaum Pipes?
Meerschaum pipes are crafted from a soft white mineral that mostly originates on the plain of Eskisehir in Turkey. It’s sometimes found in Greece, France, Spain, Morocco, the United States, or floating on the Black Sea, giving it the ethereal appearance of sea foam. Meerschaum is composed of the fossilized shells of ancient sea life that collected and compressed over millions of years.
Meerschaum has been used for pipe making since the early 1700s and instantly replaced clay pipes as the favorite smoking implement of the day. Though meerschaum pipes were once manufactured in Europe—primarily in Vienna—Turkey has since reclaimed manufacturing, since this special material is found almost exclusively in Turkey. Meerschaum pipes are crafted by hand, an art which has become a traditional part of Turkish culture.
The best Meerschaum pipes are made from block meerschaum, not powder meerschaum. High-quality blocks the size of grapefruits are extracted from red clay in the Eskisehir plains, while powder meerschaum is found in smaller quantities all over the world. Meerschaum pipes can be pure meerschaum or can be combined with other types of materials to make a different type of pipe.
- Briar pipes are more durable and absorb heat easily, making them the first choice for many pipe smokers. The best qualities of meerschaum and briar pipes are sometimes combined, however, by crafting a briar wood pipe with a meerschaum bowl. Smokers who love this type of pipe swear by its sweet flavor, given by the meerschaum, along with the durability it inherits from the briar.
- Calabash pipes are crafted from gourds and finished with meerschaum or porcelain bowls. They have a distinctive curve, which easily sets them apart from other pipes. Film and theater portrayals of Sherlock Holmes usually depict the famous detective smoking a calabash pipe.
Why Do Pipe-Smokers Love Meerschaum?
Meerschaum pipes are works of art, known for their one-of-a-kind designs and beauty. Though briar pipes have been the most popular type of pipe since the mid-1800s, meerschaum pipes still hold a special place in pipe smokers’ hearts for their craftsmanship and the unique natural qualities of the material.
1. Intricate Design
Meerschaum is a very soft mineral when it’s first mined, which means that it’s easy to carve into just about any shape or design you can imagine. From simple, smooth, and elegant bowl shapes to lavish works of art involving faces, animals like lions or wolves, castles, flowers, skulls, mythical creatures like dragons or mermaids, or whole scenes from history, fiction, or mythology. Meerschaum pipes are available in more designs than any other pipe, from their shape to their bowl to their finishes—pipe smokers can truly have a personalized experience with meerschaum pipes. For smokers who value artistry, meerschaum is the pipe of choice.
2. Cool Flavor
Meerschaum is known for its unparalleled flavor. It’s known for having only a slight impact on the taste of tobacco, which really allows tobacco’s undertones and subtleties to shine. Its porous nature draws moisture and tobacco tart into the stone, delivering a cool, dry smoke.
3. Unique Coloring
Meerschaum is valued for its interesting colors caused by the oils found in tobacco. When tar or moisture saturates the meerschaum, this soft mineral starts to change color. With age and use, meerschaum pipes transform from white to yellow, orange, red, and then amber from the base up. If you use your pipe instead of letting it sit on the shelf, your meerschaum will change color over time, although it takes years for meerschaum to reach its full color potential. There are a few ways, though, to give your pipe the best possible color:
- Smoke your pipe often: several times a day for a few weeks. Then, let it sit for about a month. This allows the wax coating to fully absorb the color.
- Remember not to smoke your pipe too hot, since this will cause the wax to disappear, and with it, the color.
- Be sure to pack the bowl high and smoke out of the top of your pipe so that you can get coloring where you wouldn’t normally have it.
We at Paykoc think every type of pipe has its place. So whether you choose a meerschaum, a briar, or a corncob pipe, happy smoking!