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Various meerschaums from Smokiana pipeshop

Meerschaum as material

Meerschaum is a very suitable material for making pipes. The raw material is found in underground shafts in Turkey and comes as white blocks. It is a kind of stone, but very lightweight and extremely porous. This makes a meerschaum pipe comfortable light to hold and very pleasant to smoke since it absorbs all the humidity in the smoke.

Only at the end of the eighteenth century the production of meerschaum pipes emerges, initially with large pipes in Hungarian style and bulbous shapes. Later on, the variety of shapes increased and the style of carving got more delicate. A typical nineteenth century article is the cigar holder or cheroot holder made in meerschaum in huge quantities in the decades from 1870 to 1920. Sometimes the traditional shape of a tobacco pipe is still visible, but more often highly decorated pipes were designed.

In the twentieth century most smokers preferred an undecorated pipe and from 1900 onwards most meerschaum pipes were copies of the plain briar pipe. In order to look like a vintage pipe, some producers boiled the meerschaum in hot oil, or colored the material or treated it with tanned wax or otherwise.

Because the fragile nature of the material, meerschaum pipes were always sold in a fitted box or case. Some cases were even designed to smoke the pipe within the closed case. Smokers tried their best to create a fine orange-brown color by not touching the waxed surface.

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Carved meerschaums from Smokiana pipeshop

Carved meerschaum pipes

Carved meerschaum cigar holders are extremely popular and sought after by collectors. The craftsmanship of the trained carvers is sometimes beyond belief in their detailed and realistic creations. Many pipes are more likely to be an exhibition piece than a pipe to be used, but instead, they all have been smoked as you can see in the fine coloring of the patina.

The fashion of the meerschaum cigar holders, emerging in 1860, continues to flourish up to the 1920’s. In practically every household a meerschaum pipe could be found, although in the upper-class it was a commodity for daily use, while otherwise it was regarded as the Sunday’s pipe.

Most common are the cigar holders with carved claws, horses and dogs; they are made by the millions and spread over Western-Europe. Special designs were made by gifted artists who could invent unexpected scenes they carved in single copies.

In the early 1900’s the cigar pipe was gradually overrun by the cigarette and consequently the cigarette pipe. This should be mass-produced and therefore less artistic, without the realism in design and going down in quality. During the Interbellum this product vanished from the market and nowadays a meerschaum pipe is mainly a piece of curiosity. Especially tourists coming back from Turkey tend to take a meerschaum pipe as a souvenir.