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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.