What Makes a Meerschaum Pipe Distinct Stand Out Among the Rest?




Much like smoking cigarettes, smoking pipes continues its long decline in the US. Of course, smoking pipes and owning pipes are two very different things. One is a health risk and the other a hobby.

Why would anyone want to own or collect pipes? Carved pipes go way back and some of them rise easily to the level of art.

For some, that antique nature makes them appealing. For others, the unique beauty of the carvings makes them desirable.

Yet, the meerschaum pipe stands out as probably the most distinctive of all pipes. Curious as to why? Keep reading to learn what makes them so distinctive.

What Is Meerschaum?

Meerschaum is a hydrous mineral that starts out its life a white color. While found in several parts of the world, the highest quality meerschaum comes from a small area in Turkey.

When first extracted from the ground, meerschaum is a particularly soft mineral due to its high water content. Even after it dries, a brief soaking in water will restore its soft nature.

That softness makes it particularly easy to drill and carve for pipe bowls. In fact, the bowl of Sherlock Holmes' calabash pipe is meerschaum.

Meerschaum Pipe Carving

The tradition of meerschaum pipe carving dates back hundreds of years. Some carvings are little more than decorative designs. Other carvings are incredibly complex pieces that range from faces and animal heads to complete figures.

Wondering how to make a pipe out of meerschaum? Amateur enthusiasts can try their hand at it with pipe carving kits, although these kits won't contain Turkish meerschaum.

The meerschaum is soft enough after soaking that you can use most standard carving tools, such as carving knives or palm chisels, to work the material.

Color Change

One of the things that make meerschaum pipes especially distinctive is their unique color change. If someone smokes a meerschaum pipe, the porous mineral slowly absorbs smoke and nicotine. This gradually colors the pipe until it takes on a mahogany color.

Collector's Item

People don't only collect meerschaum pipes for their beauty. As a collector's item, even comparatively modern meerschaum pipes can carry real value.

As with other types of collector's items, pipes carved by particularly famous pipe makers hold more value. Austrian pipe maker Gustav Stehr, for example, was the pre-eminent pipe carver of his day. Pipes made by him will carry substantial value compared with pipes made by lesser carvers.

Meerschaum Pipes Stand Alone

Considered solely as a pipe, meerschaum doesn't particularly outstrip other pipe bowl materials in overall performance. Yet, you need only say the words meerschaum pipe and many people will immediately conjure a mental image of one. Few other kinds of pipes hold such a powerful place in the public consciousness.

Beyond that, few other kinds of pipes come with such a long and potent carving tradition. No other kind of pipe will change color in the same way if you smoke it.

Curious about other crafts you might try your hand at? Check out some of the posts in our DIY/Crafts section.

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