“Meerschaum” is a German word, and literally translated it means “sea-foam”, alluding to the belief that it was the compressed whitecaps of waves. Technical Meerschaum is a mineral, a hydrated magnesium silicate, one of the most porous substances found in nature.Meerschaum is found in red clay deposits, and the highest quality Meerschaum is only found in one place, in an area only about 6,5 square kilometers, near the small city of Eskisehir in central Turkey.
The material possesses excellent smoking characteristics, it is very absorptive because of its porous nature. Even the biggest filter followers should try a pure smoking experience with a non filter Meerschaum pipe, you will be surprised!
In the last decades Meerschaum pipes could be found in every collection, but nowadays are not as common anymore. This is mostly a result of an unnecessary complication of the matter – actually Meerschaum pipes have a lot of positive attributes.
Meerschaum pipes do not have to be broke in, nor can they burn through. The material has a completely neutral taste, you will taste the pure tobacco. Blockmeerschaum can absorb more than its own weight in water, it even floats on it! The pipes are very light, you hardly notice the weight in your mouth. It is said that Meerschaum breaks easily, but if you take care, they are as sturdy as briar pipes. If you let Meerschaum fall to the ground, usually the pipes will just have small dents, only in some very unlucky cases the pipe can break at the shank.
After many times of smoking, a change of colour will occur – the shining white pipe will turn to a warm amber tone. The colour change will start at the bottom of the bowl and shank, there most of the condensate is absorbed and the bees wax that is used to coat the pipes binds the condensate in the Meerschaum.
Meerschaum pipes come in many different price ranges. This is due to differences in the quality of the raw material. The whiter and lighter the Meerschaum is and the less impurities it contains, the higher the price. As with the briar root, the mined material will have cavities and fissures, and the portion that has to be discarded is quite high. The Turkish Blockmeerschaum has a much older geological background and a higher quality as the more heavy and slightly grey Meerschaum coming from Tansania. Sometimes you can find pipes made from pressed Meerschaum, containing pulverized Meerschaum particles and a binding material.
It is also noteworthy, that the high amount of work it takes to make an engraved or sculpted Meerschaum pipe, does not reflect in the price. For these pipes the pipemakers can use raw materials which are not usable for smooth pipes because of small imperfections
All things considered, the Meerschaum pipe is an uncomplicated smoking tool, but a few things have to be kept in mind:
Because of the very high absorptive capacity of Meerschaum, it gets very soft. It is advisable to wait a few hours until the cleaning process after smoking, else the sharp ends of the pipe cleaners can get stuck in the inside of the bowl and eventually get carried to the outside of the pipe. There is also the danger to damage the inside of the bowl with a pipe tool while scratching out the rest of the tobacco.
Eventually, just like a briar pipe, the charcoal crust inside the bowl will get too thick and has to be scratched out to avoid cracks generated by too much tension. In extreme cases, whole parts of the pipe can chip off.
A lot of smokers like their pipe evenly coloured. To achieve this you should only touch and hold the pipe at the mouthpiece, or if you can live with the stares from your partner, use a white cloth glove. The ideal way to transport your Meerschaum pipe is the provided case, you should not put the pipe in a pipe bag, because contact with leather can lead to unwanted discoloration.
We could go on endlessly writing about the ‘White Goddess’, but the interested reader can find lots of literature about Meerschaum pipes at his local pipe dealer.