All About Pipes

Why Buy a Meerschaum Pipe?

Put simply, because it affords a unique smoking experience. Meerschaum is the most flavorful and beautiful pipe you can own. Meerschaum – one of the most porous substances found in nature – acts as a filter, absorbs tobacco tars and nicotine, and yields a most satisfying smoke. Meerschaum smokes cool and dry with a flavor unrivaled by any other pipe. As it ages, meerschaum colors a rich honey-brown, improving both in appearance and taste.

Meerschaum pipes – with a minimum of proper care – will last for a lifetime. They will not burn out as briars do. A meerschaum is an investment in smoking pleasure.

As beautiful as meerschaum is to the eye, its true beauty must be experienced. A meerschaum is made to smoke. Hold it. Enjoy its light weight and silky feel, its distinctive taste, its ripening to a mellow golden-brown. Justly deserving its reputation as the “aristocrat” of pipes, the meerschaum is not meant for the connoisseur alone. All pipe smokers can appreciate the unique pleasure of meerschaum.

“Meerschaum” is a German word meaning literally, “sea foam,” alluding to the belief that it was the compressed whitecaps of waves. Meerschaum is a mineral – hydrous silicate of magnesium – of organic origin. Composed of the fossilized shells of tiny sea creatures that fell to the ocean floor millions of years ago, meerschaum is found in red clay deposits. The average size of the meerschaum blocks extracted from the clay is about the size of a grapefruit.

Meerschaum deposits of the highest quality are found only in one place in the world – in the small city of Eskishehir in central Turkey. And here the deposits are confined to an area of only 4 square miles.

Mined with hand tools, and by men trained in this singular family tradition, meerschaum is excavated at depths ranging from 200 to 300 feet. The miners wash the raw meerschaum lumps and sort them into 5 categories according to quality. Each of these 5 categories is further divided into 12 qualities according to the size, color, porosity and homogeneity of the mineral. The block meerschaum – not to be confused with pressed meerschaum – is shipped to the manufacturer.

Nearly 300 years ago, the first meerschaum pipe was carved by hand. And today, these unique pipes are still carved by hand. The carver, a craftsman of unique ability and long experience, examines each piece of meerschaum, calculating the lines of cleavage along which it should be split. The split block-meerschaum is soaked in water for 15 to 30 minutes until the material achieves a cheese-like consistency.

Working with the softened material, the carver determines the rough shape of the pipe before the bowl and draft hole are bored. Like all fine hand-crafted articles, no two meerschaums are alike.

The carved meerschaum goes into a kiln at high temperature, a process that removes all moisture from the mineral. The shank is threaded and fitted with a stem.

After meticulous polishing with the finest grade abrasives, the meerschaum is ready for waxing. Though there are many different wax formulas, beeswax alone yields the rich coloring associated with the finest meerschaums. Melted and then bleached, the beeswax is ready to receive the pipe itself. The subtle differences in color and tone among some brand pipes are intentional, achieved by careful dipping of the pipes a specific number of times.

Don’t be afraid to handle or hold your meerschaum with clean hands. Remember, you purchased a meerschaum primarily for your smoking pleasure. The added pleasure you derive from a meerschaum is watching it color as you smoke it.

The conventional wisdom on this topic is that handling a meerschaum while warm removes the beeswax coating on the pipe, which highlights its coloring. While this is true, only the purist – the smoker far more concerned with the look of his/her pipe than their own smoking pleasure – ­need worry about it. Besides, you can replace the wax coating removed by handling very simply with CAO’s Meerschaum Antiquing Compound.

Do take care when removing the stem from the bowl of your meerschaum. Remove the stem of your meerschaum by pulling it and twisting it clockwise while supporting the shank with the fingers. Replace the stem by pushing it and twisting it clockwise also. A little care here will be repaid through a lifetime of smoking pleasure.

Don’t tap your meerschaum against a hard surface. If you tap it in your palm, be sure to support the shank firmly with your hand. This is sound advice for briar pipe smokers also.

Don’t worry about “breaking in” your meerschaum. Meerschaum pipes, unlike briars, do not burn and hence need not be protected by a carbon “cake” inside the bowl.

Do clean the cake or residue inside the bowl of your meerschaum. Use a sharp-edged, blunt-ended tool. Avoid digging into the heel of the pipe when cleaning the draft hole by not allowing the pipe cleaner to extend too far into the bowl.
Smoke your favorite blend in your meerschaum. Each pipe will color differently. However, this process depends on how often you smoke, not on what tobacco you smoke.