Meerschaum is often referred to as White Gold, White Goddess, or even Venus of the Sea. Meerschaum is a German word and actually means sea foam. It is a hydrous magnesium silicate, made of millions of tiny fossils of the sea. The best meerschaum comes from Turkey and Africa, where it is mined. The mining process is very delicate and time consuming. Up to 80% of the meerschaum is discarded at this stage. Only a small fraction of the meerschaum is pure enough to be carved into Turkish meerschaum pipes.
Meerschaum pipes have been used since the early 1700s. Turkey is the only country that produces meerschaum pipes. The most common color is a creamy white, but the color can even be an opaque white grey. The pieces that arrive from the mine have to be soaked for 15-30 minutes before they can be carved. Soaking the meerschaum in water softens it, and prevents it from cracking during the carving process. It also allows a more intricate design for the pipe head.
The material is hand-carved into either a standard pipe, or a true piece of art. Even the mouth piece is hand-fitted to the pipe head. The last stage in the production of a Turkish meerschaum pipe is the waxing and polishing of the pipes. The waxing of the pipe is done to ensure that the pipe will color evenly when it is used.
The art of meerschaum carving is admired by pipe smokers all over the world. The popular designs have not changed much over the years. Captains, sultans, and pirates are the traditional designs, but designs that are more modern have been included today. Carvers even take custom orders from Turkish meerschaum pipe enthusiasts.
Pipe stores around the country usually have at least a small assortment of pipes available for collectors and pipe smokers alike. A reputable pipe storeowner will educate customers on how to care for a meerschaum pipe, as it requires a different kind of care than the briar pipe. The â€œcakeâ€ which is desired in briar pipes is undesirable for the meerschaum pipe. Cleaners and sweeteners have to be used with caution because they can cause irreversible damage.
The color of Turkish meerschaum pipes develops over time. It is caused by the natural oil all tobaccos contain. The oilier the tobacco, the darker the color of the meerschaum turns. The pipes carved out of the White Gold from Turkey are cured by smoking a couple of loads of tobacco. A meerschaum pipe most certainly makes a great addition to every pipe collection. Even though they require a little extra attention and special care, pipe smokers around the world appreciate this kind of pipe as a piece of art.