Meerschaum is a product that is farmed from the sea. It is an off-white substance which is porous yet hard and can withstand very high heat.
The first recorded use of meerschaum as a material for making pipes was about in 1723 and quickly became popular as the perfect material for providing a cool, dry, flavourful smoke. The porous nature of meerschaum draws moisture and tobacco tar into the stone and absorbs nicotine. Unlike briar, meerschaum does not burn and does not need pre-smoking to have a good quality performance. Meerschaum also does not require the layer of carbon (cake) which briar pipes to protect the wood and deliver a cool smoke.
Two mainline meerschaum pipes have been commercially manufactured over time – African (mainly from Tanzania) and Turkish meerschaum. In the African Great Lakes region, large deposits of
meerschaum is mined in Tanzania. The main deposit of African meerschaum comes from the Amboseli basin surrounding the Lake Amboseli. Turkish meerschaum is found in Eskisehir, in central Turkey. Meerschaum pipes slowly change their colour as they age and are smoked into shades of gold and dark brown. However, African meerschaum is often stained. Turkish meerschaum is regarded as a better quality meerschaum as the African version but the African version is in great demand lately due to them not being manufactured any more. Before acquiring a meerschaum, its important to do some research – genuine block meerschaum is a pipe that is carved from a block of meerschaum. A non-genuine block meerschaum is a pipe that might be made from compressed meerschaum “dust”. They are therefore very brittle and virtually impossible to repair.
Why a meerschaum? Meerschaum smokes extremely cold as meerschaum can withstand extreme heat from your pipe. Meerschaum also does not absorb aromas from the tobacco, making meerschaum excellent for testing aromatic or new tobaccos where you want to prevent any tobacco “ghosts” in the bowl. And of course, it looks good and colourise over time due as you smoke a meerschaum.
I have a genuine African block meerschaum with “Tanzania” as an inscription and the familiar elephant logo on the stem. I also bought an estate African meerschaum from eBay in May 2014. The markings on this pipe is the elephant logo, “Tanzania” and “Genuine block meerschaum”.
Just to complete my meerschaum series, I recently bought a new Turkish meerschaum from a Turkish carver, Mehmet Ali Birinci. I like supporting “upcoming” or craftsmanship-carvers because they are not mass-produced and I believe a lot of love and passion goes into their craft. This pipe is beautifully done and the seller has good feedback from customers. Fikri Baki gained a reputation to be one of the best Turkish meerschaum pipes and is therefore more pricey, but worth it. I might add one to my wish list though but I think having 2 meerschaums is probably enough for me – I’m more of a briar man.