Meerschaum is a soft white stone which mineralogists call sepiolite (hydrous magnesium silicate, called lületaşı [LUR-leh-tah-shuh] in Turkish).
It’s mined in villages near Eskisehir in Aegean Turkey and carved into beads, necklaces, earrings and especially pipes.
Sepetçi Köyü and Kozlubel are two villages at the center of the meerschaum mining area.
A wooden derrick is built above a rectangular pit dug to reach the vein of meerschaum. Men go down in the pit, sometimes 100 meters (328 feet) deep, to dig in the dirt for “white gold” (beyaz altin).
You’ll find articles carved from meerschaum for sale all over Turkey, and especially in Istanbul‘s Grand Bazaar. Meerschaum pipes are the most familiar and famous item.
It’s now against the law to export block meerschaumfrom Turkey. The government realizes that by keeping the rough meerschaum in Turkey, it provides more jobs for the country’s master carvers.