pipes have been famous, and prized
The pipes smoke
cool and dry because meerschaum,
a soft, porous white stone, absorbs
much of the heat
and tar. Over time, this tar absorption
gives the pipe a nut brown
prized by devotees.
Some meerschaum smokers even handle
their pipes only with special
gloves so as not to let oil
from their fingers sully the nutty
patina of the pipe.
Unlike briar, a dense
wood difficult to carve, or corn
cob—too soft—meerschaum is
easy to carve with a knife. The professional carvers of Eskişehir (Enveriye),
near where the meerschaum is mined,
are true sculptors-in-miniature.
Sitting at a plain desk in a non-descript
office, I met carvers turning blocks
of plain white stone into heads of
lions, sultans, wise men, fools; stumps
of trees, company logos; and even graceful
traditional plain curved pipe bowls.
Because Turkish meerschaum comes from
the earth in chunks, the artist is
limited by the original shape of the
material. He examines it carefully
for natural shape and flaws, then chooses
an appropriate design.
Perfect "blocks" (chunks)
of meerschaum make perfectly smooth
pipe bowls. The minor flaws in other
chunks may be eliminated by carving,
or hidden in elaborate carved designs.
Large blocks of meerschaum are rare,
and valuable. I've seen pipes up to
a foot (30 cm) long with entire village
scenes carved into them. Such pipes
are not smoked, of course, but kept
in protective cases on display.
Pipes, earrings, brooches and other
items carved from meerschaum are common
in souvenir shops all over Turkey,
and of course in Istanbul's Grand
of meerschaum as they come
from the mine pit near Eskişehir.
A master carver making
from the soft white mineral.