Turkish Meerschaum Pipes

Meerschaum pipes have been famous, and prized for centuries.

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 color much 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 Bazaar.


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