Falconeer's "All Wot I Know About Meerschaum"

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Part One - Introduction and Overview.

All Wot I have found out about Meerschaums!

By Falconeer

Definitely not to be taken as the Last Word on the subject and not to be treated as a Primer!

The history of the world is very very long and perhaps the only constant is that nothing remains the same for ever certainly not in geological terms anyway. I have read for, example, that the Rocky Mountains alone have risen and fallen at least three times since the beginning of the world, though obviously in each incarnation their form would have been different.

The forces involved and the scope of some of these changes is virtually beyond human understanding.

Though I have stood on the Sahara and Libyan deserts and seen the remains of sea shells I find it virtually impossible to believe that once mighty oceans flowed above these lands, though intellectually I know it to be so. I have seen The Great Barrier Reef, yet find it difficult to believe that in geological terms it is but a work in progress as what we see today has been formed from the once living skeletons of tiny corals and will some day decay, with its elements becoming part of something completely different.

It was a process similar to this which formed Meerschaum. Chemists call it anhydrous Magnesium Sulphate, its aficionados term it The White Goddess and early seafarers in ancient times believed it to be the bones of some mythical creature when they found lumps of it floating in the Aegean Sea. In fact it is a substance formed from the skeletons of tiny sea creatures subjected to geological forces and deposited in the lands know called Africa and Turkey.

We will never know how smoking pipes came to be invented in the first place, but what we do know is that meerschaum has been used in pipe making for around 300 years and once it was said that the finest meerschaums were made in Vienna in Austria from block meerschaum imported from Turkey.

Quite why these pipes were called the finest has never been made really clear to me, and I do not know whether it was on account of their smoking qualities, the undoubted beauty of their carving or their ability to colour so well, that merited this accolade.

Anyway leaving this aside for the moment, what is involved in the making of a Meerschaum Pipe?

Conventionally we are told that Turkish meerschaum is found in deposits underground in the Plains of Eskisehir west of Ankara and that those who live above such deposits have ancestral rights to mine them. Families have sunk shafts into such deposits and from galleries leading off these shafts the meerschaum is dug out. When first mined, the material is fairly soft and is said to have a cheese like consistency but hardens once exposed to air.

After being extracted and roughly graded, the meerschaum then finds its way to artisan carvers who moisten the material, carve it into the required shape, treat the carved pipe with secret oils and waxes, fit stems and then put the product up for sale.

In the 'great days' of the Vienna Meerschaum pipe industry the blocks would have been sent to Austria for finishing and legend has it that Sperm Whale Oil was used there as a finishing agent, but whale hunting is now virtually banned and in any event the Turkish Government banned the export of block meerschaum sometime in the 1970s to conserve stocks and allow indigenous industry to develop.

Before the first World War, Austria of course, was the centre of the vast Hapsburg Empire while its next door neighbour, Germany, was but a recent upstart in the nation stakes. Though neighbours, relationships between these two countries could be prickly at times, particularly as Germany wished to establish itself as the military and commercial superior.

Germany quickly acquired overseas colonies and set about trying to create its own empire. In the country then called German East Africa, later Tanganyika, and now Tanzania, deposits of meerschaum were discovered and block meerschaum began to be exported from Africa and also pipe factories were set up in the German colony.

African meerschaum was regarded as inferior to Turkish, as although it was the same chemically, it was said to be less pure and often greyish in colour and so was not so highly prized. Rightly or wrongly, this taint lingers to the present day. Nevertheless the African Meerschaum pipe industry achieved some success with Kiku and Jambo brands ( actually made in Africa ) finding a following and Laxey's Pipe factory on the Isle of Man turning out pipes for Peterson and Barling as well as under their own name until supplies of Meerschaum from Africa became unavailable in the early 21st Century.

One of the differences between Turkish and African Meerschaum pipes, apart from any quality of carving of the best, was that African Meerschaums were dipped in hot oil which gave them a harder consistency and so made them more resistant to damage when dropped or carelessly stored and for that reason they were often recommended as being best for the beginning Meerschaum smoker.

If I sound slightly cynical when discussing certain aspects of Turkish Meerschaums then it is through no dislike of Turkey or indeed the Turkish people, it is simply that this last year I have examined a great many pipes from this region and it does strike me that for a craft product made by individual artisans there seems a great deal of uniformity of pattern style and finish and I do strongly suspect that some form of mechanisation has crept into the manufacturing process if not the whole industry with the possible exception of top of the range pipes.

I am open to persuasion that this is not the case; in fact I would like to be proved wrong.

Part Two - My Personal Opinions on Purchasing, Treating and Smoking Meerschaum Pipes.

In my opening remarks I said that this article should by no means be taken as a Primer and I would add that it certainly should not be treated as a Manual of Instructions it is merely my attempt to draw together what information I could and to flesh this out, where I could, with personal experience.

When I began to get seriously interested in Meerschaum pipes, I did a lot of research and promptly found myself faced with a mass of conflicting opinions as to the right way to proceed.

I appealed on various Forums for experts to come forward and offer guidance or indeed write a Primer for Aspiring Meerschaum Smokers, but none would. On some Forums, sadly I got what I would consider to be Smart Ass replies to any questions I posed. Again sadly people with knowledge seemed to wish to keep it to themselves rather than to share it.

And so, armed with my laptop I set off down the path of Self Education on the Meerschaum Pipe front. But I was lucky, something about the wild and windswept Northumberland coast with its wide ever changing skies and empty coast seemed to attract Meerschaum smokers and, better yet, ones keen to share their passion with a neophyte and pass on their hard earned knowledge. Even better still, I became friends with one Harry who had smoked nothing but his three Peterson Meerschaums loaded with Borkum Riff since 1982.

The stated advantages of a Meerschaum over a briar were said to be that it could offer a cooler drier smoke, draw out every last drop of flavour from any tobacco smoked in it yet tame a ferocious blend and that over time it would develop a beautiful colour anywhere between a deep gold and a dark brown.

Additionally when I set out on my voyage of discovery, conventional wisdom stated that (1) Turkish Meerschaum was superior on every level to African, (2) Under no circumstances should a Meerschaum pipe be allowed to build up cake as this would guarantee that the bowl would crack due to the difference in expansion and contraction rates between carbon and meerschaum (3) allowing even a black pre-carboniferous sticky residue to remain on the inner surface of the bowl after a smoke would result in a bitter taste, (4) Meerschaum pipes should ideally be held by the stem, as contact with the hands and fingers would adversely affect colouration due to the interaction between acids and sweat from the hands/fingers and the coat of wax applied to the pipe by its manufacturer. (5) Meerschaum pipes did not retain ghosts from previous smokes (6) the bowl and heel of a freshly smoked meerschaum would be soft for a while, so great care would need to be taken with any cleaning done at this stage to avoid internal damage (7) alcohol cleaning agents should never be allowed to come into contact with the actual meerschaum for unstated reasons, and (8) such a pipe should be smoked for around two weeks when new and then put away for a similar time to allow colouration to develop.

I will go on to discuss some of these points in greater detail later, but first would like to offer my


thoughts on making the decision whether to purchase a meerschaum or not, ideas on how to select the right pipe for you, and the best place to make such a purchase if you do decide to proceed.

A Meerschaum or Not?

There are all kinds of reasons for buying a pipe including the very reasonable one namely that you simply want one, but if considering a Meerschaum, I think the most important question you have to ask yourself is simply, Will it fit into my lifestyle?

Meerschaums are more fragile than briars, need a bit more careful handling and aren't really ideally suited to being smoked out on the trail or on top of mountains in all weather conditions for that matter they are not the ideal pipe to smoke on the way back from your favourite hostelry when you have fallen in with Evil Companions and been persuaded to imbibe well but not to wisely and your coordination is not all it could be!

If you want many of the benefits of a meer but not the care involved, my honest advice would be to purchase a Corncob it's not called a Missouri Meerschaum for nothing!

If you are a dedicated outdoor man then perhaps basket pipes or Falcons are the answer in 40 years of dedicated hill walking, long distance walking and cycling I have never yet managed to write off a Falcon and it's worth bearing in mind that the Old Hill Shepherds of my youth smoked nothing else other than what would now be called basket pipes.

However.....I've commented earlier that when I chose to spend much of my retirement on the windswept Northumberland, I encountered more meerschaum pipe smokers there in a short time than I had in the previous 40 years of my pipe smoking career. On the basis of two winters here, I now see why. Let me digress for a moment.....

One of Northumberland's great attractions to me is that once outside the major cities the county is lightly populated as my father would have said, There's a lot of Nothing round here, boy! Sometimes the winter wind sweeps in from the North Sea from my ancestral homeland of Frisia having travelled over the Russian plains and steppes, sometimes it comes from the empty Borderlands with their snow covered hills in the west, many days it does both. You can get days of bright winter sunshine followed by beautiful nights with bone hard frost and hundreds of stars sparkling like diamonds. In turn such nights can then be followed by up to three days of thick wet mist, called locally a Fret.

This is a hard climate in winter for a pipe to cope with. In summer any kind of pipe smokes fine, but as autumn sets in then corncobs pick up and retain dampness, adversely affecting their taste. Come winter and the pipeman needs three briars a day each day if he is not to find himself constantly on the receiving end of a Gurgler. Even Falcons struggle, often needing their humidome mopped out two or three times in the course of one bowl of tobacco. So far I have written off two Falcon bowls, when stone cold sober, as the wooden threads had retained excessive moisture and simply stripped when tightened.

So, you'd say, not the ideal climate for a delicate meerschaum then? Actually you'd be wrong in thinking this, as I was initially. A meerschaum seems to be ideally suited to this climate with its constant extremes and simply soaks up excess moisture, drying out quickly and coming back for more even when fuelled by a moist British Flake such as St. Bruno or Condor.

As a safety precaution however when smoking a meerschaum outdoors in winter I have adopted the habit of warming the pipe in my hand before firing it up outdoors and keeping it in my hand on my return inside to buffer it from temperature extremes, just as I used to do with camera lenses in severe weather.

And so coming back to the main topic - if you simply want a meerschaum because you want one ( and I for one would not argue with this viewpoint! ) fine, but it's still going to need a certain amount of care and you have to factor this in before parting with your hard earned money.

Having decided you want a Meerschaum the next thing to consider is do you want a carved or figured one or an ordinary rustic or smooth finished one? Highly carved ornate pipes can be things of beauty if your tastes run in this direction, but sometimes the carving is done at the expense of the pipe's smoking qualities always check the bowl size and the pipe's draw!

Acquiring a Meerschaum

Unless you are very knowledgeable about Meerschaums, and if you are why are you wasting your time reading this then?, there are only three ways to buy such a pipe:-

1) In person from an experienced and knowledgeable Tobacconist/Pipeseller.
2) In person from an experienced and knowledgeable Tobacconist?Pipeseller and...
3) In person from an experienced and knowledgeable Pipe Seller.

Yes, you could possibly get a Meerschaum cheaper by Mail Order or via the Net, but what you are looking for is a high quality smoking engine, some good advice and a personal guarantee of service and replacement if necessary. The little extra you will pay in a good shop will buy you a lot.

For a start, not all meerschaums are equal on the quality front and a good pipe shop will stock the best it can. Even so, you still need to check that the pipe bowl is correctly centred, is adequately sized for your needs and that the airway is open enough so that the pipe draws freely.

Once you have chosen a pipe in a good establishment, the dealer should ask you to check the draw ( but give it a good blow first you will be amazed at how much meer dust will fly out the bowl! ) and then clean out the pipe for you with a pipe cleaner while demonstrating the correct way to dis- and re - assemble the pipe usually nowadays with a Delrin or Teflon mortice this means removing the stem by twisting it clockwise and replacing it the same way.

When speaking of Delrin things may now be different, but I remember when the newest and greatest thing in the cycling world was a super lightweight rear changing mechanism made by Huret in the mid 1970s, if I recollect correctly. When new, it outperformed the long established Campagnolo mechs and saved valuable ounces, but the plastic quickly deteriorated and the whole drailleur simply disintegrated with catastrophic results to Huret's reputation which linger to this day. As I say, things may now be different, but my recommendation would be to opt for Teflon.

Ideally the dealer should supply you with a fitted case for the pipe but if you have chosen an African Meer then the likelihood is that it will come with a carrying pouch instead either way use the pouch or the case, if you want your new pipe to have a long and happy relationship with you!

On the question of whether to select an African or a Turkish Meerschaum getting hold of new African Meerschaums these days is difficult, as supplies in Tanzania were exhausted some time ago and the political climate in Somalia has rendered mining and extraction of Meerschaum inadvisable/impossible.

In the U.K., Laxey's pipe factory on the Isle of Man which manufactured meerschaum pipes for both Barling and Peterson sadly closed around 2002, but some pipe shops still hold stocks of these products you will have to search diligently to find them however.

By and large, size for size you will find that Turkish Meerschaums a slightly lighter than their African cousins, in my personal opinion both smoke much the same and if you just wish to test the water, Turkish Meerschaums from Levante brand, can be obtained for about half as much again as the U.K. Price of a Falcon pipe around 39.00 at the time of writing ( December 2009 ).

If getting the pipe to colour is at all important to you, make sure the material used is Block Meerschaum. Some pipes are made from meerschaum dust bound with epoxy, often called Pressed Meerschaum while such pipes will still reportedly tame the most ferocious tobaccos, they will not colour.

How will it colour, and what can I do to help the process along?

The honest answer is that no one can really answer this. Some Meerschaums colour to a dark brown, some a deep gold and some to a pale ginger and some plain don't colour much at all. Much seems to depend on the density of the material, the type of coating applied to the pipe at time of manufacture, the type of tobacco smoked and the amount the pipe is smoked.

Over the years various esoteric devices have been invented to supposedly colour meerschaums, allowing the pipe's material to come into contact with smoke but not tobacco, and some major Pipe Clubs have staged Meerschaum Colouring contests if you wish to know more about these aspects then the best thing is probably to Google these topics separately and see what you can find.

Conventional wisdom states that oils and residues from tobacco burning in the pipe's chamber are drawn into the fabric of the meerschaum like a filter and this is what causes colouration. The wax coating applied to the exterior of the bowl is said to help draw these residues towards the surface and so aid colouring.

Some do disagree with this theory, maintaining that the outside of the bowl is affected by the surrounding smoke in its immediate vicinity and that the colourisation results partly from this and contact with the smokers hand. I can offer no comment on this last theory.

If colouring is important to you, anecdotal evidence suggests that you are best, at least in the early stages, smoking a fairly moist British type tobacco, or an aromatic. My own experience tends to confirm this within three months of starting on a Barling Meerschaum and smoking Carey's No 7 Dark Flake the pipe had acquired a pleasant dark gold/light brown hue. Patience however is a much needed virtue, here, as it is said that it takes a lifetime to develop a properly coloured meerschaum pipe!

I will discuss the question of whether or not to let a cake build up in another section, but it is worth mentioning that as late as 1910, magazine articles were still being produced saying that it was essential, if a meerschaum were to colour properly then a cake was essential. Against conventional wisdom too, every meerschaum smoker I have met in this area followed the preferred British pipe smoking tradition of allowing a very heavy cake to build up, reaming only when absolutely necessary and all had had their pipes for many years and all had a beautiful deep dark brown hue to their pipes.

Logically this should not work. If colouration is achieved due to oils and residues seeping through the meerschaum then clearly this process would be hindered by cake and therefore cake should never be allowed to build to allow the process to proceed effectively. One E-friend who owns nicely coloured pipes advised -Ream the heck out of it, and just keep smoking it!

Personally, I have tended to err on the side of caution and have treated my meerschaums as I would have treated a corncob in other words after each smoke I have dry reamed the bowl with a wad of tissue and then cleaned the pipe out with pipe cleaners.

Some meerschaum smokers recommend re-waxing the pipes exterior once a year or thereabouts claiming that this process deepens colour. Various methods have been mentioned, but the most poular seem to be, either to rub the pipe with beeswax while it is warm then polish off the excess wax with a soft cloth or to mix a preparation of melted wax, apply it to the pipe, heat it with a hair-dryer and again polish off the excess once the wax has hardened.

I personally have not re waxed any of my pipes.

Two final points.

(1) At one time it was believed that covering a pipe's bowl with glove or chamois leather would aid colouration this theory now seems to have been disproved altogether.
(2) Those fanatical about achieving the best possible colouration advocate that the meerschaum bowl should never be touched with the hand lest the pipe's coating be disturbed and colouration be affected. Those of this school of thought advise handling the pipe only by the stem or holding the bowl only with the hand covered with a white cloth or glove.

I have done neither of the above.

Perhaps the best advice however that I was given was by my friend Harry, who said, The thing is it's a pipe so you want to smoke it! If it's going to colour it will, if it isn't it won't. Just enjoy the smoke!

How do you break in a meerschaum and how do you look after it?

Famously meerschaums are said not to need breaking in. This is true, but only up to a point. Firstly a new pipe will have dust lurking inside it. If this hasn't been done in the shop, give your new pipe


a good blow through to remove this. Take the pipe apart and run a pipe cleaner through the stem and then down into the pipe bowl be careful here, the wire of a pipe cleaner can damage the meerschaum's surface.

With a briar the process is to break the pipe in from the bottom of the bowl upwards building a cake in stages. With a meerschaum you work the other way down fill the pipe with loosely packed tobacco, light up and smoke slowly through the tobacco avoiding overheating the pipe.

You may be initially disappointed the pipe may impart an aspirin like taste to your tobacco and the exterior of the pipe may give off a smell akin to wet baby nappies. Do not despair - both the taste and the smell will disappear after a few smokes.

After smoking, let the pipe cool, empty the ash, dry ream the bowl with a wad of tissue, take the pipe apart, clean the stem with a pipe cleaner ( soaked in whisky or whatever your preferred cleaning agent is ), the run a pipe cleaner gently down into the heel of the pipe again with care, meerschaum is soft when wet. Once the pipe is dry it can be filled and smoked again and will still taste fresh.

You will know when the pipe is smoked in suddenly you really will taste extra notes you haven't noticed before even in favourite tobaccos. I had heard this could happen, yet when it did, old cynic that I am, I was amazed. I can say no more!

I have mentioned before that opposing points of view exist on the question of allowing cake to develop or not. I personally do not like a thick cake in any pipe, be it cob, briar or meerschaum as I feel it prevents me from getting enough tobacco into the bowl, leads to a wet smoking pipe and causes an off taste and I am persuaded by two further arguments:-

1) That theoretically at least, the difference in expansion/contraction rates between carbon and meerschaum could let to the pipe's cracking and
2) A layer of cake would prevent tobacco oils and residues from migrating into the structure of the meerschaum and so prevent/hinder colouration.

I therefore dry ream my meerschaums after each smoke with a wad of tissue and scape the inside of the bowls with a sharp knife with a rounded end regularly to prevent cake building up.

Purists advocate that the inside of the bowl be cleaned with cotton buds dipped in alcohol after each smoke to remove sticky black deposits the forerunner of cake- which they maintain imparts a bitter taste to tobacco. I personally have never noticed such a taste and do do bother with this.

I did notice after a couple of week's smoking that the draw in my meerschaums did not seem to be as free as when the pipes were new. With a briar I would simply have reamed out the bore of the pipe with an electrical screwdriver a crude brutal but effective quick fix for most pipe problems.

I doubted whether a meerschaum would stand up to this treatment and puzzled for a while what to do, until the idea hit me I simply doubled over a narrow pipe cleaner, dipped it into alcohol and see sawed it gently down to the heel of the pipe and the improvement was immediate. As an alternative the smoke hole could be widened gently with a model maker's small round or needle file.

Finally on the care front, as has been said, meerschaum is more fragile than briar and in particular will not stand being dropped onto a hard floor or ground take a modicum of care when handling the pipe and always carry it in its case or pouch when not in use.

In conclusion, paraphrasing Harry's advice always remember a meerschaum is a pipe just enjoy smoking it, take reasonable care of it but don't let it dominate your meerschaum experience!

Happy smoking!
Well Gerry,

I am very pleased that you have discovered the charms of the Meer pipe. Only three months ago, you had bought your first, and you didn't like it.

I am really glad that you now know what they are all about.


Active Member
Hi All,

At this stage I would actually argue against this becoming a sticky as I wrote when Sas first mooted the idea of posting this, it is (A) a work in progress and :)rolleyes: there are people on this forum who know a lot more about Meers than I do. I am simply an Old Smoker and the only thing I would say that I am an expert on is in the care, feeding and diseases of the Falcon system pipe!

What I would hope at this stage is that people will come forward with their expert comment, criticisms and corrections and that together we can actually produce a real Meerschaum Primer.

Id always had the notion to try a Meer, but didnt get round to it until last summer when to be honest I found getting to grips with such a pipe to be beset with difficulties and frustrations compounded by lack of/conflicting information. After initially deciding to give the whole thing up as a bad idea, I started collecting information, posting questions on forums, asking at good pipe shops and speaking to every guy I saw with a Meer and gradually the thing came together.

I owe a lot to various people who gave me good tips along the way, amongst them; Chris at Bruciannis in Carlisle who replaced my first Meer when it cracked without question and who told me about Laxeys initially, Sasquatch who first published his diagram on ramping in a pipes bore on another forum which gave me enough theory to sort out the characteristic narrow bore of a Barling Pipe, Muriel White now owner of Dallings tobacconists in Ayr who gave me the benefit of her 45 year experience in the trade and gave me the tip about blowing out an cleaning a new Meers bore using it to stop it clogging up and never ever unscrewing the pipe anti-clockwise, and my good friend Harry who kept reminding me that a meer was just a pipe to be enjoyed not cosseted and who gave me the benefit of his 18 years experience of Northumberland winters telling me to Stick with it Were due a real Winter, and if the sna freezes after it fas youll see what kind of pipe you need!



Active Member
Iwan Ries Meerschaums

I'm planning a trip to the Iwan Ries store in Chicago (to stock up on tins) and also to buy a meerschaum pipe... as Gerry said in this thread, the only way to do it is face-to-face!

Has anyone tried out these "Beckler" or "Value" meers that IRC sells? Would be nice to get some feedback from the forum before I go and take the plunge of buying my first meer. :puff:

Note: I know that there's a famous Turkish carver named Ismet Bekler, but I don't suppose these Beckler pipes are from the same guy :-(


Active Member
No guys (at present) this is a Savinelli free zone!

Here's an update on my journey down Meer Street - I've been working on the colour of the meers Rhona got me for Christmas, basically smoking them two weeks on and two weeks off.

The snag in the proceedings has been the wet sticky St. James Flake I've been moaning about which did leave a sticky black deposit on the inside of the bowls and this was indeed giving the pipes a bitter taste.

Took some time over the weekend cleaning out the inside of the bowls with QTips soaked in whisky until they came out clean and the sticky stuff was removed - and it has made quite a difference.

I now know this is one piece of meerschaum lore that is worth doing,



Falconeer said:
Took some time over the weekend cleaning out the inside of the bowls with QTips soaked in whisky until they came out clean and the sticky stuff was removed - and it has made quite a difference.
May I ask the whiskey youre using the clean the bowl? I only keep black label and red label JW scotch and JD No7 at the home.

Falconeer is my mentor in meer smoking. :bing:


Active Member

You'll be just fine with any of those!

My own favourites are Speysides - Whyte and McKays, Grant's Standfast (Triangular Bottle ) and Stewart's Cream of the Barley - but I have been known to use Rhona's (she prefers Islays ) Black Bottle or Famous Grouse when she's not looking - none'll leave a detectable taste in your pipe.

Mentor? Auld G's about one lesson ahead of the class!!

Best as always,



Active Member
Dondi said:
I'm planning a trip to the Iwan Ries store in Chicago (to stock up on tins) and also to buy a meerschaum pipe... as Gerry said in this thread, the only way to do it is face-to-face!

Has anyone tried out these "Beckler" or "Value" meers that IRC sells? Would be nice to get some feedback from the forum before I go and take the plunge of buying my first meer. :puff:

Note: I know that there's a famous Turkish carver named Ismet Bekler, but I don't suppose these Beckler pipes are from the same guy :-(
I they are truly Bekler meerschaums, they should be signed. Bekler stem/shank connections are "briar type" with a delrin tenon on the stem that pushes into the shank, just like a briar. If these have the crappy two piece nylon connectors, they aren't by Ismet Bekler.
Have fun at Iwan Ries! :xd:


Active Member
T-bear, thanks for that advice!

I found this on the web, it's from SMS. I like the idea of having a long stem to hold onto when smoking a meer (to avoid overhandling the bowl).

I'm just a bit wary of buying a meer off the internet, so perhaps I'll settle for something from Iwan Ries for now...
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