Falconeer's "All Wot I Know About Meerschaum"

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Old Ted

Gone but not forgotten
Member
#62
Hi Again,

It came to me: look at pazyrk.co.uk/Falcon_Block_Meerschaum_Pipe_Bowls.html

This company sold bowls ranging in price from $102.00 down to $57.00 U.S. some were lattice carved and some were in smooth finish. The bowls were described as being carved from block meerschaum with the promise that they would colour.

They are no longer for sale but reading their catalogue at the above should give more info,

Best again

Gerry
I can't get the lnk to work either Gerry,
OT
 

dmkerr

PG- free since '83!
Staff member
Moderator
#65
I was recently asked about meerschaum pipe pricing and wanted to share my thoughts/opinions with this group. Pricing for block meers is, if not all over the map, then at least doing a fair amount of world travel. Remember that these are my opinions only. And I apologize for what will likely be a rather lengthy post.

I believe that at the highest level of meer carving (excusing those rare antiques), the pricing tends to be fairly stable, but varies according to the perception of the level of the carvers skill. Sadik Yanik's highest grade pieces tend to be ultra-expensive (but not so to people used to buying old Dunhills, Cavicchi 5C's or Castello Great Lines!) because Yanik is an extremely skilled carver. Many of his pipes are very ornate. From there the prices tend to go down a bit by reputation. The Gezer boys, Sami, Cevher, Kara, Karahan, Baglan, Tekin, Baysal and those folks are probably in the next tier down (remember that this is by perception only - not much is objectively measurable) and their prices are typically down a bit. Exceptions are abundant, as a Kudret Gezer pipe can be more expensive than a Yanik, depending on which two you compare. So, too, can a Savinelli cost more than a Dunhill if you're comparing a 00 autograph to a Redbark. Think of these guys like professional sports players. Is Kobe worth more money than LeBron or A-Rod more than Josh Hamilton? It's very hard to measure, so it's based purely on perception and subjectivity.

Then we have Fikri Baki, who in my mind is as awesome a carver as any, but he creates more traditional shapes as a rule. There again, his more intricate carvings that often include gold trim can be as expensive as a particular Yanik. But his normal production tends to be a step down in cost from the above folks, mostly because the perception is that an ornate carving is more difficult to do than a simple billiard. And perhaps it is. It is true that only the most dense meerschaum block has to be used for the intricate carvings and that would likely add to the cost.

There are also the more standard "house" pipes at the Altinok and SMS sites. These sites do carry pipes from the Master Carvers but they also sell excellent block meer pipes in standard shapes by carvers without the reputation of the masters. These pipes are less expensive than Bakis. The Altinoks use the delrin tenon/mortise and drill their shanks and bits to the width of a briar pipe, thereby negating the old myth that meers have tight draws. I have an Altinok from their Signature Series and it cost me about 15% less than a Baki of the same size, probably because the carver is someone I'd never heard of before.

I'm going to check out AND meerschaums shortly, which come in at the low end of the price spectrum (about $65 for a large standard shape). From what little I can see from the pictures, they appear to use machine-cut stems rather than handcut ones. This would subtract some cost, of course. I can't tell if they use the old screw-type connector and doing so would reduce the cost somewhat as well as the functionality (IMHO).

Should also note that the size of the block factors into the cost. As raw meerschaum is becoming more rare and the miners have to dig deeper and deeper to find it, the bigger the block, the higher the cost (all other things being equal). That probably goes without saying but thought it was worth mentioning.

So... for a block measure pipe, it appears one can spend anywhere from about $55 for a standard sized traditional shape to several thousand for one of Yanik's largest and most intricately carved pipe. The basic price grid seems to run from the $55 on the low end to about $500 on the high end. As is usual, there are many, many pipes that sit firmly in the middle. Meerschaum pipes are no more expensive on the low end than a decent tobacco-shop briar and are generally less expensive on the high end than the highest grade of briar... and are generally MUCH less expensive than the "one of a kind" Danish and German made briars. I highly recommend everyone own at least one block meerschaum pipe. If you find one and have questions about the cost, please know that I am at your service and will do whatever I, as a student and not The Teacher, can to help.

A final note - a lower cost meerschaum pipe does not mean a less than stellar smoker. I think all of my meers, ranging in cost from about $150 to over $500, are all great smokers. Adding some additional dollars to your purchase buys you perhaps a more ornate carving, a bigger piece of the stone, or a subjectively "better" or more well-known carver. It does not buy you a better smoke, necessarily.
UPDATE

I mention carver Kadir Baysal in my post above. Mr Baysal passed away this year. If you can find a Baysal pipe on Ebay, it might be a good idea to snap it up... if you can outbid ME, that is! :byg:

Also I note in the 2nd to last paragraph that begins "So... for a block measure pipe". That should read "...for a block meerschaum pipe". I think the system thought I couldn't spell and decided to help me out.
 
#68
Excellent thread with a phenomenal original post!!! I rarely read long posts....or entire threads....this one was well worth it from beginning to end!
 

dmkerr

PG- free since '83!
Staff member
Moderator
#69
Couple of tidbits...

How To Tell If A Pipe Is Block Or Pressed Meerschaum (works on gourd bowls as well). Put a little saliva on your finger and dab it on the bowl (preferably the inside where there is less wax - as long as there is no char). If the saliva is absorbed into the pipe, it's a block meer pipe. If not, it's pressed. Pressed meerschaum does not have "pores" that will absorb moisture.

Also, there is a bit of conventional wisdom about not smoking a meerschaum with a lot of bowl cake. Granted, cake will impede the coloring process but I've also heard that cake and meerschaum expand and contract at different temperatures and excessive cake can cause a bowl to crack. While I do not know for sure if this is true, I am attempting to test the theory. I have an old SMS that has more cake in it than a typical briar. So far it has not cracked. Add to this the fact that I smoke it outside in sub-zero temps while shoveling snow and immediately bring it indoors, still smoking. No cracks. No problems of any kind. So I can't tell you it's ok to do this with your expensive artisan pieces, I can tell you that I've had no issues in over 3 years of massively abusing this particular pipe. So far this pipe has survived and is one piece of evidence that does not support this conventional wisdom.
 

t-bear

Active Member
Member
#71
I've had the same experience with a couple of my "beater" meers DMK. They've been smoked in blizzards, summer's swelter and whilst canoeing on the river, even dropped one in! Cleaned the soggy tobacco out, let it dry in the sun for a couple of hours, and fired it back up. After all these years, they still deliver a good smoke. That said, I don't take my Baki or Yaniks into the out-back.......
 

dmkerr

PG- free since '83!
Staff member
Moderator
#72
I've had the same experience with a couple of my "beater" meers DMK. They've been smoked in blizzards, summer's swelter and whilst canoeing on the river, even dropped one in! Cleaned the soggy tobacco out, let it dry in the sun for a couple of hours, and fired it back up. After all these years, they still deliver a good smoke. That said, I don't take my Baki or Yaniks into the out-back.......
And they say meerschaum is fragile! I wish the rest of my gear lasted as long! :D
 
#73
Couple of tidbits...
How To Tell If A Pipe Is Block Or Pressed Meerschaum (works on gourd bowls as well). Put a little saliva on your finger and dab it on the bowl (preferably the inside where there is less wax - as long as there is no char). If the saliva is absorbed into the pipe, it's a block meer pipe. If not, it's pressed. Pressed meerschaum does not have "pores" that will absorb moisture.
Good explanation Dan. I call this "Tongue Test". Although using your finger with some saliva is much safer hygienically, you can get a finer result with your tongue too. When you are at buying new meer pipe and get a chance to hold it in your hands, simply touch your tounge inside of the bowl which should be completely free of wax. If your tongue sticks to the meerschaum, you can tell that it was made of block meerschaum. If doesn't, it was not. Most likely a pressed (false) meer. This test should always work because a real block meerschaum has millions of pores by nature, like a sponge. It absorbs the saliva on tongue immediately just like it does same as absorbing nicotine and breathing all the time providing a cool and dry smoke.

Well, unfortunately, this test doesn't work at online purchases.
 

dmkerr

PG- free since '83!
Staff member
Moderator
#74
Good explanation Dan. I call this "Tongue Test". Although using your finger with some saliva is much safer hygienically, you can get a finer result with your tongue too. When you are at buying new meer pipe and get a chance to hold it in your hands, simply touch your tounge inside of the bowl which should be completely free of wax. If your tongue sticks to the meerschaum, you can tell that it was made of block meerschaum. If doesn't, it was not. Most likely a pressed (false) meer. This test should always work because a real block meerschaum has millions of pores by nature, like a sponge. It absorbs the saliva on tongue immediately just like it does same as absorbing nicotine and breathing all the time providing a cool and dry smoke.

Well, unfortunately, this test doesn't work at online purchases.
Sure it's a good explanation! I first learned it from you! :beck:
 

Siv

Member
Patron
#78
I noticed something that I thought was worth highlighting as the non-meer regulars may not know.

Pretty much all Turkey made block meerschaum pipes come with a "custom" fitted case. This is nothing special, it's just what is done. So you should never pay more for a "custom" case, they all come like that. I have a $15 meer from eBay what came with a fitted case. In fact, this is often a way to tell the old Austrian made meers from Turkish - the Austrian will come in a square box where there is either no fitting for the pipe or very rough fitting.

The cases are made for each pipe so if you lose yours, you're probably never going to find another that fits. Most decent meers are hand carved so there is always some small variation from pipe to pipe. Add to this the fact that cases usually are very snug and tight fitting, it could be argued that pretty much every meer pipe is unique. I would say the fitted case making is unique to Turkey.

Now while you may get used to having cases with your meers, note that some reputable "re-branded" meers don't come with cases. An example that I can speak first hand of are Peterson meers. I have two of their Sherlock Holmes meer series and was very disappointed to find them come in a little cloth bag and not a case.

In summary, don't pay more for a "custom case" - they all come like that.

 
#80
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


I'm buying my first Meerschaum pipe because of this (honestly)

I've always wanted one but I've never even held one yet - I can't wait!

recommendations or things to avoid would be nifty

zero
 
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