What on earth is meerschaum, and why have I never heard of this material? This is what I was thinking when my father stumbled over the word ‘meerschaum’ (meer-shawm – mershawm, murshawm) as he showed me his new treasure a hand-carved meerschaum pipe.
In fact, meerschaum is a favorite material for pipe connoisseurs because it produces a cool, clean tasting dry smoke. It also lends itself to carving because of its ability to be softened, simply, in water alone. The actual material density of meerschaum feels something like a soapy light plastic, but is in fact the result of the fossilization of tiny sea creatures shells its hardness is ranked 2 on the mohs scale of mineral hardness. It has no distinct smell, and is generally identifiable as a white to cream colored material. When softened by water it has a cheese-like consistency, which is rather suggestive of sea foam and a contributing factor for why its name is German for ‘foam of the sea’. A further contributing factor for the name translation may also be that meerschaum is sometimes found floating in the dead sea and is attributed to being above sea level due to early movements in the earths crust. The earliest record of a meerschaum pipe dates from around 1723.
Of course, this all makes for a wonderful background on the pipe that he found, and that is currently listed on ebay for only $99 as a bidding start price. The pipe is hand carved with the face of a colonial woman wearing a hat. To check out the listing click on the link below.