In the Nineteenth Century, artisans in Eastern Europe carved most bizarre meerschaum pipes. Some of these are improbable concoctions and feature bowls made from the heads of historical figures and of literary characters, others depicting nursery rhymes.
Over the past 25 years or so, Roy Ricketts, a UK Meerschaum specialist and a great admirer of meerschaum pipes, has assembled a collection of approximately 350 late 19th, early 20th century outstanding meerschaum pipes. Ben Marks of Collectors’ Weekly explains why craftsmen used meerschaum:
Meerschaum is a relatively new material to pipe making, appearing no earlier than the 18th century. Found primarily in and around the city of Eskişehir in western Turkey, meerschaum is a porous mineral that’s soft enough to be carved but hard enough to be polished, revealing the carver’s artistry. Unlike hardwood briar pipes, which are also finely carved, meerschaum does not burn, which means the bowl is cool to the touch when it’s being smoked and the pipe material imparts no flavor to the tobacco. And because meerschaum is porous, meerschaum pipes change color over time as they are smoked. Thus, the stone, which is carved white, turns butterscotch brown when made into a pipe, filled with tobacco, and smoked, a process that’s frequently hurried along by rubbing a finished pipe with beeswax and, occasionally, ox blood.
According to Roy Ricketts, the height of meerschaum carving only lasted from somewhere between 1870 and 1900. He says:
Then design changed, not exactly overnight, but very nearly that. By 1905, 1910, you can see the style of modern pipes coming in. Basically, the carving was done behind the bowl of the pipe …. People got bored with the fancy meerschaum pipes, you see? The pipes got a little ostentatious.