Put that in your White Goddess and smoke it...
October 6, 2010 7:46 AM   Subscribe

Meerschaum pipes are amazing!

Meerschaum is a soft white mineral often found floating in the Black Sea. Because of its unusual properties, it is ideally suited for detailed miniature carving, and for several hundred years it has been a preferred material for carving pipes.

And the level of detail is astonishing.
posted by quin (25 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Those are gorgeous! But if I ever saw anyone smoking from one, I would think him a tremendous douche.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 7:53 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

These are beautiful in the sense that they are artworks which require interaction to grow in beauty.

“. . . soft and light as a fleeting dream, creamy, delicate and sweet as the complexion of young maidenhood.” -Benjamin Rapaport

I guess minerals get his rocks off...
posted by MangyCarface at 7:59 AM on October 6, 2010

I've owned a couple of meerschaum pipes. They're really lovely to smoke out of, and over time the way they age from the tobacco resins is lovely. They're tricky, however... They're susceptible to picking up hand oils, which can clog their natural breathing quality, so generally it's wisest to hold such pipes only by the stem.

Also, the calabash (Sherlock Holmes' curved gourd pipe) typically has a meerschaum liner.
posted by hippybear at 7:59 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yo Chuck, they must be on the pipe, right?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:00 AM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

You could probably get some kind of campus reputation overnight by wearing a tasseled cap and smoking the human skull pipe in your dorm room.
posted by Faze at 8:02 AM on October 6, 2010

Strange, I've had the FPP link bookmarked for some time and hadn't looked at it until last night. My girlfriend was asking me what I wanted for Christmas so I pulled out the picture of the skull pipe and was like "FUCKIN' DEEEAAAAAAATTTHHHHHH!"
posted by Demogorgon at 8:06 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

That first link is a fantastic web page. Sometimes Wikipedia makes me sad, because it's taken some of the energy away from people who make web pages like this and blandified it. The Nonist Site is full of amazing looking articles.
posted by Nelson at 9:05 AM on October 6, 2010

This one I found beautiful.

I was rewatching The Good Soldier Schweik the other day and there were a bunch of weird smoking devices: Pipes that went straight down to the smoker's waist, what looked to be a sort of chillum with a cigar stuffed into it, the pipes with a saxophone-like recurve and a hinged bowl-cap...
posted by jtron at 9:27 AM on October 6, 2010

yarg, "this one" should've linked here
posted by jtron at 9:27 AM on October 6, 2010

This pipe reminds me of this album cover and I wonder if there's some ur-model for this kind of scene.
posted by Wolfdog at 9:30 AM on October 6, 2010

For years I thought it was "Meershatz pipe" thanks to this episode of the Dick Van Dyke Show where Buddy flaunts his "Meershatz pipe" from Alan Brady.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 9:31 AM on October 6, 2010

Meerschaum Pipe of Cthulhu
posted by Faust Gray at 9:41 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wonderful post quin.

Those creations are fabulous! And, frankly, the carving is astounding.

A Meerschaum pipe shop.

So interesting that the really brilliant meerschaum carving seems to be reserved for pipes, not for other sculptures. Whoa, meerschaum hookah. It seems most of the meerschaum comes/came from Turkey.

Your post inspired a little Googling: Meerschaum Pipes from the ground up, a video that shows the origin of the meerschaum from the mine into the creation of a pipe. Oddly, and somewhat amusingly, the person who made the video thought heavy breathing would make a good sound track, which is interesting for a smoking item. Examples for sale of the carving by the master carvers in the video.
posted by nickyskye at 10:00 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Two things to note - there is African meerschaum, or "pressed meerschaum" which is a true meerschaum - it's a lovely and complex collection of amber and brown shades. It's been compacted over the aeons, and so it is harder and not as "breatheable" as meerschaum proper, and difficult to shape (tho the pipes are far more affordable). It's a nice alternative to briar, as it doesn't require anything like the maintenance to keep a briarwood bowl from "turning."

Also, it's illegal to export unworked meerschaum from Turkey, to protect local pipe manufacturing. American meerschaum, sourced from Pennsylvania, is almost as good, and available in pipe-carving kits.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:30 AM on October 6, 2010

The Seattle Pipe Club on Meerschaums.
posted by adamvasco at 11:02 AM on October 6, 2010

While in I was college a friend traveled to the Middle East. He returned with gifts!
He presented me with one of those meerschaum pipes that you only hear about. (I have not looked at it in some time, it is packed away.)
The bowl is a man's head, complete with turban; about the size of your fist.
The stem is composed of six or eight pieces of meerschaum held together with metal threaded connectors. The connections aren't exactly airtight.
If I remember correctly, it is over 18 inches long.
It was put into service in the dormitory for a short time but it was rather unwieldy for daily use. I guess more decorative than practical.
I don't have to go into detail about that or the other items he brought back, do I?
posted by Drasher at 12:00 PM on October 6, 2010

This is the sort of thing that separates us from the animals.
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:16 PM on October 6, 2010

This is my favorite from a recent Christie's auction of unusual pipes.
posted by spasm at 1:01 PM on October 6, 2010

Meers are beautiful and there's a particularly ornate one I always like to visit at the smoke shop. It's practically encrusted with tiny carvings of nude women cavorting on what I presume is Bacchus' head. It's absolutely ridiculous, impractical, expensive, and I WANT IT.

My father used to smoke a more modest meer, probably a souvenir from his days in Turkey; I've always associated his pipe's typical "old stoic Turkish man" carving theme with memories of me sitting raptly at his feet while he enjoyed a smoke.

I personally don't find them to be an enjoyable smoke (I have a modest meerschaum-lined briar pipe), as they have a very distinct "clay" smell and taste to them. Perhaps it goes away over time, but it's too distracting for me. Probably for the best, as I'm often wont to just drop my pipe in my jacket pocket when I'm done, in which an errant bump would probably destroy any fragile carvings.
posted by Wossname at 2:14 PM on October 6, 2010

delicate and sweet as the complexion of young maidenhood

A friend's family had a very old meerschaum pipe carved as a beautiful young girl, laughing. It was carved with such detail that every tooth in her mouth could be identified, along with two that had cavities.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:20 PM on October 6, 2010

There's a lot of blablabla going around about meerschaum pipes. While your pipe may pick up hand oils, and dent easily, a pipe is meant to be smoked.

I bought a very basic Sherlock in meerschaum so I could enjoy smoking it without worrying about ruining a piece of art. It is satisfyingly neutral, doesn't pick up too much funk from one tobacco to the next, and you can smoke it without resting it, unlike a briar pipe.
posted by Sukiari at 4:45 PM on October 6, 2010

My dad has some very nice meerschaum pipes. If I ever inherit them I may have to take up smoking.
posted by kenko at 6:00 PM on October 6, 2010

My dad had a few of these, I should ask if he kept them after he quit smoking.
posted by Mister_A at 7:38 PM on October 6, 2010

I miss the nonist.
posted by ikahime at 7:50 PM on October 6, 2010

Those are gorgeous! But if I ever saw anyone smoking from one, I would think him a tremendous douche.

Really, The Winsome Parker Lewis? Would you also consider someone a tremendous douche for sitting on a handcarved, masterpiece chair? I guess the Kauffman's were real douches for daring to live in Falling Water, after they commissioned it from Frank Lloyd Wright as their summer home, right?

OK, some education is in order. Meerschaum is porous. Most of you have only seen virgin meerschaum pipes, which are white. But real pipe lovers treasure lovingly used pipes. The nicotine slowly penetrates, coloring them amber, with thicker areas staying lighter longer.

Pipes are meant to be smoked. Chairs to be sat upon. Houses to be lived in. Anything else is kitsch, decoration, and artifice... which may have its place, but in my aesthetic, at least, the beautifully useful surpasses the beautifully unusable.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:58 PM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

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