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I've Always Wanted a Meerschaum Pipe

How many times have you looked at that wonderfully carved Meerschaum pipe and said to yourself 'I would love to have that in my collection, but I just can't justify buying a museum piece that just looks good. I want something I can truly enjoy because I love smoking my pipes!' Or, because you have heard you need to handle these pipes in a special way, you are concerned you will ruin the pipe because you are not sure of how to take care of one. Relax, sit back and enjoy a bowl of your favorite blend, and we'll step you through everything you need to know about Meerschaum pipes and just how easy they are to maintain. We will also explain why these are some of the finest smoking pipes ever made.

A common misconception among non pipe smokers is they are carved from ivory. Actually Meerschaum (which is a German word for 'sea foam') is a soft mineral that can be found in various places around the world. Legend has it that Meerschaum was named by early German sailors who found it floating in the Black Sea and believed it was compressed sea foam until it started bumping against their ship. More likely, it was given its name by the German-Austrian carvers who controlled the majority of the world's pipe manufacturing in the 18th century when Meerschaum began its rise in popularity.

There is only one place where the purest and whitest Meerschaum is mined and that is in Eskiesehir , Turkey where Meerschaum is known as Aktas or Patal by the locals who mine the mineral. This is a highly prized and controlled mineral within Turkey and may not be exported until it is in a 'finished form', drilled and fitted with a mouthpiece. Good quality Meerschaum is light weight and very porous, which makes it ideal for a cool, dry smoke. This is also why a Meerschaum will color with age. As tobacco is smoked within the pipe, it permeates the pores and eventually gets pulled toward the surface where it gives the pipe a unique and distinctive color. Another quality of Meerschaum is it allows you to smoke more often before the pipe has to dry. Since it is more porous, it takes longer to become wet and because a cake is not formed by Meerschaum pipes, it allows you to smoke different blends of tobacco without affecting the taste. All of this combines to make this a pipe you can enjoy several times a day with different blends to reflect your mood.

To find that perfect pipe, look for a nice white color and also feel the weight of the pipe. The lighter the pipe is, the better the quality for a good smooth smoke. Be sure to look carefully for blemishes and any fills that may be in the bowl. Also, since these pipes can be carved into very intricate patterns, be sure it is comfortable for you to hold and smoke. Finally, make sure it is a design you will treasure. Meerschaums are carved into numerous different designs with no two being exactly alike. With a little research, you can find the pipe that fits you perfectly!

So now that you've decided to buy a Meerschaum and have selected that perfect one for you collection, how do you take care of it? Since Meerschaum is a mineral, it does not burn and therefore does not need to be broken in as is the case with a briar pipe. However, it will still need a few bowls smoked to achieve the full richness of your favorite tobacco. This is more of a seasoning process than a break in process. Also, since Meerschaum is a soft mineral, there is some extra care that needs to be given while cleaning the pipe. Since Meerschaum does not burn, it does not build up a cake like a briar pipe. However, it will eventually build up a carbon residue and you need to be careful to not let the carbon build up too much as this may cause the pipe to crack. When you do need to ream the pipe, make sure the pipe is cold. Then use a reamer similar to a bearing scraper and make sure the tip of the blade is ground off so you do not gouge the bottom of the pipe. After each smoke, it is always a good idea to clean the bowl using a folded over pipe cleaner and gently brush the bowl to prevent as much build up as possible. Also, when you run a pipe cleaner down the shank, be careful when it reaches the bottom of the bowl as this could eventually act like a drill and put a hole in that beautiful pipe. This can be repaired, but who wants to do that! Finally, when you want to dump some ashes, carefully fluff the ashes and then pour them out rather than bang the pipe on an ashtray or cork knocker.

To get the absolute most out of this beautiful pipe you will want the pipe to color without any blemishes. Be sure to wash your hands before smoking the pipe to remove any oils and contamination that may be on your skin. If you have done this, it is usually OK to handle the pipe in a normal manner. However, if you want to be sure your pipes colors as beautifully as possible, handle your pipe by the stem or use a glove while smoking. This will prevent any marring or contamination of the surface. Also take care not to let the pipe get near a hot surface as this could harm the wax finish that is put on these pipes.

With just a little common sense care, you will have years of enjoyable pipe smoking with your new and beautiful Meerschaum. So now, sit back, relax and enjoy your Meerschaum knowing you are smoking one of the finest pipes in the world and one that would only have been suitable for royalty in the 18thand 19th centuries.


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