What is Meerschaum?
Sepiolite, also known as Meerschaum is a soft clay mineral, of sedimentary origin, mostly found in Eskisehir Turkey. Meerschaum comes in different textures such as fibrous, fine particulate or solid and has different colours: white, grey or cream.
When excavated, Meerschaum it is soft, however, once exposed to sun or warmth, it hardens considerably, making the process of working with it extremely easy.
The special aspect of Sepiolite is that it does not change its dimensions when it hardens, nor when it gets wet again. The stone is incredibly stable as a material and it is not a subject for contraction, nor dilatation.
The only time when Meerschaum changes its consistency is when it’s being dried or wetted.
A well-prepared craftsman is required when operating with Meerschaum. Although it is a soft material, and carving into it is easy, months of work can mean nothing if there exists a moment of careless behaviour. People who want to learn to master the work with Meerschaum need a master to initiate them in this field.
Where can it be found?
Meerschaum can only form in very specific environments. It is found in pockets within clay or serpentine deposits and has unknown origins of its period of formation. However, it is believed that it has been formed from the metamorphic shells and bones of small prehistoric sea creatures.
Meerschaum usually forms in irregular nodular masses and alluvial deposits, which are underwater. Because of the placement of formation, it is extremely hard to reach and a lot of workforces is needed.
The Meerschaum pockets can be found in Greece, Moravia, France, Spain and Morocco, but it’s very limited quantities and at poor quality.
The main place, where Sepiolite deposits are abundant in Eskisehir, Turkey. It is believed that there are more than 400 shafts that are housing horizontal galleries leading to the Meerschaum deposits, meant for extracting this elegant stone.
Thanks to enormous demand for this material and the goods created using it, an entire industry arises in Eskisehir and many jobs are created in the mines.
A Short History
Legends and stories have been told about this valuable stone. Eskisehir has been an important settlement for ten thousand years and it seems that people have been using Meerschaum for decorative objects starting 5000 year back, during the Early Bronze Age.
Due to recent excavations in the region of Eskisehir, many Meerschaum made objects were found, such as stamps or decorative objects for tombs.
During the XVI century, when tobacco started to gain momentum in Europe due to Christopher Columbus expeditions, the tobacco smoking industry expanded more and more. Starting with Spain and Portugal, the need for pipes emerged, together with the search for a better material for their manufacturing.
Because of its amazing characteristics, Meerschaum was the best material for creating pipes. Therefore, many pipe stores were opened during this period, as well as workshops all over Europe, especially in Vienna. However, in the 1970s, Turkey stopped exporting Meerschaum to Europe because the demand was increasing considerably. Therefore, almost all workshops in Europe closed, Turkey is the only one that had and has to this day access to large deposits of high-quality Meerschaum.
Usage and Application
The white colour and beauty of the stone help in the creation of pipes and decorative sculpted objects. Moreover, it is also used in the car paint industry, paper, art and cigarette holders.
The quality and the looks of Meerschaum form an incredibly friendly substitute for ivory, a material procured through hunting which is highly prohibited and illegal all over the world.
Since Turkey stopped exporting it abroad, the industry around Meerschaum strongly developed. Now, they do not sell only pipes, but chess sets, jewellery and decorative objects for tourists visiting the area.
However, the pipes are the ones that made Meerschaum famous and loved. One of the first pipes created using Meerschaum dates back to 1723, the stone being praised to be the best material for pipe manufacturing. The reason behind this was that the pipes offered a dry, cool and flavourful smoke.
Before Meerschaum, pipes were created using clay, but the effect was incomparably worse.
Because of the porous nature of Meerschaum, the moisture and tobacco tar were drawn into the pipe itself. When the pipe was getting more and more used, it started to gradually change its white colour into yellow, orange, red and amber from the bottom up.
Up to this day, Meerschaum maintains the worldwide statute of being the best material for creating pipes. However, due to other arising conflicts, changes of interests, new generations and competitors on the market, the importance given to this stone hasn’t been directly proportional with its true value.
But because of its great nature and many advantages the stone brings, Eskisehir’s industry of Meerschaum manufactured goods, especially pipes, reaches new heights in development. Meerschaum is regaining its dominance, elegance and cultural value.