The most appreciated material for making pipes is meerschaum, a soft white type of lightweight stone, found in Turkey. This highly porous material absorbs all the juices in the smoke and is easy to carve. Long time use makes the pipe turn yellow to finally dark brown, which often is a great pleasure for the smoker. These characteristics make that meerschaum pipes are popular as an easy to handle, attractive and tasteful smoking instrument.
Meerschaum was first used in the seventeenth century, but did really become popular towards the end of the eighteenth century. Shapewise the mid-European pipe type dominated, with the bagshape and the Hungarian pipes as the most common ones. Meerschaum pipes became the status for the bourgeoisie smoker and the upper class in central Europe. The large bowls with their thick walls were fitted with silver mountings, while a long stem provided a comfortable cool smoke.
As said, meerschaum is easy to carve which resulted in a wide variety of decorations. Sometimes the initials of the owner or his family coat of arms are on the bowl. Other examples show portraits of royal persons or an historical scene. Especially Napoleon has been popular as a theme to depict.
About 1830 next to the plain shapes also figural pipes are made. The Turk head is one of the first, soon followed by portraits of contemporary persons and historical depictions. A nice example is the bust of Louise de la Vallière. By 1860 the figural pipes became a rage and are made by thousands, all having a shorter stem and being cased. This fashion is kept alive till the First World War.
By the end of the nineteenth century the tradition of meerschaum pipes declined. The material gets scarcer and often the scraps of the stone are re-used in moulded, so called pressed meerschaum pipes. Disadvantage however is, that the pipes are no longer porous and do not absorb anymore. Besides, their weight increases. A lot of these mass-produced meerschaum pipes bear fake dating, varying from the late eighteenth century to about 1890.
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