Meerschaum: Bernini on a Pipe



I’ve only recently learned about meerschaum, magical magnesium pulled from the waters of Asia Minor that is carved into beautiful pipes and objects, originally by men at sea. The word is from the German “meer,” or sea, and “schaum,” foam. But the light, compact stone is actually fossilized shells of tiny creatures compressed by silt on oceans floors for millions of years. Dramatic shifts in the Earth’s crust raise the mineral-rich rock above sea level from where it is excavated. The material makes for a perfect smoke they say: cool, dry and full of tobacco flavor. Meerschaum pipes – often with faces of mythological heroes, sea captains and sailors – originated in the late 1700s. Today they are prized by collectors, who smoke them to a tempered golden color over time. But to me they tell baroque stories of the seas and heavens, miraculous in their detail and expression, like tiny Bernini busts, enchanting all that see them.





Loveland Quarterly January 2021

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