When is a Meerschaum Pipe Not a Meerschaum Pipe? When it's a Missouri Meerschaum Pipe! Just ask Mark Twain

This is a portrait of Mark Twain (AKA Samuel Langhorne Clemens) which was painted by another former resident of Hannibal, MO, Carroll Beckwith. This painting was featured on the cover of Harper’s Weekly, September 26, 1891. Clinched in his mouth is a Missouri Meerschaum corn cob pipe. Since 1869 these pipes were sold as H. Tibbe & Son Co. pipes, but this changed in 1907 after a comment from "Mark Twain". It seems that Mr. Clemens was surrounded by snobs who liked to put-down his pipe and cigar choices, and after one such comment about his lowly cob he remarked that it wasn’t a corn cob pipe, but rather a “Missouri Meerschaum”. Meerschaum pipes are those fancy carved pipes that are made from a soft white stone which is mined in Turkey. (Mmmmmm… turkey)

Like corn cob pipes true meerschaum pipes are cool and dry smoking, and over time they absorb the tars and nicotine from the burning tobacco. In the case of a corn cob pipe this process turns the cob dark, but with meerschaum pipes this coloring is highly prized by pipe collectors. The bowl will begin darkening from the inside of the bowl out, so these pipes are usually carved in such a way as to reveal the various depths of color which develop through the bowl.

The genuine meerschaum pipe shown at right is called "Birth of Cupid" is an excellent example of this natural coloring, and this pipe sold on eBay auction on Dec 21st, 2008 for $849!

Purists insist that a meerschaum pipe should be smoked with white gloves on if it is smoked at all. That's like owning a PEZ dispenser and leaving it in the package! If I can't enjoy smoking a pipe what's the point?

Here's a link to current auctions of genuine meerschaum pipes. Watch out for pipes made from crushed and formed meerschaum as they don't smoke or age like genuine meerschaum.

Here's a neat video showing the entire process from mining to carving a genuine Meerschaum pipe.

Here's another great video focused on carving the pipes.

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