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Q I have a meerschaum pipe that my mother purchased for my father at an antique pipe store in London around 1938-39. I know there is quite a history to it and have vague memories of some of the “legends,” but was too young at the time to absorb details of the stories I heard.
It is an intricately sculpted and very beautiful female nude figure with wings. It has been beautifully and heavily coloured by heat and was well used.
I would be grateful for any information of its origin and value. — N.C., via email
A. You’ve got an attractively carved and nicely colored figural meerschaum pipe with case.
Meerschaum is a soft, clay-like mineral (sepiolite) with small deposits all over the world. It has a natural, soft white or cream color and looks somewhat like ivory; the largest source for the mineral is central Turkey. As it is quite soft and easy to carve, for hundreds of years meerschaum has been – and continues to be – a material of choice for carvers. Benefiting from a boon in popularity, in the mid-to-late 1800s, factories employed hundreds of carvers to produce these attractive pipes. Your pipe probably originates from this period.
Your pipe features an attractive nude woman with butterfly wings, with arms reaching behind. Indications of fine carving include the details on the long, flowing hair and classical facial features. I am, however, somewhat perplexed that the wings are not as finely detailed as the rest of the carving. The pipe’s rich, amber hue is due to the meerschaum absorbing oils from the tobacco and the users’ hands. The wear patterns and coloring are consistent with proper use; note the wear on the nose and brow area of the face.
Meerschaum pipes are highly collectible: Some collect them because they are tobacciana, some for the artistic qualities and some desire them for their specific sculptural subject. Generally, the older a pipe is and the more elaborate its carving, the higher the value; used pipes are more desirable than unused due to the coloring.
Auction results show pipes similar to yours selling on average from $75 to $150. Judging by the photos, your pipe appears to be missing its stem, which may push its value to the lower end of the range. Check out this article for more on meerschaum pipes.
Karen L. Knapstein is Print Editor for Antique Trader. A lifelong collector and student of antiques, she lives in Wisconsin with her husband, Joe, and daughter, Faye. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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