Establishing meerschaum pipe value - material, carving matter

The best meerschaum comes from deep within the ground; the deeper the source the higher the quality, with superior pipes carved from a single block.
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Meerschaum pipe made in South Africa.

Meerschaum pipe made in South Africa.

Q I hope you can assist me with the following: I have a Meerschaum pipe that belonged to my late Father that I wish to sell. It was bought in a pipe specialist shop in Carlton Centre Johannesburg, South Africa in 1974. The meerschaum pipe case is not in a very good condition. The pipe is, but was used by my father.

I was wondering what the value in ZAR (SA Rands might be) and saw you had advised someone on your website with the same enquiry.

— J.L., Capetown, South Africa

What is meerschaum

“Meerschaum” (sepiolite) is a compound German word composed of “meer” and “schaum,” which means “sea foam” and was so named because like sea foam it is bright in color and light enough to float. The term “Meerschaum” is credited to Abraham Gottlob Werner, an 18th century German geologist. Meerschaum can be found in the United States, France, Spain, Bosnia Herzegovina, Austria, Greece and Tanzania but the highest quality meerschaum is mined in Turkey and the Turkish government has made it illegal to export raw Meerschaum.

Meerschaum pipe made in South Africa.

Meerschaum pipe made in South Africa.

During the zenith years of meerschaum pipe production the highest quality carving was done in Austria and Hungary and to a lesser extent in other Eastern European countries. Blank blocks of high quality meerschaum were carved into thousands of figural pipes and cheroot holders. The artisans, a large proportion of whom were Jewish, passed their skill from generation to generation. Gustav Stehr, an Austrian, came from just such a family and was considered the best meerschaum pipe carver in the world; his son Carl started his own pipe carving business in New York City in the mid-19th century.

Meerschaum is malleable enough to be carved (you can actually scratch it with your fingernail) but durable enough to withstand rigorous polishing. Unlike pipes made of cherry or briarwood, meerschaum does not interfere with the flavor of tobacco nor does it conduct heat, which leaves the bowl cool to the touch. When grading raw meerschaum color, size, density and homogeneity are very important considerations.

Determining meerschaum pipe quality

The best meerschaum comes from deep within the ground; the deeper the source the higher the quality, with superior pipes carved from a single block. Inferior meerschaum pipes are constructed from the pressed scraps of meerschaum remaining after a pipe is carved. The quality of meerschaum can be distinguished by testing its porosity. Rub a wet finger across the meerschaum, high quality meerschaum will absorb the moisture; low quality meerschaum will not. Block meerschaum (pipes made from a single block of meerschaum) is lighter weight than pressed meerschaum; you should also examine the quality of the carving. There is another method to distinguish block from pressed but only on older, well-used pipes. As the block meerschaum ages with use the white color changes to a mixture of warm browns, yellows, orange, reddish or amber at which time a grain can be appreciated; the pressed meerschaum will not display a grain. Imagine comparing old flame mahogany with particle board – one has a rich grain, the other has no grain.

Meerschaum pipe case

Meerschaum pipe case

Your block meerschaum pipe was made by Andreas Bauer, known by many as the best pipe maker of the 20th century. The Andreas Bauer brand began production in Vienna, Austria in 1908 and won a gold medal at the 1937 Paris World Exhibition; collectors still consider Bauer pipes as unsurpassed in quality. Andreas Bauer initially used fossil amber for the mouthpieces but later began using mouthpieces of “cultured-amber,” which is nothing more than an artificial, lab-produced substitute for amber. Ernst Bauer took over the company in 1942 and thirty years later it was sold to the Mrstik family. Then in 1990 Bauer merged with Konak Meerschaum of Turkey. Although it was purchased in 1974, it may have been made prior to the 1972 sale of the company to the Mrstik family.

Your fisherman’s head, Andreas Bauer, block meerschaum pipe in the fitted, satin-lined case could sell in the $200 to $250 range (2406.28 to 3009.66 South African Rand).

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