Meerschaum pipes are made out of a soft mineral called Sepiolite. It can be found in the Dead Sea and resembles sea foam floating on the surface. This substance is closely related to soapstone and is usually grey, cream or white.
It is known by several different names including White Goddess, Vienna Stone and Venus of the Sea, among others. There is a soft mineral from Sweden called Aphroditea, which is also part of the same family.
When first extracted, this mineral is rated at a 2.0 in hardness. It will harden over time when exposed to the sun or stored in a warm location. Once it has hardened, artisans will craft the substance into various shapes including animals and people. It can be found in Spain, France, Moravia, Greece and Morocco. It can also be found in several locations within the United States. Deposits exist in South Carolina, Utah and Pennsylvania.
Meerschaum will feature nodules that must be scraped off. The piece is dried and scraped a second time. The final preparation step is to apply a wax polish. The artist will then carve the material and make the surface smooth. The pipe is heated in wax and polished with bone ash.
Fullers earth is used in industry to filter oil and grease. Meerschaum can be substituted for this material as well as soapstone. A Meerschaum pipe will change colors as it is used. Starting at the base and working up, there may be orange, red and yellow tones from the nicotine absorbed by the material.
Turkey has recently created a monopoly in the Meerschaum market because they have banned its export. European centers have been cut off from the supply and must use inferior African Meerschaum or pressed Meerschaum.