The Beginners Guide to Using and Buying Meerschaum Pipes and What Tobacco is Best

The Beginners Guide to Using and Buying Meerschaum Pipes and What Tobacco is Best

A high-quality meerschaum pipe can provide an unparalleled pipe smoking experience. However, as with just about everything else in life, not all meerschaum smoking pipes are created equal. In this post, we’re going to take a close look at these distinctive pipes, the material they’re made from, and how the meerschaum novice can make sure they choose a pipe with lasting value; not one that just looks good on the surface. Then we will cover the absolute DO’s and DONT’s when buying your piece.

What is Meerschaum

All you experienced Meerschaum pipe smokers are aware of the fantastic smoking experience that one of these pipes offers, but if you’ve never tried one before, we’re going to start by talking a little about what Meerschaum pipes are. If any of you studied German, you’re probably well aware that the word “Meerschaum” does in fact hail from Germany, but for those people that don’t understand Deutsch, it translates as “seafoam” and is a type of clay. Much like any type of foam, it’s a very porous material (one of the most porous naturally occurring materials there is!) and acts as a filter, absorbing harmful tobacco tars and nicotine. Now the real reason why Meerschaum pipes are tremendously popular is that Meerschaum is unlike most other types of clay in terms of its composition. It doesn’t burn and provides a “purer” smoking experience that you just don’t get with pipes produced from other materials.
However, buyer beware, there are tons of substandard pipes out there; it’s a bit of a minefield. “But I wanted one for Christmas” we hear you say. We’re not saying you shouldn’t get one (we highly recommend you do!), we’re just warning you that you have to be very careful when deciding which pipe to buy.


If you are new to the world of meerschaum pipes you’re in for a lifelong treat. These timeless and evocative smoking pipes provide a level of satisfaction many believe the standard briar pipe just can’t match. Typically, if you dig a bit you discover that most people unimpressed by the meerschaum experience purchased a lower quality pipe without realizing it, which of course harmed the quality of their smoke. Here are the things you’ll want to look for and consider before purchasing one of these unique lifestyle objects.

Block Meerschaum – There are 2 types of meerschaum used in the creation of smoking pipes; block meerschaum and pressed meerschaum. A pipe made from block meerschaum was made in the traditional way, carved from a single block of meerschaum recovered from the mines around Eskisehir, Turkey. This type of meerschaum allows for incredibly detailed hand carving and provides the much sought after cool, even smoke. The other type of meerschaum is pressed meerschaum. Pressed meerschaum is made from shavings and other tiny bits of meerschaum that are mixed with glues and pressed into a mold. This type of meerschaum is heavier than block, does not smoke as cool, does not color as well and any carving is typically clunky and uninteresting. Making sure your pipe is carved from block meerschaum is the single best way to ensure a quality experience.

The Mouthpiece – Before you purchase a meerschaum pipe take a good look at the mouthpiece. If it is a solid yellow color, it’s likely a cheap plastic mouthpiece the manufacturer used to save money. The best meerschaum pipe mouthpieces look like a bit of thought went into their creation and are made from Lucite, vulcanite or, in the case of estate pipes, amber or even clay. Perhaps more important than the precise material the stem is fashioned from how it attaches to the bowl. If the stem screws directly into the meerschaum the connection will wear down and may develop cracks over time.

Price – True quality is never cheap and the amazing artisans that carve meerschaum smoking pipes by hand don’t work for nothing. So if someone is offering a meerschaum pipe with what looks like an elaborately carved bowl for less than $30 you should be suspicious. It’s likely made from pressed meerschaum with a cheap bit and not even worth the $30 the seller is asking.

Size – While people will debate whether or not size matters when it comes to this type of smoking pipe in our experience the larger the bowl the longer and more satisfying the smoke. A larger pipe also has a more pleasing feel when you hold it and is usually easier to clean. Our recommendation would be to look for a pipe with a bowl diameter of at least ½ to ¾ of an inch and an overall length of 5 or 6 inches.

Carvings – Many people buy this type of pipe for the carvings as much as anything else and this is certainly understandable. But don’t let yourself be bowled over (so to speak) strictly by the carving (unless you have reason to believe the pipe has some historical value). Make sure the pipe fits our other criteria first before putting too much weight on the carving. After all you could be looking at nothing more than a cleverly made pressed meerschaum pipe.

Uncarved raw block meerschaum

Important Do’s and Don’ts When Buying Meerschaum Pipes

Don’t buy a Meerschaum pipe made from pressed block. One of the most important aspects of a Meerschaum pipe purchase is the quality of the block that it’s produced from. Meerschaum pipes on sale are generally produced from the block that was sourced from either Turkey or Africa, although the latter is now much rarer since the mines in Africa were closed several years ago. Block mined at greater depths (200 ft or more is not uncommon) is very high quality, while block that is located closer to ground level is of poorer quality. The pressed block that we mentioned that you shouldn’t buy is made from lower quality Meerschaum chips, dust, and a binding agent, and the reason pipes produced from this aren’t so good is that they just aren’t as porous. Try dabbing some moisture on high quality and a low-quality Meerschaum pipe at the same time; it will be completely absorbed by the high quality one, while it will remain on the outside of the low-quality one.

Do find out dimensions and weight before buying. This point is of course intended for those that might like to buy their pipe from an online store. The smoking experience with a Meerschaum is only excellent if you use it and if the pipe is overly big or overly small when it arrives, you probably won’t use it as much as you would like. It needs to feel comfortable in your hands and if this information isn’t made readily available on the website (all of our product pages have the dimensions and weight of the pipes), make sure to ask before you purchase. We would add that a larger pipe is preferable over a smaller one since not only are they easier to fill and clean, but you can fit more tobacco in the pipe too, meaning you get a longer smoke. Although, one as large as the one Josh is holding above might be a little excessive!

Don’t buy based on the price alone. If you’re one of those people that loves a good bargain, you would be well advised to steer clear of bargains when shopping for Meerschaum pipes. Sadly, as we’ve already said, a large percentage of the pipes you see advertised online are of extremely poor quality, usually made of pressed Meerschaum rather than the good stuff. This will have a serious impact on your smoking experience and we would advise you to pay a little bit more for quality or not buy at all. In this sense, it does help to deal with a retailer like Vienna Meerschaum, as you know you’re getting quality in exchange for your money. The pipe above is made from the highest quality Meerschaum around!

Do favor models that possess an insert in between the mouthpiece and the Meerschaum. On some cheaper models and definitely on older models, you will see that the mouthpiece just screws right into the Meerschaum. Through regular use and cleaning, the shanks on these are very prone to wear and tear and will become loose and it’s then a pain to get them replaced. The insert (check out the picture above) makes the connection extremely tight and is easy to replace if necessary, ensuring you and your new pipe will be good friends for many years to come.

Don’t buy a Meerschaum pipe just because it “looks good.” We don’t blame you for wanting something that looks awesome, but with Meerschaum pipes in all honesty the aesthetics are very much a secondary concern (or at least should be). Follow the tips we’ve already outlined above to help you get the most important things right – QUALITY – then and only then start paying attention to the appearance. As if you don’t, you’ll end up with a pipe that looks pretty but becomes a permanent feature on one of the shelves in your dining room, forever gathering dust rather than being used. And what a waste that would be!
We’ve been dealing with Meerschaum pipes for many, many years and we know quality when we see it. If you would like some advice or have any questions about Meerschaum pipes then please ask away as these products are something we are extremely passionate about and we love sharing our expertise!

The Bottom Line

One of the best ways to ensure you purchase a high-quality meerschaum pipe is to purchase it from a reputable retailer. Vienna Meerschaum came into being as a vehicle for importing hand-carved meerschaum smoking pipes from the workshops of Turkey and we continue to offer some of the highest quality meerschaum pipes available anywhere. We’ve been dealing with Meerschaum pipes for many, many years and we know quality when we see it. If you would like some more advice or have any further questions about Meerschaum pipes, then feel free to browse our extensive articles or give us a call. We are extremely passionate about what we do and we love sharing our expertise!
The Best Tobacco for your Meerschaum Pipe?
Now that we have covered how to buy and use a meerschaum pipe, lets get to the good stuff, what’s the best tobacco to use for your new pipe. So you’ve received a beautiful meerschaum pipe from Vienna Meerschaum as a gift and now you’d like to learn more about it. Great! The first thing to know about meerschaum is that it’s an incredibly porous material. (The name meerschaum means “sea foam” in German which should tell you something about its properties right off the bat.) It’s a type of clay but unlike most clay, it’s not malleable. It is light, easy to carve, and dissipates heat well, however, which has made it a favorite with pipe makers for more than 300 years. And because meerschaum pipes dissipate heat so well they provide an incredibly cool smoke which is one of the things meerschaum fans love most about their pipes.

While you can smoke any kind of tobacco you want out of meerschaum smoking pipes there are plenty of pipe aficionados who will tell you that some tobaccos are better suited to the material’s natural characteristics than others. The theory is that if you stick to these preferred types of tobacco you’ll enjoy better flavor from each bowl and the pipe itself will enjoy a longer life.

It all goes back to the fact that meerschaum is porous (which is why meerschaum is also used to make kitty litter). Now if you’re a pipe veteran you know that different tobacco blends contain different amounts of oil. English blends in particular such as Ten Russians, Penzance and Gaslight are well known for their oily qualities. The problem, if you can call it that, is that when you use blends like these the oil is absorbed by the porous meerschaum. Over time enough oil is absorbed that it clogs the meerschaum pores and negates the ability of the material to disperse heat. And when that happens, well, goodbye nice cool smoke.

In order to prevent this unhappy outcome avoiding the traditionally oily English blends is sometimes recommended for meerschaum smoking pipes. However, if you just love your English blends too much, an alternative is to choose those that include Latakia or Perique. These ingredients are known to produce a cooler smoke and that naturally cooler smoke will help offset the fact that the bowl is smoking a bit hotter due to the oil absorbed by the meerschaum.

Raw block meerschaum

The Pros and Cons of Dedicating your Pipe

Of course, this notion of limiting the type of tobacco in your meerschaum smoking pipes sounds an awful lot like “dedicating” your pipe, which is an issue that can prompt some lively debates among pipe lovers. If you’re new to pipe culture “dedicating” a pipe means that you reserve it (i.e. “dedicate” it) for use with only a single type of tobacco. This is typically done because the pipe smoker doesn’t like the residual flavors that can linger in a bowl when they switch from one blend to another. This lingering flavor effect is known as “ghosting” and it’s enough to drive some pipe smokers to dedicate different pipes to different tobaccos in order to avoid it.
While you wouldn’t be limiting the type of tobacco in your meerschaum pipe for exactly the same reason the end result will be similar in some respects so it’s worth taking a quick look at the pros and cons of dedicating your pipe.

Dedicating – Pros:

The true flavor of the tobacco will come through unsullied.
The tobacco’s intended aromatic characteristics will also be allowed to shine.
In the case of meerschaum pipes, you’ll always enjoy a nice cool smoke.

Dedicating – Cons:

You may not always be able to find your preferred blend.
You will likely need to purchase several pipes and dedicate each to a different blend.


From a personal standpoint, the best tobacco for your meerschaum pipe will be the one you enjoy the most. From the standpoint of what may be best for the pipe itself, you might want to consider avoiding oily tobacco blends that can undermine the porousness of the meerschaum bowl and cause the pipe to start smoking hotter over time. Which path you choose is entirely up to you but now perhaps you have a little more information to base your decision on.
Want to make your Meerschaum Pipe truly unique? Why not get it engraved with your initials or better yet your favorite flavor of tobacco, at Vienna Meerschaum we can engrave just about anything, that includes our signature Meerschaum Pipes.