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Meerschaum

Meerschaum has been formed through hydration of magnesium and silicon-based rock debris in Ďalterationílayers at various depths in the Earthís crust by hydrothermal effects. Microscopic crystals in the structure of meerschaum are irregularly arranged. Meerschaum has a very fine, soft and prous texture, and is of a white, or various shades of white, or creamy colour. Because of the reactions leading to its formation., all meerschaum types occur as hydrous minerals. It is this natural moisture held by its porous structure that ensures cleanliness of the mineral while embedded in the earth, and ease of working after having been mined. Dried immediately, or after having been worked, meerschaum gets lighter in weight in proportion to the moisture lost and gains significant consistency. Alteration layers with interspersed meerschaum nodules occur between the surface in the west., in the north-west, and in the south of Eskişehir, the provincial capital of the province of the same name. In order to extract meerschaum blocks, vertical shaft are driven into the earth. When alteration layers, which are easily distinguished in the soil are reached, adits are cut in search of meerschaum nodules. In some regions, meerschaum layers are at levels below the ground water table. In order to extract in such places., it will be necessary to pump out the water first. Manual power, personal experience gained through years, and instinct are benefited from to a great extent in meerschaum mining.

Eskisehir and its surroundings have always had extremely favourable natural conditions for the settlement of people since the earliest times in history. During archaeological researches conducted in order to shed light on this distant past, it has been established, that people knew meerschaum 5000 years ago and used it for various purposes in the course of time. However, meerschaum became popular throughout the world with the spreading of tobacco-smoking. Very light and porous, meerschaum absorbs great amounts of moisture or gas when subjected to them after having been dried, and retains residues in the moisture or gas and holds them in its texture. Due to this basic property, meerschaum is a raw material very suitable for carving tobacco pipes and as an absorbent, for filters, for insulation, and as filling material in industry. Having been used for approximately 300 years in  the manufacture of the most expensive pipes in the world, meerschaum has become an indispensable auxiliary raw material in industry in parallel with the progress made in technology. At the beginning, all of raw meerschaum mined was exported to Europe and was worked there. At present exportation of raw meerschaum is restricted and measures have been taken to assure the working of all raw meerschaum by artisans from Eskişehir trained during the Republic era. Due to its fine and elegant structure it is not used in the production of smoking articles only, anymore. It is nowadays being used for the manufacture of new objects of great utility and aesthetic value. The whole meerschaum sector is under the special protection and encouragement of the Office of the Governor of Eskişehir, with great organizations and out-of-the-country exhibition aiming at a rapid development of the sector. 

MEERSCHAUM CARVING

Meerschaum can easily be carved as long as it does not lose the natural moisture contained in its structure as it comes out of the mines. Requiring talent experience and patience meerschaum carving is a difficult but pleasant and rewarding handwork. All kinds of ornaments can be carved in meerschaum by specially made knives. These knives and other tools some fifty of them are usually made by the carvers themselves.

Having been carved for a long time the block of meerschaum usually lose their natural moisture and have to be soaked in water the soften up again for further carving.

The most important point in meerschaum carving is to choose the right model to fit the natural  shape of the amorphous meerschaum block. The carver must chose the model of the object to be carved so as to ensure minimum waste of the material, which is very expensive. The only and most important support in deciding the model is the carverís vision and imagination.

Once the block has been given the desired form it is exposed to indirect sunshine to be slowly dried. Subsequently the objects is very carefully hand sanded. When the process of sanding is finished the meerschaum objects are submerged into whitened and heated beeswax for a couple of minutes. The final polishing is done by hand applying very soft cloth, that will leave no marks. The waxing and polishing treatment will give  the finished meerschaum object a white to creamy colour. At the beginning of this century our women turned beads from meerschaum on hand-operated lathes. Later, during the Revolution era meerschaum manufacturing developed in many various directions.

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Meerschaum is unique and precious material