AskDefine | Define meerschaum

Dictionary Definition



1 a white clayey mineral [syn: sepiolite]
2 a pipe having a bowl made of meerschaum

User Contributed Dictionary



From German Meerschaum, "sea foam".


  1. a soft white mineral, chiefly used for smoking pipes and cigar holders


Extensive Definition

Meerschaum is a soft white mineral sometimes found floating on the Black Sea, and rather suggestive of sea-foam (German: Meerschaum), whence also the French name for the same substance, écume de mer. This is a false etymology however; the name actually deriving from the term mertscavon used by Levantine traders. It was termed sepiolite by E. F. Glocker, in allusion to its remote resemblance to the bone of the sepia or cuttlefish.
Meerschaum is opaque and off white, grey or cream color, breaking with a conchoidal or fine earthy fracture, and occasionally fibrous in texture. Because it can be readily scratched with the nail, its hardness is placed at about 2. The specific gravity varies from 0.988 to 1.279, but the porosity of the mineral may lead to error. Meerschaum is a hydrous magnesium silicate with the formula H4Mg2Si3O10.
Most of the meerschaum of commerce is obtained from Asia Minor, chiefly from the plain of Eskişehir in Turkey, between Istanbul and Ankara, where it occurs in irregular nodular masses, in alluvial deposits, which are extensively worked for its extraction. It is said that in this district there are 4000 shafts leading to horizontal galleries for extraction of the meerschaum. The principal workings are at Sepetçi Ocağı (Sepetdji-Odjaghi) and Kemikçi Ocağı (Kemikdji-Odjaghi), about 20 miles southeast of Eskişehir. The mineral is associated with magnesite (magnesium carbonate), the primitive source of both minerals being a serpentine.
When first extracted meerschaum is soft, but it hardens on exposure to solar heat or when dried in a warm room. Meerschaum is found also, though less abundantly, in Greece, as at Thebes, and in the islands of Euboea and Samos; it occurs also in serpentine at Hrubschitz near Kromau in Moravia. It is found to a limited extent at certain localities in France and Spain, and is known in Morocco. In the United States it occurs in serpentine in Pennsylvania (as at Nottingham, Chester County) and in South Carolina and Utah.
Meerschaum has occasionally been used as a substitute for soap, fuller's earth, and as a building material; but its chief use is for smoking pipes and cigarette holders. The natural nodules are first scraped to remove the red earthy matrix, then dried, again scraped and polished with wax. The rudely shaped masses thus prepared are turned and carved, smoothed with glass-paper and Dutch rushes, heated in wax or stearine, and finally polished with bone-ash, etc.
Meerschaum products traditionally were made in manufacturing centres such as Vienna. Since the 1970s, though, Turkey has banned the exportation of meerschaum nodules, trying to set up a local meerschaum industry. The once famous manufacturers have therefore disappeared. Nowadays, meerschaum pipes not obtained from Turkish producers are usually made of pressed meerschaum or African meerschaum, which are inferior in quality.
Imitations are made in plaster of Paris and other preparations.
The soft, white, earthy mineral from Långbanshyttan, in Värmland, Sweden, known as aphrodite (Greek: "sea foam"), is closely related to meerschaum.

External links

meerschaum in Czech: Mořská pěna
meerschaum in German: Sepiolith
meerschaum in Spanish: Espuma de mar
meerschaum in French: Écume de mer (minéral)
meerschaum in Italian: Sepiolite
meerschaum in Swedish: Sjöskum
meerschaum in Turkish: Lületaşı

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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