( Fr- écume de mer/sépiolite; Ger- Meerschaum/Sepiolith;
Nor- merskum/sepiolitt; Rus- )

MEERSCHAUM (=Sepiolite), Mg4Si6O15(OH)2·6H2O.

A. Meerschaum "rough" that has been "ground clean" (larger piece above center ~ 15 cm) from beds of Green River Formation of
 southern southern Utah
  (© photo by Rob Kulakofsky, from, permission Color Wright)

B. Meerschaum bracelet (length - 20 cm) and earrings.  (© photo Anadoli Collection, from by permission)         

C. Meerschaum ornaments (size unknown), carved meerschaum from Sivrihisar, Turkey.  Ahmet Beyaz, carver. (© photo by Iskender Isik)

D. Meerschaum pipe (height - 17 cm; length - 30 cm), carved meerschaum from Eskisehir, Turkey.  "Nostalgia" carved by Ismail Özel.  Sedat Konçak collection. (© photo by Kadir Sariiz)

DESCRIPTION: Meerschaum is a compact massive variety of the mineral sepiolite, a hydrous magnesium silicate hydroxide hydrate. Meerschaum properties: 
    Color - most is ivory-white, cream-yellow, light tan, gray, pinkish or greenish, but that from
Tanzania, Africa  is typically stained various shades of brown, black and/or yellow .
    H. 2 - 2½ , but masses are easily scratched with the fingernail;  and, it is harder after heating.
    S.G.  0.99 - 2.26 (lower values, which account for the fact that some of it floats on water, relate to the high porosity of some masses.)
    Light transmission - opaque
    Luster - dull earthy to pearly;  waxy when polished
    Breakage -  breaks easily with a subconchoidal fracture;  although
"dried" untreated meerschaum is fragile, fashioned pieces that have undergone the usually used post-carving treatments are relatively durable. 
    Miscellany - sticks to one's tongue prior to any treatment;  is commonly porous.


USES: Gemrock uses are:   Chiefly for fashioning meerschaum pipes, including hookahs (water pipes), and liners or chillums, respectively, for those pipes made largely of materials other than meerschaum; cigar and cigarette holders;  jewelry (beads, bracelets, earrings, necklaces); boxes (both smooth and carved); small carvings (chess pieces, eggs, statuettes);  thimbles (some delicately carved); etc. 

OCCURRENCES: Diverse origins and occurrences have been recorded in the literature:  Although an often quoted former suggestion that it represents "fossilized shells of tiny sea creatures" has apparently been disproved, its true origin(s) is/are not agreed upon by those who have investigated it.  Two noteworthy suggestions are precipitation from silica-supersaturated water in alkaline to saline lakes and  2.precipitation from groundwater within so-called caliche breccias and their overlying clays, during a periods of relatively high water tables.  A brief summary of occurrences and a pertinent bibliography are given by Sariiz and Isik, 1995.

NOTEWORTHY LOCALITIES:   Eskişehir Province, Turkey, where it is said that there are some 4000  (15,000? - see REMARKS, paragraph 3)  within an area of only approximately four square miles; [and]  the Amboseli Basin of Tanzania and adjoining Kenya.  Occurrences are also recorded for Vallecas, Spain;   unnamed localities in Mexico, Morocco and Nairobi;   and  within the United States in California, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Utah.

REMARKS: The name meerschaum is the German word for sea foam (Meer, sea + Schaum, foam).  It is said that this designation was given because of the once held belief that it represented compressed whitecaps of waves in the sea;  its light weight and off-white color  apparently led to this belief.  It is recorded that "Meerschaum was named by German sailors who found it floating in the Black Sea and thought it was 'sea foam' until it started bumping against their ship." (

Once fashioned, usually by carving, most meerschaum goes through a whole series of treatments that involve such things as boiling in  beeswax and heating in kilns.  As noted in the fifth paragraph under this subheading, these procedures which are related to fashioing, polishing and finishing of items made from this gemrock.

Attention is directed to the three areal photographs, one taken from space, that appear on the Konçak Meerschaum web site (2000).  The caption for these photographs indicates that  the area contains 15,000 shafts with associated tunnels having a total length of 450,000 km., which have dug during the last 250 years.  It also notes that "Tradational (sic) methods for wining (sic) meerschaum using simple hand tools, still appear to most economic.  ... [that] shafts about 1 w (sic - m?) in diameter and anywhere from 15 to 75 meter deep are oug [sic -dug] into the graund [sic] to reach the meerschaum containing beds. [and] when miners reach meerschaum, they drive a production gallery."   Apparently two chief methods are used currently to recover meerschaum in the  Eskişehir area -- 1.the "spinning-wheel method" whereby hand tools are used  and  2.the "skip  method" which involves the use of mechanized equipment for enlarging the working tunnels.  In any case, the material is generally recovered with hand tools and brought to the  surface as chunks/lumps that range from a few centimeters up to a few decimeters in greatest dimension.  

Meerschaum is relatively easy to carve --  wood carving tools or even pocketknives and standard files (especially rat-tail and triangular types) suffice.   Indeed, meerschaum  is considered to be a good carving material for novice as well as master carvers.  [Consequently, the availability of  "Carve your own" pressed meerschaum kits is not surprising.]  Procedures used in preparation of  rough meerschaum for carving are outlined on several web sites (e.g.,   and

After it has been carved, the pipe (or whatever) is usually heated in a kiln to remove excess moisture.  Then "touching up" processes, if any,   include procedures such as "smoothing" with glass paper and/or or Dutch rushes and/or polishing by simple burnishing or using some fine abrassive such as bone ash or white rouge.  FInally, pipes (but not most other carvings) are dipped -- often, several times - into boiling mixtures of, for example, beeswax and different oils (sperm whale oil, apparently favored in the past, is not readily available now).  In some cases, however, waxing is apparently substituted for true polish. 

The just outline procedures have a long history.  After tobacco began to be used widely, meerschaum began to be mined and carved into pipes that Turkish entrepreneurs carried to fairs and other markets throughout at least eastern Europe as early as the late 17th century and continuing into the 18th and 19th centuries.  And, as might be expected,  such exhibiting of articles made of Turkish meerschaum, led to Eskisehir's becoming the world center for meerschaum mining and carving.

Carved meerschaum pipes, many of which are valued objets d'art, depict all sorts beings and things with forms that range from fairly simple to intricately delicate.  Examples are:  human heads such as the rather well known ones depicting  Vikings and  Pirates and also those of individuals -- e.g., Sir Walter Raleigh and Ronald Reagan;  diverse animals, including birds; scenes such as castles; and even golf balls. Interestingly, especially from the etymological standpoint, the word meerschaum is also used widely to refer to pipes;  in fact several dictionaries give something like "a tobacco pipe" usually adding that its bowl is made of meerschaum as a second meaning for the word.  So, a "would you believe this ... ":   the Missouri Meerschaum Company, located in Washington, Missouri since 1869, is "the world's oldest and largest manufacturer of Corn Cob Smoking Pipes (my emphasis)." (

Meerschaum is frequently associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty in Greek Mythology.  The relationship is apparently  based on the fact that she, like meerschaum, was described as having been "formed" as foam from breaking waves.  ["According to Hesiod, she was born when Uranus (the father of the gods) was castrated by his son Cronus.  Cronus threw the severed genitals into the ocean which began to churn and foam about them. [and] From the aphros ("sea foam") arose Aphrodite..." ( ]  Thus, it seems not surprizing that a mineral material, closely related to meerschaum, that is from Longban, Vermland, Sweden, is called aphrodite (;   I, however, have been unable to determine more information about the identity etc. about this reported material, so If anyone knows or can provide a documented reference to it, please send it to me.


Plaster of Paris - a man-made cement that consists largely of calcium sulfate di-hydrate.
-  [Apparently  macroscopic examination suffices.].

Pressed meerschaum - this material, not strictly speaking a simulant for anything other than so-called Virgin meerschaum is  “... made up of finely ground scraps which are mixed with various types of adhesives, then cast into blocks or shapes and allowed to harden. The result is a dense, heavy texture similar to stained and polished plaster." ( -  [Macroscopic examination suffices.].

REFERENCE: Sariiz and Isik, 1995.

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