( Fr- écume de
Nor- merskum/sepiolitt; Rus- )
MEERSCHAUM (=Sepiolite), Mg4Si6O15(OH)2·6H2O.
"ground clean" (larger piece above
center ~ 15 cm) from beds of Green
southern southern Utah (© photo by Rob Kulakofsky, from www.greatrough.com, permission Color Wright)
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 1.direct 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
it represented compressed whitecaps of waves in the sea; its
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
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.
is relatively easy to carve -- wood carving tools or even
standard files (especially rat-tail and triangular types)
suffice. Indeed, meerschaum is considered to be a
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.,www.meerschaum.com
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
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.
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..." (www.pantheon.org) ] Thus, it seems not surprizing that a mineral material, closely related to meerschaum, that is from Longban, Vermland, Sweden, is called aphrodite (www.chemistrydaily.com); 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.].
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