How To Color Your Meerschaum Pipe
This pipe has been coloring for 140 years!
The best way to color your pipe is to smoke it. However, some methods are better than others. Read on to learn!
Ever since the introduction of Meerschaum as a material for the production of fine tobacco smoking pipes, people have been fascinated with coloring their Meerschaum pipes. This article in the New York Times dated December 24, 1911 talks about a cigar retailer bemoaning the loss of an industry to machines; that of coloring pipes by smoking them for men with more money than time on their hands.
Meerschaum pipes take on color as a result of the porous nature of the stone. When tobacco is smoked, the stone absorbs liquids, tars and other materials generated by the smoking process. These materials are drawn out towards the surface of the pipe by the wax coating on the pipe. In earlier days, pipes were sealed with any number of which, not the least of which was Sperm Whale Oil. Given that it is hard to find Sperm Whale Oil in quantity any longer, today's meerschaum pipes are colored using varying amounts of bees wax and parafin.
- The key to coloring your pipe is to SMOKE YOUR PIPE! Smoke it frequently. One common technique to color your Meerschaum pipe is to smoke it as many times a day as you can for two weeks and then set it aside for a period of time. The pipe should feel heavier since it will have absorbed all sorts of fluids. Letting it sits allows the wax coating to draw the color out to the surface where you want it.
- Don't worry about touching your pipe's bowl with your bare hands UNLESS your hands are dirty or you have gotten the bowl too hot too touch. The former will cause staining as the wax pulls the dirt off your hands while the latter may allow fingerprints to get embedded in the bowl. However, you should never get your pipe too hot to hold (see below).
- The cooler the bowl (the wax actually) remains, the better its ability to draw the color out torwards the surface of the pipe. If you smoke your pipe too hot, the wax may be driven off the pipe, causing it to no longer pull color to the surface of the bowl.
Imagine a pipe colored, by order of the Czar, in 15 days.
Of course, not many of us have the resources of the Czar of Russia. NY Times article describes the Czar ordering his palace guards "Under pain of the knot, none shall smoke any other but this" that was to be gifted to an artist in 15 days. The combined effort of an army of men enabled to color a pipe to a deep brown that would have otherwise required 5 years to acheive.
Only 6 months delivers these results!
Some folks advocate using a "coloring bowl" or similar type device to provide the separation of the heat from the bowl but we've found satisfactory results from smoking more off the top of the bowl. With a briar, you want to "break in" the pipe by smoking successively bigger loads of tobacco in your bowl. However, with Meerschaum this would generate more heat than you would want in the bowl so you are better to pack it full right off the bat and smoke out of the top of your pipe. This will ensure you get coloring higher up the bowl than you would otherwise get.
While coloring your pipe can be an excellent indicator of a well loved pipe, don't fall prey to this being the end-all, be all for smoking your Meerschaum pipe. Your pipe should provide you with hours of enjoyment so don't become a slave to the pipe just to get it colored.