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Eskisehir Meerschaum Pipe Story

Eskisehir Meerschaum Pipe Story I came to Eskisehir with one intent: to write a story about Meerschaum pipe production. I am pleased to report that through a course of fortunate happenstance, I have completed the research phase of this objective. Meerschaum, called luletasi, aktas, or patal in Turkish, is a white sedimentary stone that has [...]

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Eskisehir Meerschaum Pipe Story

I came to Eskisehir with one intent: to write a story about Meerschaum pipe production. I am pleased to report that through a course of fortunate happenstance, I have completed the research phase of this objective.

Meerschaum, called luletasi, aktas, or patal in Turkish, is a white sedimentary stone that has commonly been used for carving ornate sculptures. The stone gained its highest level of functionality when a Hungarian man ordered a block of meerschaum to be carved into a tobacco pipe. Before this happened, nobody really knew what to do with the stuff besides make little figurines out of it. Now these ornately carved, white stone tobacco pipes are famous throughout the world, and nearly every pipe collection has at least one meerschaum to accompany the briars.

There is pretty much only one place in the world where high quality, carveable meerschaum is available to be mined, and that is in the area surrounding Eskisehir, Turkey. The Turkish government knows of this monopoly, and, to ensure work for its domestic carvers, has prohibited the exportation of raw, block meerschaum. So every meerschaum tobacco pipe on planet earth was mined, carved, and assembled right here in Eskisehir.

Half finished meerschaum pipes in Eskisehir, Turkey.

I wanted to meet the men who carved these pipes, sold these pipes, and mined the raw meerschaum from the depths of the earth.

Around a month ago, I began sending out press inquiries to various companies who export these pipes from Turkey for sale in the USA. Every single one of my emails went unanswered. I was thus placed in a situation that I have not been before in my fledgling career as a journalist: in the field without a contact, without an informant, without a life raft. I was going at this story cold turkey.

For an entire day I walked around Eskisehir just gauging my surroundings, and I could hardly even find any shops even selling anything made from meerschaum. I did not have a guidebook and I found most of the online resources about Eskisehir to be rather vague. So I went into a bookstore and found a Turkish language guidebook to Turkey. I dug through the pages until I came upon the Eskisehir chapter, and then scanned the words for any sign of the Turkish words for meerschaum. My searched revealed the word, “Luletasi,” and I quickly scrawled down the address that was written next to it, which was for the Meerschaum Museum.

The following morning I put on my new Turkish suit and went out to play journalist. Chaya joined me as a photographer and general sense consultant. I figured that the best place to start this mission was at the Meerschaum Museum, and we went hunting for it with the address in hand. After asking directions around two dozen times, we came upon a part of town that was all meerschaum. Carving workshops and showrooms with huge, white, decorative tobacco pipes proudly displayed in the windows were popping up along our walk through the old wooden houses in the historic district of Eskisehir.

I caught sight of an old Turkish man carving a pipe through the window of an old house, and quickly hastened towards the source. There was no sign on the building indicating that the public was welcomed inside, but the front door was left ajar. With a quick knock Chaya and I entered. We were on a hunt for a story, and had to find it ourselves – somehow. We were met on the other side of the door by a smiling meerschaum pipe carver, and found his workshop littered with half formed shapes of tobacco pipes, electric table drills, and white dust evenly distributed over everything.

Vagabond Journey with pipe carver in Eskisehir, Turkey.

I shook hands with the artisan, and tried to introduce myself as a journalist from the USA who was writing a story on meerschaum pipes. My English did not go too far, and his Turkish traveled even less. So we just smiled as each other as I pantomimed that I wanted to watch him carve a pipe. He took up my charade, and began showing me his tools as Chaya photographed everything. I looked over his drills, chisels, and half finished pipes, communicating in hand motions, smiles, and a few laughs. He showed me a cardboard box full of beautifully carved pipes, and I dug through the box in amazement.

Meerschaum luletasi pipe at its source in Eskisehir, Turkey.

It was at this moment that I became aware of the access that can be gained through simply wearing a fancy business suit.

I smoke a tobacco pipe. I like looking at pipes, talking about pipes, holding pipes, and everything else about pipes and pipe smoking. Placing a cardboard box full of beautiful meerschaum pipes in front of me is like throwing a strung out drug addict in a crack house. I was excited to look through a box of pipes with the man who carved them standing directly in front of me. I knew then that it was a good possibility that I may have previously gazed upon this man’s handicrafts in another far flung place on planet earth.

All meerschaum pipes come from Eskisehir.

Pipe in the Meerschaum museum in Eskisehir, Turkey. Chaya really liked this one because it is of a mother with a child.

I am pretty familiar with meerschaum pipes and their designs. From an initial survey of the pipes in the cardboard box, it became apparent that I was jumping into a world of meerschaum carving that was far beyond what I had previously been exposed to in other parts of the world. I was at the well spring of the world supply of meerschaum pipes. I was at the creative source of this industry, and the pipe designs in the shoebox were far beyond the standard floral, golf ball, and sultan head designs that are common in the West. I was immediately taken aback by the creative diversity of meerschaum pipes at their source.

After digging through this carver’s finished pipes for a while with overly exaggerate facial expressions, he then began naming his prices. It was time to be carrying on. I shook hands with the carver and bided him farewell. It was my intention to purchase a meerschaum pipe on this day, but I did not want to get one at my first stop. I had an entire industry of supplies and designs to search through. The carver smiled and waved goodbye. Chaya then photographed another room of his workshop, and we went off to continue our search for the Meerschaum Museum.

We eventually found it sitting on top of a hill, and quickly went inside. There was nobody guarding the door, and entrance was apparently free. I quickly found myself looking at displays of beautifully carved pipes, but also found myself alone. I had wanted to come to the Meerschaum museum to find a contact who could facilitate my meeting with a master carver, and had not anticipated that I would be standing with only Chaya in the museum. I just shrugged and continued looking at the amazing supply of pipes.

Wade with the master pipe carver, Burhan Yucel, in Eskisehir.

Sometimes in journalism you find what you need easily, and sometimes you just need to meet your dead ends with a shrug of your shoulders and find another way around the barrier.

Soon enough a couple Turkish men entered the museum and greeted me. I introduced myself as a journalist writing a story on meerschaum pipes, and when one of the men said “Washington Post?” with a laugh, I knew that he understood what I was talking about. I tried to find out where I could meet with some of the carvers who produced the museum pieces, and I was told where I could find them:

“200 meters that way,” I was told, as the men walked away.

Around this time I noticed another person in the museum. He was a young Turk with long hair who was taking photos of the museum pieces. After the men walked away he approached me.

“I heard what you said to the man, I can go with you to meet the carvers.”

We shook hands instantly, and I smiled at this stream of good fortune. An English speaking Turkish student was willing to act as my translator free of charge. I found my way in to this story.

We then went Atlihan, where many pipe carvers have showrooms, and met a master carver named Burhan Yucel. Speaking through the translator, I introduced myself. He was willing to be interviewed him, and showed me a copy of a Russian magazine that had previously run a story about him and his meerschaum pipe making opperation. I asked my questions for around two hours, and, at my request, a master carver by the name of Mehmet Ucak was brought in to provide a demonstration. Chaya took photos and videos, I collected information and stories, as he carved away at a few blocks of meerschaum.

For around an hour, Mehmet Ucak showed us how making a meerschaum pipe was done. This journalism mission was taking shape in a big way.

At the conclusion of this meeting, I thanked my impromptu translator profusely, and we parted ways. I then returned to the showroom where we conducted the interviews, and Chaya bought me a beautiful meerschaum pipe for my birthday.

Pipe carver from the Beyaz Inci meerschaum pipe shop in Eskisehir, Turkey.

The next day Chaya and I visited a workshop where the meerschaum pipes are actually carved, met with Burhan Yucel’s son, took some more photos and got a deeper impression of the art and industry of meerschaum pipe production.

I have my notes, sound recordings, photos, and videos; now I need to tie the sack up on this story and land it in print.

This mission is only halfway complete.

Meerschaum pipes from Ismail Ayan and Ramazan Baglan in Eskisehir, Turkey.

Eskisehir Meerschaum Pipe Story


Filed under: Art and Music, Turkey

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3691 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: Trenton, Maine

6 comments… add one

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  • Wesley Tetsuji Kan November 3, 2010, 3:04 pm

    Nice piece of reporting. I have one disagreement, and that concerns the history of meerschaum pipes.

    According to the story that has circulated for centuries among Occidental pipemakers, in 1723 Karl Kowates carved the first meerschaum pipe for Count Andrassy who had been presented with two raw meerschaum blocks before his return from a diplomatic mission to the Ottoman Court in Turkey. Walter Morgenroth states in an article, “The end of a legend: Meerschaum pipe production in the 17th and 18th centuries,” that the Turks had been smoking meerschaum pipes for seventy-five to a hundred years before Kowates. Before this time, meerschaum pipes were exported from Turkey to the Balkans and then marketed elsewhere. About 1750, production of meerschaum pipes started in Ruhla (Thuringia) and Lemgo (Westphalia). Initially rough-cut blanks were imported from Turkey and finished off in Germany. In the first half of the 18th century, blocks of raw meerschaum were also imported in small quantities. The large amount of meerschaum chip and dust waste resulting from meerschaum carving led to the development of “compressed” meerschaum.

    The Andrassy-Kowates story contains the seeds of its own demise. For a Turkish official to present raw meerschaum blocks to a visiting envoy would have been a very strange gesture unless meerschaum was already being used to make pipes and the envoy desired the raw materials to have custom made pipes carved from them. Sepiolite has very little utility except in the fabrication of pipe bowls and a few modern industrial applications. The general facts of the Andrassy-Kowates story are probably true. If so, Karl Kowates was the person who should be credited for the technique still employed today of coating the meerschaum bowl’s exterior with beeswax.
    ce piece of reporting except for the origin of meerschaum pipes.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com November 4, 2010, 12:18 pm

      Yeah, you are probably correct. But it is my impression that Meerschaum was used for a long time to make little statuettes, figurines, and other trinkets before pipes. It is difficult to identify the exact origins of just about any cultural practice.

      Thanks for this comment, it really adds another dimension to this piece.

      Walk Slow,


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  • James Tomicich November 9, 2019, 12:26 am

    Mr. Sheppard,
    I was very happy to “stumble” upon your article about the meershaum in Eskisher. I arrived in Eskisher yesterday (Nov 08). I too love meershaum and traveled here from Riyadh Saudi Arabia (I live in Virginia Beach but am currently working in Riyadh). I am here for the purpose of learning more about meerschaum (and of course to purchase a few pieces). The language barrier is as tough as I’ve seen anywhere. I’m going to try and find a translator first. Looking forward to my endeavour. Your writings will help me with my experience in Eskisher. The people are very friendly and the area is beautiful. Very much looking forward to this week.

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    • Wade Shepard November 13, 2019, 8:33 am

      That sounds excellent. Enjoy it out there!

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  • Albert Constable March 31, 2020, 6:25 pm

    I was stationed there in 1964, a member of the USAF, at that time it was a city of about 85,000 as I remember. I also watched them carve pipes, I have a number of them, my favorite one has a carved Turkish head measuring 3 1/2″ wide x 5″ high, with a carved stem , overall it is 17″ long in a fitted case. It is just beautiful, never smoked of course, as most of my pipes have not been. I think I gave about $35 or $40 dollars for it at the time. It was a lot of money back then for a GI, but I had to have it!! It stays in my safe, but I do get it out from time to time to look at how beautiful it is, my pipes are all so beautiful & I guess what I remember most about the Turks, is their craftsmanship. I would give $5.00 right now for a cup of Chi, the best tea in the world!! I am glad you had a good trip & your article was very nice, I found it looking at videos of Turks carving pipes. Al Constable

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  • linda Smith June 23, 2020, 12:02 am

    I have just acquired a meerschaum pipe in a handcrafted leather case and was doing some research on it. I found a lot of pipes that are similar but none are exactly like mine. Was wondering if you could price it for me and / or making me an offer for it. I can send a picture if you are interested, It’s a sultan’s head complete with full curly beard and turban headdress adorned with emblem, bow, feather and tassels. beautiful and quite large.

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