Columbia Star

1963        Celebrating 60 Years      2023

Put this in your pipe and smoke it

Example of Bob Schemel's pipe collection

Example of Bob Schemel’s pipe collection

By Jackie

First, a pop quiz:

1. Meerschaum is

a. A famous Bavarian town

b. A haberdashery designer

c. A mineral found in limited areas of the world.

2. The word Meerschaum means—–, from the —-:

a. “Slight,” from Latin;

b. “Sea foam,” from German

c. “Pretentious,” from Greek.

3. The finest pipes for

smoking are:

a. White;

b. Brown;

c. Black.

Two South University professors, Dean Bob Schemel and Ripley Thames, can tell you everything you want to know about pipe smoking, and Schemel has the pipes to demonstrate.

Example of Bob Schemel's pipe collection

Example of Bob Schemel’s pipe collection

“Hand- carved Meerschaum pipes are the finest in the world,” says Schemel. “They are created from the mineral Meerschaum, which until recently was mined only in eastern Turkey. It is absolutely unique: light- -weight, malleable when wet, dries to hardness with an insulation quality that keeps the pipe cool while tobacco burns inside.”

Thus the name Meerschaum means sea foam or light weight.

Schemel became enamored with Meerschaum pipes when he was teaching in Turkey. “I enlisted the aid of a student who was masterful at negotiating, and we went together to the town of Eskisire, to the studios where the artisans work to create hand- carved pipes. Through shrewd bargaining and good timing, and by eliminating a middleman, he helped me acquire wonderful pieces. Some of them would do Michelangelo or DaVinci proud.”

Dean Bob Schemel of South University

Dean Bob Schemel of South University

Forget your notions of a pipe with a straight handle and a round bowl. Schemel’s pipe collection includes fanciful carvings such as dragons, animals, human figures, flowers, and many other creations. The more elaborate the carvings, the costlier the pipe. Some Schemel acquired for as little as $60 or $100. Many can bring prices high in the thousands.

Pipe carvers pass down their skills through their families with many serving apprenticeships in childhood and developing their talent over the years.

His colleague Ripley Thames is an aficionado of Meerschaums, also. He has studied the ways the color of a pipe is affected by finishes and by smoking.

“Pure Meerschaum when mined from the ground is white,” he said. “People think of pipes as dark brown or black, but that’s because most pipes in England and other parts of Europe are made of brierwood roots, brown or black.”

“Meerschaum may be coated with beeswax, which produces a brown- yellow color, or with paraffin to maintain the whiteness. The tobacco smoking turns it gradually darker, and the elaborate carvings will stand out in relief as variable color sets in.”

Meerschaum is now mined in limited amounts in Kenya and Indonesia. Sculptors use it for such items as music boxes and chess sets, but its fame rests on its association with pipes. It remains in great demand around the world.

Thames always makes sure his hands are clean when he smokes his Meerschaum, and he handles it as little as possible. Schemel does not smoke? He just enjoys the art of his collection.

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