Meerschaum pipes are tobacco smoking pipes made from blocks of meerschaum clay, a porous clay mined primarily in Turkey. Meerschaum pipes are prized for their ability to offer a cool, dry smoke. Synthetic meerschaum is made from the dust and chips that remain after carving meerschaum pipes. The scraps are mixed with an adhesive and then pressed into a pipe shape. Pressed meerschaum pipes are much less valuable than their block-carved counterparts because they are usually poorly made and offer an inferior smoking experience.
Moisten a finger, and rub it along the inside of the bowl of an unsmoked pipe. High quality meerschaum pipes will quickly soak up moisture. Pipes made from low-grade meerschaum or from chips will absorb moisture slowly or not at all.
Use a piece of silver jewelry to mark the bottom of the pipe. Silver will leave a pencil-like mark on most synthetic meerschaum, but it will not mark genuine block meerschaum. The silver leaves marks on the adhesive used to hold together the meerschaum powder.
Study the color of a used meerschaum pipe. A gradual change in color occurs as oils from the burning tobacco are absorbed into the meerschaum clay. White pipes will turn shades of gold and brown. Synthetic pressed meerschaums tend to develop uneven coloring with visible layers or uncolored white veins, while pipes carved from solid meerschaum will change color more evenly.