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Friday, February 02, 2007

When Economics trumps Fun

Today's post is all about the pipe pictured to the left - the only stamped Talbert meerschaum pipe in the world, and one of only two that I've made. It's different from most meers in a few ways - I drilled it the same as I do Talbert Briars, for one, and it uses a conventional tenon arrangement. It's also sandblasted. I have never, to my knowledge, seen a sandblasted meer before, and was curious to see what the results might be. This particular meerschaum is white meerschaum from Somalia, a harder, more gritty meerschaum than Turkish.

It was made as a free gift for a friend, which is very likely going to be the only way that any Talbert meers are made. They simply aren't feasible to make for sell, unfortunately. The problems are many - I'm not a meerschaum pipemaker, for one, meaning that I'm simply not optimized or experienced at making meers, and can't make them very quickly or efficiently. Ergo, that means that they're expensive to make. Prices would be well north of typical Talbert Briar territory, which bumps squarely into the second problem, that of value perception. Simply put, decades of low priced African meer pipes by Barling and Peterson have created the perception that African meer is of low quality, for factory pipes only. I love the stuff, personally, but I didn't always. I've had African (also sometimes called Manx) meerschaum pipes which were quite unpleasant in flavor, and were usually stained black or some other color to hide their greyish natural tone.



This Somalian source, however, is nicely white - Not as white as Turkish, nor as smooth and creamy in texture, but it's nice to look at. It also smokes excellently. My own homemade meer is one of my favorite smokers and has colored gradually over the couple of years I've had it. But, the material can't be easily sanded smooth because it's a bit granular, like marble. This was what inspired me to try sandblasting it, to see what I'd get, and I think the coral-like result is pretty neat and certainly different.



In the end, the Talbert meerschaum is likely to remain an elusive creature, rarely ever seen except in the hands of close friends that I've made special gifts for. Which is a shame, because the stuff is a lot of fun to work with, but I don't think there's a chance in hell that the pipe market at large is going to accept a 600 € African meerschaum, and worse yet, I'm not even sure that I could make any money selling them at that price. Such is life....



In other news, I've got another pair of sandblasted morta Classics here, loitering around waiting for the next Pipe & Pint box. Stephen, I'll be trying to start another pipe for you tomorrow!