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Meerschaum is a style of pipe made from virtually anything.  Modern Meerschaums are ceramic and very simple in design with "snechen' (snail shaped) smoke channels that catch most of the nicotine.

Fraud is almost a certainty in the modern market.  Pipemakers have become quite sophisticated in fooling buyers with what LOOKS like a 1780's design but was produced in 2010 and left in a smoke chamber to "season" for a year or so.

The idea is to know that you must take the word of a liar and another liar must take yours when it comes time to sell.

Joaquin Verdanguer makes an amusing note of market manipulation in his book, The Art of Pipe Smoking, (The Curlew Press Limited, 1958, 28-29):

Until 1850 meerschaums were made exclusively in Austria. Then the French butted in, boastfully advertising their wares as ‘French meerschaums’ and selling them by the thousands. That would have been all right if they hadn’t played a dirty trick on their competitors. Out of the shavings and other by-products they manufactured pipes of inferior quality and slyly marketed them under the trade-mark ‘Made in Austria’. Consequently this label was so discredited that a Viennese pipe dealer showing a prospective buyer a truly magnificent meerschaum and saying to him ‘A genuine Austrian product, sir!’ was bewildered when the customer would mutter ‘confounded racket’ and then stalk out of the shop.

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