NEW YORK – Meerschaum — geologically known as sepiolote — comes from a German word meaning “sea foam.” Pipes made from sepiolite are said to be ideal for smoking tobacco, because the mineral serves as a natural filter to absorb nicotine, but it never burns. On May 25 at noon, Jasper52 will offer an 84-lot collection of collectible Meerschaum pipes. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.
Leading the lots is a Meerschaum pipe from Turkey, a place known for deposits of coveted sepiolote. It is carved in the shape of a dragon who clings to a perch behind the bowl, and looks beyond it. The dragon has an unsure, quizzical look on its face, as if it is looking at the stream of smoke flowing from the bowl and wondering if he is required to match it puff for puff. The pipe, which measures six and a half inches long and sports an ivory white color, carries an estimate of $150-$200.
The memento mori has a long tradition in art, and the term applies to images created to remind the viewer that they will die someday. Naturally enough, skulls are a traditional memento mori motif. Lighting a Meerschaum pipe that takes the form of a skull delivers a sort of perverse pleasure. Touching a match to the tobacco and drawing deep is like saying, “Yeah, I’m going to die, I know. But I’m going to enjoy myself before that happens.” The hand-carved skull that forms the bowl of this particular pipe seems to smile in an approving manner; the snake that winds around the area where the skull’s neck should be is far more disinterested than it should be, given its Biblical role in leading humans to ruin. The pipe, which sports a golden-butterscotch color, is estimated at $150-$200.
Rounding out the lineup of the dedicated auction is a seven-inch-long Meerschaum pipe carved in the shape of the head of a Native American chief. He wears a headdress and a serene but piercing expression on his face. The pipe carries an estimate of $100-$120.
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