Smoking paraphernalia

Over a thousand Chinese miners would winter at 150 Mile House, BC. One oldtimer recorded that when you walked through Chinatown all you would hear was the gurgle of the water pipes and everywhere you would see the swirl of sparks of the glowing punk which was circled in the air to cause it to flare up to relight the pipe.

Tobacco pipes came in many varieties. Some had small brass bowls and stems of various lengths made from bamboo or other wood or metal. Others were metal or bamboo water pipes.

Tobacco pipes-- the long bamboo pipe is actually 43 inches long. Such a long stem served to cool the smoke. Also shown is a snuff bottle which was dug in a Chinese dump and a box of Chinese matches bearing a 1915 Canadian excise stamp on the back.

Water pipes, bamboo and brass-- the brass pipe is made from brass cans soldered together.

A man smoking a bamboo waterpipe, showing the method of smoking these pipes.

Fancy water pipe-- complete with cleaning tools, used for smoking tobacco. This one came from San Francisco's Chinatown.

This oval-rectangular can may be a tobacco can or humidor. The dimensions are 6"x4.5"x2". Next to it is an enhanced image of the graphic on the can.

Recently this can has been identified as Japanese.

All the opium pipes I have seen in museums or illustrated as having been used in North America were long bamboo pipes with little or no adornment. They often had short ivory or bone rings at each end, the one at the far end from the bowl serving as a mouth piece. Many of the ones I have seen have one or up to three bamboo shoots in a clump just behind the bowl. The pipe was made from "female" bamboo signifying that the pipe was female, and seduced the smoker.

Opium was not actually smoked. The drug was vapourized and inhaled. The design of the bowl and the fact that opium vapourizes at a fairly low temperature made this possible. So if you find a pipe for sale advertised as an opium pipe, if it doesn't have a bowl for vaporizing the opium, it is very unlikely that it is actually an opium pipe.

An opium layout might include a tray, one or two opium pipes, extra bowls on a stand, cleaning tools, opium in a can or bowl and a peanut oil lamp. Some also had brass cylinders with a shallow bowl top for rolling the balls of opium. Also seen in pictures of layouts are tobacco pipes and teacups. The "smoker" often lay his or her head on a specially shaped pillow. These were wooden or pottery. Some of them opened up so the supply of opium could be kept safe from thieves under the head of the dozing user. Spittoons were kept nearby or small spittoons were placed right on the tray and were used for spitting out phlegm coughed up while smoking.

The three opium cans on the tray are Lai Yuen brand from Canton, China-- found in BC.

Miniature brass spittoons similar to those used with opium layouts--- The one on the right is made of a metal with tiny oriental designs of boats, fish, birds and reeds. A 25 cent piece shows the small size of the spittoons.

Opium pipe--- This bamboo opium pipe (ex Roy's collection) is 16" long and of a simple unadorned design. This pipe may have had a mouthpiece of some kind at one time as there are markings indicating this. It was obtained on Vancouver Island.

Opium tools-- The long needle tool was used to move a ball of opium to the lamp for heating and then to the pipe bowl. The other tools are cleaners.

This opium lamp, lamp shade and bowl came from an old store in Vancouver's Chinatown. The owner noticed that the inside and outside length of his store didn't match and when he broke through the wall he found a large supply of opium lamps, bowls, and other merchandise. The long bamboo tobacco pipe also came from that source. In past years I was very lucky to have a local antique dealer who watched for items such as these-- items fitting my collection from B.C. sources. Click on the illustration to see a translation of the characters on the lamp box.

Opium relics-- dug bowls, cans and pipe saddles. One day I may find a relic lamp shade to go with the lamp parts. The lamp bowl is purple manganese glass, from before about 1915. The brass cans on the left are Fock Kee, and or Lam Kee, from Macao. All were found in BC. I obtained most of the bowls at bottle swap meets although a friend gave me one he dug near Ashcroft.

This relic opium lamp base and beanut oil container were dug in central BC about 1968. The peanut oil container is actually light purple manganese glass. This most likely dates it from pre-1915. A clear glass peanut oil container was found with these items, it is now in Roy's collection.

A closer look at the opium cans. The Macao cans were dug on Vancouver Island, part of a fairly large quantity found together. The can on the right is the variety usually found. I have been told that these have been found cut in half and used as ink pads. The can is filled with string which is soaked in the red or orange paste ink used for seals.

The brand name on two of the rectangular cans is Shueng Wan Lai Yuen in Cantonese. Lai Yuen was a Hong Kong opium producer and produced an expensive high quality opium. A scan of the brand is shown next to the pictures of the cans. The brand name on the other can is Tai Shun, a Victoria, BC, brand.

A more detailed look at some of the opium cans in the collection can be found at Opium cans.

Take this link for further information on opium paraphernalia in North America.

This copper pot was found in the Delta region of California in a cave with other Chinese items including opium related pieces. Chinese workers built the levees there in the mid 19th Century. It may have been used for cooking opium as copper pots were used for this purpose. The top of the pot consists of circular interlocking rings. The ring second from centre is missing. The centre ring consists of what looks like a copper washer. According to the book Opium Culture, by Peter Lee, opium came in several forms, including liquid. The liquid opium was cooked into a gummy lump which was then smoked in pellets. Copper pots were used for cooking because the gummy opium didn't adhere to the copper pot. This pot is 8" in diameter and 3" high. Apparently the copper pots used for cooking liquid opium while smoking were very small and the lamp was used in this process. This pot may have been used by an opium supplier to cook a larger quantity.

These portable scales were used to weigh gold, medicinal herbs and were possibly used to weigh opium. The scales on the right came from Wells, BC, an old gold mining town near Barkerville.

Reference books and manuscripts on opium use in North America:

These three books on opium are excellent sources of background information. The Black Candle was written by an Edmonton, Alberta, Judge in 1922 and can sometimes be found in old book stores. Opium A Portrait of the Heavenly Demon is a new book (ISBN 0-8118-2411-x) available in Canada from Greystone Books and in the USA from Chronicle Books ( OPIUM, A History by Martin Booth (ISBN 0-312-18643-6) is an interesting world history of the substance. I once missed out on a fabulous leather bound book called The Book of Opium. It was in Watson's Curios in Victoria and I was short the $20 price. When I returned a few days later someone else had become the lucky owner. I should have had Mr. Watson put it away for me.

This is a scan of large engraving (11"x15") titled "Opium Smoking in New York" from Harper's Weekly Sept. 1881, showing various opium layouts and scenes. I have this original engraving framed in my museum room--