Smoking Opium

The layout, or kit for opium smoking consists of a pipe, spirit lamp, a large needle and a container of opium paste.  Other useful items may include a sponge, scissors, for trimming wick of the lamp, set of scales for measuring out the opium, extra bowls for the pipe in case of breakage, and a scraper for cleaning.

Opium pipe with stem made out of stained bamboo decorated with metal.  The bowl is attached to a white metal mount set with decorative stones.


The bowl of this pipe is made out of redwood decorated with brass and copper; the metal stem is encased with 8 shells each carved to represent a face.

Source: Louis J. Beck's New York's Chinatown, 1898, p.148.

Scale to measure out small quantities of opium as well as herbs and medicine.  The portable equipment consisted of a weight, ivory rod, and a small metal bowl to place items measured.

Two 19th century ivory or bone containers designed to carry small, personal amount of smoking opium.


The procedure of smoking opium varies, but it mostly consists the following.  First, the spirit lamp is lit and the smoker makes himself comfortable, as opium is most efficiently smoked in a reclining position. Then, taking a pea-sized ball of the dark opium paste and with the end of a long needle, he holds it over the flame of the lamp until the opium bubble swells and turns golden.  The gooey mass is stretched into long strings in order to 'cook' it better, repeating the procedure several times. After being properly cooked, he rolls it back into its pea shape and quickly pushes it into the hole in the bowl.  Holding the bowl close to the flame so that the flame hits the ball of opium, this is the point where the smoker takes a deep pull at the pipe until the opium is completely consumed.

Source: Barbara Hodgson, Opium: A Portrait of the Heavenly Demon, 1999, p. 111.
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