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A Silver Opium Pipe And Ceramic Damper
This is a very high quality solid silver opium pipe such as would have been used by the financially well-off smokers who often had their own beautifully carved pipes made from jade, decorated porcelain or other exotic materials, often embellished with silver or gold. These would be used at home or taken to the comfortable opium parlours. With what is probably polished ebony ends and a special mouthpiece this is a fine example. The opium pipe is around 44cm long.
Attached to the pipe, but also shown separately is the special pipe bowl or damper designed to vapourise the opium not burn it. Pipe bowls/dampers were found in many styles and a variety of colours, this one being of a red/brown ceramic. The tiny hole in the center of the damper is where the small ball of opium was placed. Over time the hole would burn out and the owner was forced to either buy a new pipe or repair the old bowl by drilling out the centre and inserting a plug with a new burn hole. Most people simply replaced the item, consequently damper and the pipe could be from quite different periods. Often, like this example, the bowls had Chinese characters and designs stamped or etched on the sides or base. Most often these characters indicate the manufacturer, however, occasionally they include uplifting words or phrases. Designs on the bowls range from simple geometric patterns to Chinese goodluck symbols and even mythical creatures.
Heat to vapourise the opium was generally provided by a small liquid fuel lamp over which the bowl / damper was held over the top of the lamp and this heats the opium which bubbles and vapourises. The vapour passes through the bowl and into a tube to the smoker's mouth.
Generally the smoker would be provided with tools to extract opium from its container and then shape it into a ball the fit the damper. He would lie on a mat and rest his head on some form of pillow while smoking.
Part of this article adapted from http://www.tcsn.net/sloarchaeology/opium.html.
This octagonal damper is marked in cursive Chinese which so far we have been unable to read. Unlike the pipe it is fitted to, it is quite plain.
To see a simple Bamboo opium pipe, click here.
To see one version of an opium smoker’s pillow, click here.
To see a set of opium tools, click here.
To see a small bronze opium container, click here.
To see an opium smoker’s lamp, click here.
To see a photograph of an opium smoker and his servant, click here.
To see an upright version of the opium pipe, click here.