Opium pipe

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Opium vaporization paraphernalia: An opium pipe, an opium lamp, spare pipe-bowls, and other implements lie arranged on a layout tray; a second opium pipe rests nearby.

An opium pipe is a pipe designed for the evaporation and inhalation of opium. True opium pipes allow for the opiate to be vaporized while being heated over a special oil lamp known as an opium lamp. It is thought that this manner of "smoking" opium began in the seventeenth century when a special pipe was developed that vaporized opium instead of burning it.[1]

Design and materials[edit]

The configuration of the typical opium pipe consists of a long stem, a ceramic pipe-bowl, and a metal fitting, known as the "saddle", through which the pipe-bowl plugs into the pipe-stem. The pipe-bowl must be detachable from the stem due to the necessity to remove the bowl and scrape its insides clean of opium ash after several pipes have been smoked. The stems of opium pipes were usually made from bamboo, but other materials such as ivory and silver were used. Pipe-bowls were typically a type of ceramic, such as blue and white porcelain. Sometimes opium pipe-bowls were carved from more valuable materials such as jade.[2]

Because of its design, the opium pipe needed an opium lamp in order to function. The lamp was as highly specialized as the pipe, and was designed to channel the required amount of heat upon the pipe-bowl so that the opium would vaporise and allow the smoker to inhale the vapors.


Due to opium eradication campaigns in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, antique opium pipes from then are now extremely rare.[3]

Pipe dream[edit]

In the early 20th century, opium pipes were often called dream sticks.[4] Something that is a "pipe dream" is a metaphorical reference to an unattainable or fanciful hope or scheme.[5]


  1. ^ Opium Pipes, Opium Museum, archived from the original on 2010-05-14, retrieved 2012-04-20
  2. ^ Opium Pipe-Bowls, Opium Museum, archived from the original on 2010-05-14, retrieved 2012-04-20
  3. ^ Opium Banned, Opium Museum, retrieved 2012-04-20
  4. ^ "Ah Fee Caught With Pipe And Poppies". Arizona Republican. November 29, 1911. p. 5.
  5. ^ "Definition of pipe dream in English". Oxford Dictionary. Archived from the original on November 4, 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Steven Martin, The Art of Opium Antiques (Silkworm Books, 2007). Photograph-driven descriptions of antique Chinese and Vietnamese opium smoking paraphernalia.
  • Armero & Rapaport, "The Arts of An Addiction. Qing Dynasty Opium Pipes and Accessories" (Quadrus, HC, DJ, 1995)