Opium Travel Kit

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    Pipe Dreams

    Thanks OpiumPipe for creating such a nicely designed site devoted to our shared obsession. I have been collecting for about 15 years now and was pleased to discover these forums.

    Below are some photos of one of my pieces, an opium travel set, which, I believe, was produced in the United States (the shape of the box, use of screws, type of wood, hardware, and velvet lining all suggest an American manufacturer). Any insights into the origin of the piece would be more than welcome. Over the years, I have seen two similar kits, one was in Steve Martin’s collection (we were good friends and communicated often about our shared obsession).



    Thanks very much, Pipe Dreams, and welcome!

    That is a very cool find. I agree that the case’s fittings do look American, they remind me of a lot of American and English furniture fittings I’ve seen. Are there any markings stamped on the bowl?

    The CINARC pages on opium antiques have a lot of information about pipe bowls that were imported into North America: http://www.cinarc.org/Opium.html

    You could also try looking up Priscilla Wegars at the University of Idaho, since Steve’s collection was left in her care, and she specializes in both Asian-American archaeology and American material culture.

    I wouldn’t be able to guess where the pipe was made… the bamboo’s mottling is distinctive and I haven’t seen fittings like the endcaps with that exact profile. Maybe it was made in North America somewhere! The lamp looks like it has a distinctive style as well, a similar utilitarian vibe.

    I’d love to see more of your collection, if you’re interested in posting it.

    Pipe Dreams

    Thanks for the insight. There’s something else about this kit that is quite curious and intriguing. When I purchased the kit, I discovered inside two small tins (see below) filled with small metal cartridges.  They appear to be containers designed to hold a single dose of opium in each one. You can see the residue on the containers, and the remains of what used to be a tin foil cover intended, I imagine, to keep the contents fresh.

    I have never seen anything like these before. But, looking at the bowl that also came with the set, you can see that the hole is much too large for a standard opium pellet. Curiously, the tops of the tin cases are etched with swirling marks, as though the lids had been used as a surface for rolling. Does that mean that the opium in the cartridges was removed, rolled, and inserted with a needle in the standard way? If so, it seems that the hole in the bowl would have been too big. Or was the cartridge itself designed to be inserted into the enlarged needle hole?

    The only reference I have found regarding these cartridges comes from Stephen Crane in his article “Opium’s Varied Dreams.” Here’s what he says: “When prepared for smoking purposes, opium is a heavy liquid much like molasses. Ordinarily, it is sold in li-shi nuts or in little round tins resembling the old percussion cap boxes.” I looked for images of “old percussion cap boxes” and they do indeed look like these cartridges.

    Needless to say, nothing could be more American than the idea of mass-producing individual doses of opium. Incredibly, one of the boxes even has a name and the word “Patent” engraved on one side (I have to get a magnifying glass to see the name more clearly). This raises lots of questions. Was the process of opium distribution in America at one time actually mass-produced and patented? Also, the original owner kept the empty cartridges, which raises another question: were they recycled?

    This has been a mystery to me. Let me know what you think!

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    That is *very* interesting! I have a few bowls like that – one with a little metal insert that seems similar. I figured it to be a repair job but your find opens up a whole other avenue to investigate.

    I tried poking around with patent searching but there seems to be no way to easily search early patents by text – for anything before 1971 you need a lot more information. If you can make out the text on the box I’d love to see if the patent filing itself is accessible.

    I’ll see if I can find the bowl I have with that little metal insert the next time I go through my stored stuff, as well.


    Indeed, a very interesting kit. I never saw this kind of tins. I imagine it fits with the bowl’s hole. But replicing it each time will make it non air proof. A real problem but i am not a smoker. Maybe it is the industrial transformation by a mechanical nation (USA) of a process imagined by a scholar one (China), as bullets for guns…


    Here are the bowls I have that I was thinking of – one with a metal inset, one with a hole that fits that same metal inset. The inset is more rounded off, not really bullet-shaped. I’m just not sure. I wonder if another possibility (just to throw it out there) is that what you have is a kit for repairing pipes that may have belong to a pipe repairman… that this shape is suitable for repairing bowls that were initially all ceramic, and for replacing the metal inset in bowls designed to have a metal eye from the start (as some bowls seem to suggest, the large hole being so neat as to seem designed.)

    and, annachorete, if these were actually pre-filled opium ‘bullets’ I think the airtightness would have been a slight problem, but maybe they were intended to be dabbed with a tiny bit of opium around the rim?

    As an aside, here’s another bowl with a repair, of a sort I haven’t seen elsewhere. The metal eye almost seems like it has been cemented into the top of the bowl…

    Pipe Dreams

    Well, I visited my elderly parents last week and borrowed their high powered magnifying glass. Through the lens, I could see that each of the boxes containing the opium cartridges box has, engraved (or stamped) on each side, these words: Jahncke’s Patent. So the engraving is not a patent number, but the name of the company that produced it. An interesting marketing technique, I’d say.

    It seems that this company produced small metal boxes, beginning in the 1880s, designed for things like matches, pins and, now, opium cartridges.

    You can google the company name (try, also, Jahmcke’s; I also at first mistook the H for an M) and you will probably find some of these small boxes. Given the aesthetic of the travel kit, which is lined in green velvet – a late Victorian signifier if ever there was one – the company date makes sense.

    Let me know if you can find out anything else about the company. The notion of mass-produced, American style, opium manufacturing is an intriguing possibility! In theory, these cartridges would make rolling obsolete. Like fast food.



    They were definitely a manufacturer of medical containers, including morphine and syringes… here’s one example:



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