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Ornate Chinese opium pipes and other exotic drug paraphernalia of the 19th century
05.12.2017
10:33 am
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A vintage artistic interpretation of two people enjoying some opium to help get you in the proper mood for this post.
 
In 2013 the first ever exhibition to feature antique drug paraphernalia from China went on display at Maggs Brothers Ltd. bookstore in London’s Mayfair district. It’s a wonder it took so long, considering Britain’s long love affair with opium.

The collection belonged to Julio Mario Santo Domingo Braga, who died in 2009. Referred to in size as immense, Santo Domingo’s treasury of drug paraphernalia is said to contain approximately 3,000 different items, from “dream sticks” (a common name for an opium pipe) to jars for storing the drug, carved from a variety of different materials including ebony, bone, silver, rhinoceros horns, porcelain, and ivory. There were even a few pipes in the collection that were meant for the itinerant opium addict which could be taken apart to make traveling with them easier. Apparently, Santo Domingo’s obsession with building a drug library of sorts ran so deep that he spent most of his life traveling the world amassing items he deemed worthy of being included in his growing collection. The vast majority of Santo Domingo’s opium implements are now archived at Harvard.

I’ve also posted a few other items I found on various auction sites, such as opium candles and other implements that the opium user relied on to get high, most of which can be had for a few hundred bucks if you’re looking to cultivate your own personal drug paraphernalia compendium. A plastic bottle from CVS just isn’t classy enough for your Oxy stash, is it?
 

An ivory storage box for opium from Santo Domingo’s collection, with an erotic carving.
 

Vintage opium pipe.
 
Many more examples after the jump…

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Posted by Cherrybomb
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05.12.2017
10:33 am
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Smoker’s Delight: Vintage photographs of opium dens
04.07.2017
10:03 am
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Opium. The word conjures up a louche exotic world of artists, writers, low-life criminals and nubile young women out looking for kicks. The word alone is intoxicating. It imbues a feeling of both fear and longing.

According to the dictionary, the word opium comes from Middle English, via Latin, via the Greek word opion, from diminutive of opos meaning sap or juice. Apparently, the word “opium” was first used in the 14th century.

Opium is cultivated from the papaver somniferum, a poppy which has white or purple flowers and a globe shaped capsule containing yellow seeds. This plant has been cultivated in India, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and China. Its principal active ingredient is the alkaloid morphine or C17 H19 N O3.

Opium gained its notoriety in the 19th-century with the advent of global trade and mass migration. Across Europe, upper-class writers and artists indulged their fancies by taking laudanum or eating opium leaves and pellets. The calming, soporific qualities of the drug were used in numerous medicines to treat babies, children, and adults. From teething problems to nervous disorders—opium was the medicine of the masses.

The word opium has a complex history that can often be misrepresented to mask racist and xenophobic fears. In the 1920s and 1930s, many writers of popular pulp thrillers (like Sax Rohmer) regularly featured villainous oriental types who intoxicated innocent blonde damsels with opium before selling them on to the horrors of “white slavery.”

It is always worth pointing out that the Chinese had grown the poppy for twelve centuries and used it medicinally for nine centuries before the middle of the seventeenth-century when “the practice of mixing opium with tobacco for smoking purposes was introduced” into the country—most likely by the Dutch or the Portuguese. Foreign opium was first introduced by the Portuguese via Goa at the start of the 18th-century. By 1729, opium’s deleterious effect led Emperor Yung Ching to issue an edict making opium smoking and the sale of all foreign opium illegal. It had little effect.

By the 1790s some 4,000 chests of opium were being imported into China. An all-out ban on the importation of foreign opium followed in 1796. Again, it had little effect. By 1820, 5,000 chests were imported. By 1830, 16,000. By 1858, 70,000. What was forced on China inevitably spread throughout the world.

From the 1850s on, the opium den spread across the world as a seedy place of refuge for commoner and lord. In Europe opium was viewed as a potentially liberating and creative touchstone. In America, it was seen as an evil and degenerate drug that led to vice, squalor, poverty, madness and death.

However, it should be noted that when the use of opium and the opium den was most prevalent or most virulent—depending on your view—that both America and Europe were at the peak of an industrial, social and cultural revolution. Opium did not appear to make people slackers. Even a fictional hero like Sherlock Holmes indulged in the occasional pipe—all in the line of duty, of course.

By the 1900s, the opium den was no longer quite so ubiquitous. There were dens still to be found in most cosmopolitan cities like New York, San Francisco, London, and Paris, but opium was now mainly a fashionable prop for the bohemian, artistic, and literary class to indulge. Those who wanted a real kick sought opium in other forms—first as morphine then as heroin.

In a rather horrific twist of fate, morphine was originally considered to be the cure for opium addiction. In the late nineteenth century, morphine pills were introduced to China to help cure opium addicts. These pills were called “Jesus opium” as they were given out by missionaries. This “cure” was also sold in America right up until the 1906 U.S. Pure Food and Drug Addict which meant drug content had to be specified and banned the sale of products with false claims.

Opium addicts and opium dens became a fixture of Hollywood movies and pulp fictions. In Hollywood, these low-rent places were often depicted as some kind of exotic harem, with scantily-clad women draped over cushions, while eunuchs looked on and a nefarious hand-rubbing villain cackled. The reality was far more disappointing and seedy. Dens were airless, usually windowless spaces with air vents and doors sealed with blankets to prevent the telltale smell of opium smoke from escaping. They were also makeshift, as they had to be easily dismantled or rearranged in case of a police raid.

The following selection of pictures show opium smokers in various locales—from seedy boarding house den to salubrious book-lined apartment.
 
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Opium den 1920’s New York.
 
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More opium dens, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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04.07.2017
10:03 am
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Etchings of Parisian prostitutes and drug addicts portray ‘deadly and delicious passions’
11.21.2016
12:30 pm
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Édouard Chimot was an artist, editor and writer whose career burned brightly through the 1920s but fizzled out during the 1930s and forties. His artwork was a last hurrah for the decadent world portrayed (and generally indulged in) by many French artists during the 1890s.

Born in Lille in 1880, Chimot studied at his local art college and at the École des Arts décoratifs in Nice. It’s fair to say, not much is known about Chimot during this period—though it has been posited he may have originally started out as an architect before switching career to becoming an artist. This may explain why he didn’t exhibit until he was in his early thirties in 1912.

His first exhibition featured drawings, etchings and paintings of the “jeunes et jolies femmes”—the prostitutes and drug addicts who worked and lived near his studio in Montmartre. Chimot often paid these women to sit for him—as prostitutes were often cheaper to hire than models especially when paying by the night. He was heavily influenced by the Symbolist movement of the 1860s to 1890s—writers Charles Baudelaire, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Paul Verlaine; artists Félicien Rops and the Post-Impressionist Toulouse Lautrec. The success of his first show gained Chimot his a commission to illustrate René Baudu’s Les Après-midi de Montmartre—a depiction of seedy lowlife in Paris’s 18th arrondissement.

However, Chimot’s career was once again halted this time by a far more deadly and dangerous interlude—the First World War. Chimot served for almost five years in French army. One can only surmise what happened to him during this time. Yet, it may be possible to ascertain something of his grim experience from the comments of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein who once wrote that during war he never felt more alive than when in proximity to death. Wittgenstein’s bloody experience led him to some recklessness behavior—volunteering for several near fatal (if not downright suicidal)  missions.

On leaving the trenches, this intense experience led Wittgenstein to a burst of creativity. Something similar undoubtedly happened to Chimot—who produced a large portfolio of drawings and etchings upon quitting the army. This portfolio formed the basis of illustrations published in books—including Les Après-midi de Montmartre.

Most of these artworks were featured in limited edition books—which catered to the tastes of an exceedingly rich clientele. Chimot’s frenzied burst of activity produced his trademark monochromatic erotica of his favored “deadly and delicious passions”—prostitutes, drug addicts and lost young girls. His work tended to romanticize this shabby world of poverty, disease and addiction—but there are moments when his etchings captured some fleeting awareness at the depths of their despair. All that prostitution and skulls without thinking that men might have something to do with it.

Chimot’s career blossomed. He became an editor of Les Éditions d’Art Devambez—responsible for producing fine quality limited editions imprints of such infamous tales as Les Chansons de Bilitis, La Troisième Jeunesse de Madame Prune, Les Belles de Nuit and Mitsou. He also brought together a group of prominent writers and artists like Henri Barbusse, Collette, Pierre Brissaud and Tsuguharu Foujita.

However, his career came quickly unstuck by two very different forces—the major advances in art (Cubism, Fauvism, Dada, Surrealism and Abstraction) and most damagingly the Wall Street Crash which overnight killed off the demand for high-end exclusive erotica. Chimot carried on—but never to the same success. He moved to Spain where he produced artworks that now looked sadly dated, trite and often the kind of representations seen on sailor’s tattoos or low rent pulp magazines. The glory days of Chimot’s best work were over—the early 1920s when he produced some of the most memorable and haunting images for works of decadent literature.
 
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More of Chimot’s decadent art, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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11.21.2016
12:30 pm
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World’s oldest bongs discovered in Russia
05.29.2015
09:58 am
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Archaeologists have uncovered 2,400-year-old golden bongs used by royalty to smoke cannabis and opium in Russia. The bongs were uncovered in a secret chamber covered with clay by construction workers during excavations to install power lines. The ancient paraphernalia was found alongside 7 lbs of other gold items—three gold cups, a heavy gold finger ring, two neck rings, and a gold bracelet.

Experts believe the bongs to be the oldest in existence—used by Scythians, an ancient Iranian nomadic people who dominated the Eurasian grasslands for almost 1,000 years, roughly 800 BC to 300 AD.
 
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The haul of bongs and jewelry.
 
The bongs contained a thick black residue which on examination was found to be a mix of cannabis and opium. Cannabis played an important part in the Scythian religion—smoked as a way to induce a state of trance and help with divination. It is believed this potent mix was smoked by Scythian kings before leading their armies into battle. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus (484 BC-425 BC) wrote:

“The Scythians used a plant to produce smoke that no Grecian vapour-bath can surpass” and that “transported by the vapour, [they] shout aloud.”

Antonn Gass, of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, in Berlin, Germany, believes that the Scythians used both drugs is “beyond doubt.”

“It’s a once-in-a-century discovery, these are among the finest objects we know from the region.”

The ornate bongs also tell a story. One shows a bearded man killing young warrior—or perhaps a jealous husband slaying a rival lover or son; while, the other has mythological creatures on it, including griffons ripping apart a horse and a stag—the Scythians had seven gods in their religion and sacrificed animals to them.
 
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Painting of the ‘Battle between the Scythians and the Slavs’ by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1881.
 
The Scythians were known as notoriously aggressive warriors, who “fought to live and lived to fight” and were said to drink “the blood of their enemies and used the scalps as napkins.” They practiced guerilla warfare and were famed as archers—using arrows with poisonous tips to conquer their enemies.

The haul of treasure was found in a kurgan (burial mound) in the Caucasus Mountains of southern Russia, in 2013. Due to fear of looters raiding the site, the find was kept quiet. Now the bongs and jewelry have been cleaned up and are to be exhibited in a Russian museum.
 
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Via Daily Express, Daily Mail, and ZME Science.

Posted by Paul Gallagher
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05.29.2015
09:58 am
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