Harper’s Weekly, September 24, 1881, page 646 (Illustrated Article)

It was supposed at the time when The Mystery of Edwin Drood first made its appearance that the character of an English opium-smoker was purely the outcome of Dicken’s fertile imagination. He who would then have predicted that in a few years’ time the number of white men indulging in this Eastern vice would be counted by thousands would have been pronounced insane. Such, however, is the case. At a low estimate there are in this country, to-day, from three to five thousand Americans, male and female, smoking opium once or twice daily, having formed a habit from which they find it impossible to free themselves. The opium-smoker finds his chains as binding and galling as does the opium-eater or morphine-taker.

Opium-Smoking in New York
September 24, 1881, page 645

It was supposed at the time when The Mystery of Edwin Drood first made its appearance that the character of an English opium-smoker was purely the outcome of Dicken’s fertile imagination. He who would then have predicted that in a few years’ time the number of white men indulging in this Eastern vice would be counted by thousands would have been pronounced insane. Such, however, is the case. At a low estimate there are in this country, to-day, from three to five thousand Americans, male and female, smoking opium once or twice daily, having formed a habit from which they find it impossible to free themselves. The opium-smoker finds his chains as binding and galling as does the opium-eater or morphine-taker.
The standing army of habitués is, furthermore, being from day to day recruited from the ranks of the overcurious, indolent, or willfully vicious. In this city, to my certain knowledge, thirteen persons have commenced to use the pipe within the past seven days. Four of these are actresses.
Newspaper men have at various times attempted to investigate the matter, but in most cases wholly failed, their failure being due to the fact that they have based their articles upon a single tour of a few Chinese dens in the company of detectives, where the information to be obtained was meagre and inaccurate. In writing they drew largely upon their imagination, endeavoring to throw about the practice a romantic mysticism supposed to be penetrable only by the true Oriental. In several instances I have known white smokers, who were acquainted with the business of the visitor, tell him the most silly and most outrageously false stories about the practice, and then laugh heartily at the article when it appeared in print. This applies more particularly to our Eastern papers. Hence it is that those people who suppose they know a great deal about opium-smoking really know nothing.
In order to make my investigation of the matter thorough and truthful, I made myself acquainted with some fifty male and female American smokers in this city, became a daily visitor, staying for hours at the principal smoking-house or "joint," had habitués smoking at my own house, where I could more freely question and experiment upon them, smoked myself, in small quantities and to excess, and had two of my male nurses smoking at various times. Furthermore, I have had two smokers under treatment for the habit. In this way, and by means of letters addressed to physicians, chiefs of police, and public men in various parts of the country, I have been enabled to get at the whole truth in the matter.
The principal places in this city where opium is smoked are in Mott, Pell, and Park streets. There is one in Chrystie Street, one in Twenty-third Street, and several in Fourth and Second avenues. Besides these, there are private rooms where a few friends, having provided themselves with a full outfit, smoke in secrecy, and a number of Chinese laundries where a few Americans smoke. All of these places, except the one in Twenty-third Street, which is presided over by a white woman and her two daughters, and the private rooms, are kept by Chinamen. These places are, as a rule, in the basement, and consist of a small, low-ceilinged room, guiltless of all furniture save long wooden bunks, about four feet in width, made of board and covered with matting. There is usually but one tier, raised about two feet from the floor. A long narrow board, sometimes beveled, running along the wall just above the bunk, or small stools covered with cloth, serve as pillows, or, more properly, head-rests, for the smokers. In the principal American joint , in the centre of Chinatown, where all nationalities seem indiscriminately mixed, you go down a short flight of steps into the basement, when you find yourself in a small room. Near the entrance is a small table, where the proprietor may be found every morning cleaning and filing the little glass lamps used in smoking. On the left of the centre is a small compartment (four by fifteen feet), a large table occupying most of the space. This is where games of chance are played by the Chinese. To the right is another boarded compartment of about the same size, in which the proprietor keeps his pipes, opium, and scales, and one small bunk for smoking. Going through a narrow passage between the two, we come to an image of some deity, before which a light is constantly burning. To the right of this is a door which leads into the "joint," or smoking-room. Upon three sides of this place are arranged bunks, in the rear there being two tiers of them, the upper one, however, being seldom used. Light—or semi-gloom—and air are furnished by one small window close up to the ceiling, and so placed that proper ventilation is an impossibility. In this place may be found, from 10 a.m. until 8 a.m. the following morning, from one to thirty American smokers. They usually come and go in parties of two or three.

In Chicago, San Francisco, and other places in the West some of the joints are fitted up magnificently, all the surroundings being in true Oriental style.

The smoker entering a joint usually removes his coat, collar, and shoes, hangs them upon a peg, and, stretching himself transversely across the bunk beside a tray containing the necessary apparatus, calls for a pipe and some opium. The usual quantity asked for is twenty-five cents’ worth. For this money the Chinaman gives from six to ten "fun" (thirty-two to sixty-four grains) of No. 1, or first-class, or double the quantity of No. 2, or second-class, opium.

Opium for smoking purposes is made in China from the crude opium imported from India. It is made by repeated boiling, filtering, and evaporation, until it becomes of a blackish color and treacle-like consistence. It has a rich creamy odor, and is very expensive. It is weak in morphia, the India opium from which it is made containing but about three per cent. of morphia as against from twelve to seventeen per cent. in the Turkey opium used for medicinal purposes in this country.

No aqueous extract of opium made in England or America possesses the flavor or "cooking" qualities of Chinese smoking opium. From China it reaches us through San Francisco. It comes in small tin boxes holding about four ounces, and worth from $7.75 to $8.30 per can.

Having the necessary articles and opium brought to him by the keeper of the joint, the smoker settles himself comfortably upon his side, takes up a little of the treacle-like opium which is brought to him in a small clam shell, upon a long steel needle, or yen hanck, and holding it above the flame of the lamp, watches it bubble and swell to eight or ten times its original size. In doing so it loses its inky hue, becomes of a bright golden brown color, and gives off a creamy odor, much admired by old smokers. Poor opium does not yield so pleasant an odor, is liable to drop from the needle into the lamp, and rarely gives so handsome a color, the golden brown being streaked here and there with black. This process is known as "cooking" the opium. Having brought it to a proper consistence, the operator, with a rapid, twirling motion of the fingers, rolls the mass, still upon the yen hanck, upon the broad surface of the bowl, submitting it occasionally to the flame, catching it now and then upon the edge of the bowl and pulling it out into strings, in order to cook it through more thoroughly. This is called chying the mass. Rolling it again upon the bowl until formed into a pea-shaped mass, with the needle as a centre, the needle is forced down into the small hole in the bowl, thus leveling off the bottom of the pea (chandoo-tschandu.) Then grasping the stem of the pipe near the bowl in the left hand, the bowl is held across the flame of the lamp to warm it, the bottom of the opium mass being at the same time heated, the needle is thrust into the aperture in the centre of the bowl, and withdrawn with a twisting motion, leaving the opium with a hole in its centre, upon the surface of the bowl. Inclining the body slightly forward, the smoker tips the pipe bowl across the lamp until the opium is just above the flame. Inhaling strongly and steadily, the smoke passes into the lungs of the operator, and is returned through the mouth and nose. This smoke is heavy, white, and has a not unpleasant fruity odor. It is hardly necessary to say, as is asserted by some, that this smoke escapes from the ears and eyes also.

Having finished this bolus, which requires but one long or a few short inhalations, the habitué cools the bowl of the pipe with a damp sponge, and repeats the operation of cooking, rolling, and smoking until the desired effects are obtained. Smokers are said to take the "long draw" or the "short draw" according to whether they consume a pill in one long or several short inspirations. The long draw, or single inspiration, by means of which the smoke passes directly into the lungs, distending them to their full capacity, is unquestionably the most injurious, and those who smoke in this way form the habit the soonest, and are the hardest to break.

As much misconception seems to exist regarding the kind of pipe and other apparatus used in smoking opium as with other details of the subject. Thus a writer in Blackwood’s Magazine, otherwise accurate, makes the following curiously false statement: * "The Chinese extract from Indian opium all that water will dissolve—generally from one-half to three-fourths of its weight—dry the dissolved extract, and make it into pills of the size of a pea. One of these pills they put into a short, tiny pipe, often made of silver [italics mine], inhale a few puffs at a time, or one single long puff, and return the smoke through the nostrils and ears," etc., etc. [italics mine]. The same author states in another place that adepts in the practice return the smoke through the eyes, ears, and nose.

* "The Narcotics We Indulge In," Blackwood, November, 1853.

So far as can be learned, opium has always been smoked in the kind of pipe now in use. The large amount of ash, the necessity for holding over a flame during the smoking, and the advantage of a flat mouth-piece for long inhalation, make the one style of opium pipe the only one that can be used with any satisfaction. This pipe, the origin and antiquity of which are unknown, though supposed to have originated in Arabia, consists of two parts, a stem and a bowl. The stem is of bamboo, so cut that it includes the space between two joints and one-quarter of the next. The best measure twenty-four inches in length and about four inches in circumference. Those that are from sixteen to twenty inches in length and from one and a half to three inches in circumference are imperfect, the bamboo having been cut when too young. They do not color well, and are not so convenient to handle. When new they are of a straw-color, but with long smoking become black and glossy, the coloring matter of the opium having thoroughly permeated the wood. In poor pipes this color is imitated by staining with a dye.

The value of a good pipe increases with its age, it acquiring a strength and odor much prized by old smokers. Ah Sing, the keeper of a joint in this city, has a pipe said to be a hundred years old. Ivory stems, while very handsome, are objected to on the ground of excessive weight, lack of flavor, and the length of time it takes to color them.

There is a pipe known as "the lemon pipe," the stem and sometimes the bowl of which are made of rings of lemon-peel cemented together, layer over layer. When thoroughly dried they are smoothed off, and are much liked by some on account of the peculiar lemon flavor that is given off when opium is smoked in them. They are worth $25. An ordinary pipe costs $5, a good one from $15 to $50.

The Chinese, in preparing the best stems, coat the inside with "cooked" Chinese opium, in order to give them a rich flavor and hasten their coloring.

At the junction of the middle and lower third of the stem, and just back of the joint, which is usually marked by some oddly carved image made from the stump there protruding, a place is hollowed out of the side of the stem, and communicates with the longitudinal perforation. About this hollow fits closely a metallic shield, usually of brass, sometimes of gold or silver, having a raised rim. Into this is fitted the bowl.

The stems are plain, carved or ornamented with bands of silver, gold, or ivory. Good pipes are always ivory-tipped. That part of the stem from the bowl down is for ornament, to equalize the weight of the whole, and for convenience of holding and guiding while smoking.

The bowl, which is usually of a hard red clay and hollow, may be bell shaped, ovate, or hexagonal. On the under surface is a metal flange or neck, by which it is fitted into the stem. It is usually wrapped with cloth to make it fit more accurately. The upper surface of the bowl is either flat or slightly rounded. In its centre is an opening of about sufficient size to admit an ordinary knitting-needle. The opium pipe is called by the Chinese the yen tsiang, or opium pistol.

The other articles necessary to complete a smoker’s outfit are: a box of buffalo horn (hop toy) to hold the opium; a long needle (yen hanck), on the end of which the opium is taken up, "cooked," and fixed upon the bowl; a small glass lamp, with a perforated bell-shaped glass cover, and in which sweet or nut oil is burned; a pair of scissors for trimming the wick; straight and curved knives for cleaning the needle and bowl; a sponge to clean and cool the surface of the bowl; a box for the ash, or yen tshi; and two trays, the one smaller than the other, on which all these articles rest.

Harper’s Weekly, September 24, 1881, page 646 (Illustrated Article)

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