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Hide and Seek: 1919

Hide and Seek: 1919

Circa 1919. "Treasury, Internal Revenue Department; methods of smuggling opium." National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.

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Ways to Hit the Pipe

Clifton Sparks gives a late 19th century insight into the D. C. opium trade in a detailed newspaper article (Washington Post, March 8, 1896 p. 14)

As there are different brands of whisky, so there are different brands of opium, and the expert smoker knows them all.

The best brand is known as Li-Yuen. The secret of its manufacture is a closely guarded secret, but it is believed to be a blend of Smyrna and Indian opium. Opium is procured by cutting into the seed vessels of the common white poppy of China, India, and parts of Asia, and collecting the white juice which exudes from the cut. After a few hours this turns black, hardens, and is molded into a lump. It then becomes the ordinary opium of commerce.

The Chinaman takes this and prepares it for smoking by mixing with it a large proportion of water and certain other ingredients, which he prefers to keep a secret. Very frequently it is more or less cooked before it finally gets to this country. It is imported – and smuggled in – in small, square brass canisters, containing from three-quarters of a pound to a pound of the drug. The canisters are never filled owing to the changes which the opium undergoes in travel. If the can were filled the opium would swell and burst the can.

When a Chinaman gets hold of his can of opium he treats it more tenderly than he would his youngest son. It is opened with all due ceremony, and placed in a bowl of warm water to slightly heat it. A sponge wrung out of scalding hot water is placed over the mouth of the can, and a little water is added. By this manipulation the merchant obtains after awhile a semi-liquid black mass of the consistency of thick tar, which is prepared opium. It is then poured into a big, white mug, and vigorously stirred with a stick until is of the same consistency throughout.

Then it is ready either to sell or to smoke. It is a most expensive commodity and to fill the smallest "toi" once, costs a dollar. The raw opium has a peculiar and rather pleasant smell, having the odor of good molasses candy more than anything else.

Creepiest Photo Yet

This macabre smorgasbord appears to concentrate on ethnic Chinese methods of smuggling opium for the Chinatown markets by disguising the drug as other products. The group includes tea tins, a little medicine bottle with an unreadable (to the U.S. Customs inspectors of 1919) Chinese label, a dried opium poppy, and a variety of "foreign" foodstuffs that most Americans had little curiosity about. The warty little spheres in the lower left are lychee fruit shells refilled with opium paste, and the sinister looking long things in front appear to be dried peppers, also apparently refilled. The pale spheres with short necks are probably Chinese glass single-dose medicinal substance containers that were deliberately mislabeled in a bulk shipment. The bricks of opium paste and the jar in the glove were probably easier to detect. One irony of this photo is that Chinese opium addicts in this country were the long-term victims of European traders 100 years earlier, who deliberately introduced Indian opium into China to ramp up their trading advantage, and the Qing Dynasty government lost two wars, in 1842 and 1860, trying to keep it out. Another is that (taxed) opium was still a common ingredient in American over-the-counter patent medicines such as cough syrup.

Dare to wonder

After a childhood of weekly D.A.R.E. meetings with "Officer Friendly," I have to say I feel desensitized to this. All I can think is, "well, that's not very concealed" and wonder when smugglers started using car doors and such.

Drug mule's nightmare

Harder to swallow than a condom full of cocaine, and just wait until it passes!

Two Hesitant Questions ....

1) What are those two, odd-looking, leg-like things on either side in the front?

2 Does anyone here know what the immediate effects of opium are? Why was/is it popular? Are the effects similar to marijuana or crack? Acid or heroin? Something entirely different? Is it a painkiller or merely an hallucinogen - or both?

[The opiates heroin and morphine are rather addictive narcotics. - Dave]

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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