Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Opium pipe?

This is a china bowl we bought from a junk/antiques shop yesterday. The shop had it labelled as Chinese, but the thing is obviously English dating from the 1820s or 1830s. From the general style, it may be from the Hilditch factory in Longton, now part of Stoke-on-Trent, although it's not possible to be sure because there is no mark except a pattern number. 

It's in perfect condition, but not valuable because by this time china was made in huge quantities and such pieces are still quite common. We paid £8 for it, which is cheap but hardly a cause for wild financial celebrations!

You can still use antique china like this, even though it's approaching 200 years old. As long as you don't bung it in the dishwasher and remember it has a lead glaze. So no using it for acidic stuff like pickles.

On the left of the pic, I've shown a detail of the pattern which depicts a Chinese style scene with a man on the left handing a what looks like a churchwarden pipe to a seated woman. An opium pipe possibly? I suppose it's possible, as opium doesn't appear to have had quite the same social stigma as today. 

Pa was going to China in that handsome threemasted ship, to bring home opium, with which he would for ever cut out Chicksey Veneering and Stobbles, and to bring home silks and shawls without end for the decoration of his charming daughter.
Charles Dickens - Our Mutual Friend (1864-5)

Heroine Bella Wilfer daydreams about her father becoming rich by trading in Chinese goods, including opium. There is no great suggestion as to the impropriety of her fancies, except maybe a hint of moral naiveté as to the making of money.

So it could be an opium pipe, but could just as easily be something much more innocent such as a tobacco pipe. Not that you'd expect to see either painted all over your best bone china in our uptight age. Imagine the outrage. 

Times change don't they?


James Higham said...

May be needing that opium in the not too distant future.

A K Haart said...

James - well I like poppies.

Demetrius said...

My money is on an opium pipe, right size and right shape. One of my G-G-Grandfathers was the Master of a handsome three masted ship that traded in the East. He brought back silks and shawls along with jute and opium and was lucky enough to survive into old age with a bit of brass to keep him comfortable.

Anonymous said...

Nice bowl and a tale of the sea to go with. Well I suppose addiction was not such a problem back then - if you couldn't afford it you went without or ended up being given the 'hempen solution'.

My grandfather ran away to sea on a sailing ship. Made an impression - he would say 'men of iron they were, men of iron'.

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - many thanks for the info. It seems to be a rare and possibly unrecorded pattern, so I wasn't sure, even though China was strongly associated with the opium trade.

The power of the web eh?

Roger - I bet they were men of iron too.