Inventory no.: 698

698. Paktong Opium Set, China, Baba Nonya


Mark to the base of the tray

‘Yao Ya Xin’ (L) – wife’s name

‘Xie Shun Chang’ (R) – husband’s name

Mark to the base of the lamp

‘Yun Bai’ or ‘Cloud White’ brand

Paktong Opium Set & Tray

Southern China

early 20th century

length of tray: 12.9cm, height of lamp (including handle): 8.8cm

This small tray, complete with all the necessary opium-related containers, is of paktong. The set comprises:

•       a small, narrow box with a tightly fitting lid in which to store the opium. The lid fits over the box as opium resin tends to ooze in warm conditions;

•       a tiny lamp with a hand-formed glass cover and a paktong outer cover;

•       a miniature spittoon or ash receptacle which might also have been used as a small pipe rest;

•       a wick container;

•       a round, lidded double-lined box, perhaps for opium or to store additional fuel for the lamp;

•       a heavy tray in a stylised cloud shape.

The underside of the tray is stamped with two sets of names in Chinese – one (Xie Shun Chang) is that of a male, the other (Yao Ya Xin) is that of a female. This suggests the tray belonged to or was made for a husband and wife. The names, particularly that of the female are typically Hokkien suggesting that the set was made in China’s Fujian Province, or was exported to Southeast Asia, where the Hokkien tended to dominate in many local Chinese communities. Certainly, the Straits Chinese or

babas and nonyas of Singapore, Malacca and Penang ancestrally tended to be Hokkien, and many nonyas were known to be opium users.

The lamp is stamped to the base with ‘Yun Bai’ or ‘Cloud White’ – most probably a brand or shop name, and most appropriate too for an item of opium paraphernalia.

The set was sourced from within the United Kingdom. Possibly it has been in the UK since colonial times.

Overall, this set is particularly pleasing, well made and of obvious quality.

Inventory no.: 698