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This fine silver box is for holding the opium block. Such blocks were small (but of high value). They also tended to ooze in warn conditions, so a heavy-gauge box was needed to store them, preferably with a heavy, or tight-fitting lid. Opium also needed to be kept in air-tight conditions, so again, a good lid was needed.
This rectangular box here is of solid silver that has been gilded (gold-plated). Years of use has seen the gilding largely worn away.
The sides are decorated with applied silver plaques – two show dragons and two show phoenixes. The lid is surmounted by a finely worked mythical chi-ling lion.
The base is stamped in Chinese with the word for ‘silver’.
Bertholet, F.M., Opium: Art et Histoire d’un Rituel Perdu, Fonds Mercator, 2007.
Delalande, D. & E., Memoires d’Opiums/Memories of Opium, Somogy editions, 2011.
Lee, P., Opium Culture: The Art & Ritual of the Chinese Tradition, Park Street Press, 2006.
Martin, S., The Art of Opium Antiques, Silkworm Books, 2007.