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opium pots

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opium pots


Has anyone else found pots like these whilst digging?  I've been collected these for several years and looking for more information on their age and where they can be found in Hong Kong.  Thanks, Bob

Date picture taken (may be approximate): 
Sunday, January 13, 2013


Hi Bob,

They're an interesting find. Is there a bit of metal in them that sets off your metal detector, or you've just found a good spot to dig them up?

As a teenager I went along to an old 'bottle dump' near where I gew up in Wales. It was basically the old town rubbish tip! Decades after they'd stopped throwing rubbish there the ground was a rich compost, and you'd find all sorts of interesting old bottles and jars if you dug deep enough.

Have you tried asking the local museum if there's any way to identify their date?

Regards, David

Thanks for your reply.  No metal in them.  I can't seem to find much information on them anywhere, but I believe them to be opium pots because a friend saw them in a museum in Macau.  I've tried researching old photographs of opium dens etc, but to no avail.  Maybe they're unique to this area.  Even asked ex-HK policemen who had raided opium dens in the past and he had never seen them before. 

Hi Bob -- Yes, I have quite a few of those as well.  Do you find them in the same place I do? Near Tai Tam?   A friend contacted the historical society to ask about them and the person who came out to look at them thought they came from workers who built the dam there.  That would put their date around 1920-1950, I think.  It is also possible that they came from the opium war era.  I found one article online (can't tell you where it is now) that said the pirates used to fill their ships with cases and cases of those little jars (no pictures, but the description fit our jars.)  Tai Tam was a known hangout for pirates during that time period, so I suppose it's possible that they are washing in from a shipwreck somewhere.  More seem to pop up daily.  

There is a small pebbly beach where these pots seem to turn up occasionally as well. It is situated near Sai Kung, not far from Kau Sai Chau. It is easily accessed by boat, but can be reached on foot. There is a small Tin Hau Temple there. I have been on 3 occasions, quite a few years ago - and found pots and even lids on two of the visits. On the visit when we didn't see any, we looked and looked to no avail! Very strange! I will check the exact location and forward that information in another post.

My Easter-holiday reading was "King Hui". He describes going to an opium den as a teenager, accompanying his father:

[...] The opium itself was provided in a small earthenware pot. Usually smokers would ask for half an ounce. It was in the form of a wet paste. To get it out of the pot you used a metal pin. It was about the size of a toothpick but thicker and flat. You put this in the opium and twisted it so that the opium would stick to the pin then you would transfer the opium and let it drip into the bowl [of the pipe].

Hi Bob!   You have a nice collection of one oz. lipped opium vials found in the Tai Tam Tuk mudflats.  These vials were discarded by opium users in the late 1800's.  During that time a series of dams were being constructed in Tai Tam designed to create reserviors to hold rain water for use in H.K..   In the evenings, workers would sit on the sea wall below the dam and smoke.   The vials contained opium resin that was rolled and placed into a pipe for smoking.  The immediate area also yields two ounce vials in two designs: those using a lid and those lacking a "lip" that were sealed with a layer of wax.    I had the opportunity to chat with the local elders living in Tai Tam Tuk fishing village before it was vacated and bulldozed by the government in 1996.   They recognized the vials and provided what seems to be a plausible explanation.  Hope this helps.   Dan



Hi Dan,

Thanks for the info - interesting. Most of mine came from the raliway embackment between Tai Po and Shatin, but I've also found them in many old villages.  I've only come across the ones in the photos and some smaller than that, and I've never seen one without a lip. 

Hi Dan

Can you confirm "In the evenings, workers would sit on the sea wall below the dam and smoke"? is there any reference for this description? Thanks


SW Poon


The information regarding men smoking in the evenings on the seawall came from the elderly men who lived in Tai Tam Tuk fishing village.   I interviewed them in 1992.    The village has since been demolished - prior to the handover in 1997.    Dan

Hi Dan

Many thanks for confirming the information. Incidentally and very recently I talked to two villagers one of whom also mentioned about workers' smoking during construction of Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir Dam and the other showed me the opium pots found downstream of the dam. 

SW Poon

Hi Dan,

Found these three pots along with the pots you previously identified as opium pots.  Have you ever come across them?  Are they also a type of opium pot?

The smaller of the two lipped pots has characters on the bottom. According to my neighbour they say spring, apricot in the sense of medicine, 'tong' in the context of room/place, and he couldn't read the fourth.  I have only ever found two of the third unlipped type.

Do have any pictures of the other types of pots that you have mentioned?  I would love to collect some different types.



unknown pots.png
unknown pots.png, by bob
bottom of pot.png

bottom of pot.png, by bob

pot.png, by bob

Really interesting to see these "opium pots", though subject to confirmation. I have one which has three Chinese characters at the bottom. A couple of years ago I saw many unearthed at the Old Kai Tak airport (near to Kowloon City) and should have been kept by AMO. Wonder is there a research project in connection with collection of these pots? Perhaps all these pots can be placed together to show what were opium containers decades ago.

SW Poon 

SW Poon,   I was on a business trip to HK in early November and went looking for "opium vials" at Tai Tam Tuk very early one morning when the tide was low.  Was fortunate to find 47 vials/lids!   An exceptional morning as they are getting much harder to find.   My collection has over 1000 pieces.   I do not have any with the stamp on the bottom.   I have only 1  pot with the brown glazing on the outside.  I have not been able to confirm if it is indeed an opium pot - it may be a small medicine container.    The Tai Tam Tuk site has been reported to the HK archeological society - they may have additional information on the pots.    Dan


Hi Dan, 

I am recently working on the a project of opium smoking tools findings in Hong Kong. And I am really interested in your finding in Tai Po and Sha Tin, the opium pottery pots. Is there any chances that we can chat more about it? And I really want to see the pots you have found. Looking forward to your reply.


Hi Dan,

Did you take the pots back home with you? What do you think would happen if a customs officer decides to put one through a narcotic screening machine and find some residues?

Hi Candy,are you mixing me up with Dan? 

Hi Bob,

Yes, i am sorry that i mixed up you and Dan.

Is there any chance we can discuss more about those opium pots through email or any ways that you preferred?

Hi Candy, how can I contact you?

Hi Bob,

Here is my email: lokyimiki@gmail.com

Hi we live in Sai Kung and we would love to get the location to hunt for those opium pots.  Could you tell us where? my email is thecokerfamily@mac.com

Most of my opium pots came from Sha Tin / Tai Po area. I have collected a few from my village and most old villages will have them, have been told  that the beach at  Yau Ley ( High Island ) is the place to go. Good luck!


From memory, there is a small inlet, with a Tin Hau Temple. It is a short walk to two nice seafood restaurants. I have looked on Google Maps and Leung Shan Wan looks about right - not far from Pak A Pier? Sorry I cannot be more specific. There is a small pebbly beach and I have found some of the pots and lids there. Happy Hunting. 

These are definitely opium pots. There are two types, glazed and plain.  Some have the shop names on the underside of the jar.  These are desirable collectibles collected by a small group of opium antique in other countries.  There may be a few odd ball opium antique collectors in Hong Kong.

Hi, I came across this site while looking for something else! I remember, as a child,  finding LOTS of these on Stonecutters island in the late 60s when we were stationed in HK with my Dad.  I  loved finding them in the sand on the beach and played with them for hours, always wondering what they would’ve contained.  Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to bring them back to the UK when we returned, but I’ve occasionally thought about my little collection and would love to still have them. I was so excited to see your photo of them  here, I had to reply! 


Glad to send you some if you want to reminisce


Bob, I have 4 lids one 2.5 cm and three 2.7cm in diameter, looking for matching pots.


I have hundreds of pots piled in boxes in my garden, The biggest problem is matching the colour and fit of the lids to the pots, I have literally spent days doing this !

If your ever in the Sai Kung area bring your lids and you can choose a matching pot


Or unless those are special to you then it might be easier just for me to give you some complete ones from my collection.

Your choice


Thanks for the offer. I have complete ones and 4 extra lids which I like to match them with pots. I am free the next few days and can come out to Saikung. Let's continue to commmuicate via email mtse@netvigator.com 


Over the weekend and with some free time on my hands, I decided to go out to the Tai Tam Tuk mudflats in search of these opium pots. We found two pots and two lids, as well as a third, partial lid which was glazed on the outside and larger than the other two, which we accidentally left at the site.

Both pots and lids showed poor quality of workmanship. Neither pots had any inscriptions on the bottom, and both pots had glazing on the interior. The lids showed circular marks in the interior, indicating that they may have been made while being spun. Both lids showed visible deviations from roundness, and one pot was visibly narrower near the base than it was at the rim. This pot also showed a dent in the rim.

Opium pots, Tai Tam Tuk mudflats
Opium pots, Tai Tam Tuk mudflats, by hongkonger

Bob- you said that you found most of your pots in the railway embankment between Tai Po and Shatin. Where exactly is this? How would one access this point, or is it restricted access now?


As far as I know these pots come in two sizes, big (size of a HK Dollar coin) and small ( 50 cent coin).

The glazed partial lid was probably not from an opium pot but a similiar pot that contained something other than opium.  I can post a picture of these mistaken opium pots that I have heard others describe, but generally speaking opium pots are very crudely (cheaply) made, un-uniform and only the inside of the bowl is glazed.

I have collected pots and lids from just about everywhere from my garden to the slopes around the Matilda Hospital! I collected a few hundred from a slope (dump site) just off the Tai Po highway. I've been back to this location recently but couldn't find anymore - we obviously cleared it a few years back.  I have even found them just off the biycle bath near University station.  Any slope nearby the kCR track you will probably find some.   My guess is that these pots came from an opium den on a nearby hillside used by the labourers building the track of the KCR. There is no village near this spot, but there is evidence of a few concrete foundations where a structure once stood (pots were found around these remains too).

All guesswork on my part - I'm not an expert - but if not from the labourers, then who?



As far as I know,only the two pots on the far right are opium pots.  The others I have been told were used for anything from plum sauce to other condiments.  

But if readers know otherwise, please let me know :)

opium_pots.jpg, by bob