opium pots | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

opium pots

Primary tabs

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