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An Opium Den

Written by: George Chittenden : 19 Jul 2019

This photo was taken in 1941 and features an opium den in Singapore. Establishments where opium was sold and smoked were popular during the 19th century and could be found throughout the world from Asia to North America, however they are mostly associated with the Chinese as they usually ran such establishments. Customers would relax and recline on a sofa or bed with a pipe that was held over an oil lamp that would heat the drug until it vaporized, allowing the smoker to inhale the vapours.

In many films, opium dens are portrayed to cater for the upper classes, and this was true particularly on the West Coast of America where the dens had luxurious furniture and female attendants, but they were not all high class. The den that features in this photo is pretty low end and would have in all likelihood served Singapore’s working-class clientele. At the beginning of the 20th century, opium dens could still be found in Asia, the United States, and Europe, and this was true up until the mid-1950’s.

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