News / Arts & Entertainment

Former 'Opium Fiend' Gives Drug Gear to University

Donor Steven Martin and University of Idaho curator Priscilla Wegars hold antique opium pipes. (VOA/T. Banse)
Donor Steven Martin and University of Idaho curator Priscilla Wegars hold antique opium pipes. (VOA/T. Banse)
Tom Banse
It's taken weeks to carefully unpack and catalogue all the opium implements and accessories former addict Steven Martin has decided to donate to the University of Idaho.

He estimates the collection includes at least 1,000 pieces of opium-smoking paraphernalia, including ceramic opium pipe bowls, ornamented heating lamps, traveling kits, scrapers, old photographs and mug shots.

Martin is working with University of Idaho historian and curator Priscilla Wegars, who stops to admire an elaborately decorated, 19th century Asian pipe bowl.  Clearly some upper-class drug users indulged their habits with style and pizazz.
Ceramic opium pipe bowls; the center one has a toad design.(VOA/T. Banse)Ceramic opium pipe bowls; the center one has a toad design.(VOA/T. Banse)
x
Ceramic opium pipe bowls; the center one has a toad design.(VOA/T. Banse)
Ceramic opium pipe bowls; the center one has a toad design.(VOA/T. Banse)

Martin's expansive collection started just over a decade ago with a spur-of-the-moment souvenir purchase of an opium pipe.  

"I had what I like to call a collector's epiphany," he says. "I really became obsessed with it from that moment. I decided I had to collect more."

At the time, Martin worked as a Bangkok-based freelance writer who often took jobs updating travel guidebooks.  

"So my collecting meshed with my work," he says. "I was able to travel around and look at antique shops in different cities in Southeast Asia."

In the name of research, Martin also visited rustic smoking rooms - so-called opium dens - in Laos, possibly the last in existence.  

"I did, around that time, start experimenting with opium-smoking myself," Martin says. "At the time, I was able to rationalize it as research for my collection."

In his new memoir, "Opium Fiend," Martin describes his long slide from occasional experimentation to full-blown addiction. Eventually, he says, he was smoking 30-to-40 pipes a day. He kicked the habit in late 2007 by checking himself into a Buddhist monastery which specializes in narcotics rehab.

Even before that, however, Martin was thinking about where to donate his opium-smoking paraphernalia. Some institution in San Francisco? Or maybe turn it into a for-profit attraction in Las Vegas?

He eventually decided to send the forbidden treasures to the University of Idaho, after coming across an archaeology book, edited by the university's Priscilla Wegars, which included a chapter on opium-smoking artifacts.
Donor Steven Martin and University of Idaho curator Priscilla Wegars examine and catalogue the donated opium artifacts.(VOA/T. Banse)Donor Steven Martin and University of Idaho curator Priscilla Wegars examine and catalogue the donated opium artifacts.(VOA/T. Banse)
x
Donor Steven Martin and University of Idaho curator Priscilla Wegars examine and catalogue the donated opium artifacts.(VOA/T. Banse)
Donor Steven Martin and University of Idaho curator Priscilla Wegars examine and catalogue the donated opium artifacts.(VOA/T. Banse)

"I was very, very impressed by what knowledge they were able to glean from these mere shards that they were pulling out of the ground here in Idaho and other parts of the Western U.S.," Martin says. "I knew that they would take my collection seriously."

He was right. Wegars was eager to add Martin's ornate objects to a research collection of artifacts related to Asian immigration to the American West, her area of expertise.

She explains that immigrant Chinese laborers popularized the custom of opium smoking in North America in the mid-1800's. The drug could be legally imported into the U.S. until federal laws banned it in 1909. However, some states and U.S. cities could and did outlaw it earlier by local ordinance.  

Wegars says this led to numerous police raids on illicit opium dens where Chinese were arrested, while Caucasians in attendance often managed to escape. The pipes and other drug paraphernalia were usually seized and destroyed.

"It is amazing how quiet the room becomes when you hold up an opium pipe, an opium pipe bowl, and have the lamp there and start to demonstrate how this was used," Wegars says. "People are fascinated."

The University of Idaho had already acquired a few opium-smoking accoutrements from archaeological digs at Western “ghost towns,” or abandoned mining settlements. Those objects are very plain and utilitarian compared to the newly donated paraphernalia, according to Wegars.

The university did seek permission from state authorities before accepting the Martin collection.

"Because opium-smoking paraphernalia - any kind of drug paraphernalia - is forbidden to own, we did get an opinion from the attorney general in Idaho," Wegars says.  "Because it was for teaching, research and study purposes and would be securely housed at the University of Idaho, it would be OK for us to have it."

Besides, both Wegars and Martin point out, most objects in the collection are no longer functional.

The antique drug paraphernalia will not be on public display except when items are loaned out to museums. The collection will be open to scholars and researchers by appointment.

You May Like

VOA Exclusive: Interview With Myanmar President Thein Sein

Thein Sein calls allegations that minority Muslim Rohingya are fleeing alleged torture in Rakhine state a media fabrication More

New Yellow Fever Research May Lead to Improved Treatment

Researchers identify features of disease that may lead to more effective treatment More

UN Rights Commission Investigates Eritrea

Three-member commission will start collecting first-hand information from victims and other witnesses in Switzerland and Italy next week More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concernsi
X
November 19, 2014 11:39 PM
The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.
Video

Video What Jon Stewart Learned About Iran From 'Rosewater'

Jon Stewart, host of the satirical news program "The Daily Show" talks with Saman Arbabi of Voice of America's Persian service about Stewart's directorial debut, "Rosewater."
Video

Video Lebanese Winemakers Thrive Despite War Next Door

In some of the most volatile parts of Lebanon, where a constant flow of refugees crosses the border from Syria, one industry continues to flourish against the odds. Lebanese winemakers say after surviving a brutal civil war in the 1970s and 80s, they can survive anything. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.
Video

Video China's Rise Closely Watched

China’s role as APEC host this week allowed a rare opportunity for Beijing to showcase its vision for the global economy and the region. But as China’s stature grows, so have tensions with other countries, including the United States. VOA’s Bill Ide in Beijing reports on how China’s rise as a global power is seen among Chinese and Americans.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Beyond Category

Trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis and his father, pianist Ellis Marsalis, perform with their quartet at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club in Bethesda, Maryland. They also sit down with "Beyond Category" host Eric Felten to talk about their hometown, New Orleans, and the music on their new recording, “The Last Southern Gentleman.”