124. Early Safavid Opium Tweezers

Iran, early 16th century
Size: 25 cm long
Steel, tinned copper, jade, gold

The tip of the scabbard is open so that it can be used as a pipe to inhale the ‘dragons’ of smoke when the opium ball, held by the tweezers, begins to sizzle over the lamp.

Iranian opium is much lighter than the ‘Chinese’ variety from South-East Asia. Gin-and-tonic rather than Dry Martini cocktail. In the 1960s and ’70s it was still offered as a normal part of hospitality after dinner in the better houses of Tehran, and probably still is. A brazier of glowing coals was brought in by a servant expert in the art of preparing the pipes; a tricky business. The pipe in Iran consisted of a porcelain bulb, pierced with a hole over which the heated pellet of opium was smeared. A wooden stem attached to the base of the bulb provided the means of inhaling the intoxicating smoke. One feature of the porcelain bulbs, available in every bazaar, was that they were usually decorated with a portrait of the Shah of the time, mainly the later Qajars. Reza Shah Pahlavi, who supplanted the Qajar dynasty in 1925, was widely admired for his ability to smoke opium and remain standing and operational, a sort of Lance Armstrong from another age. I never saw an Ayatollah with an opium pipe, but live in hope. Peace in the Middle East depends on it.