This page was last updated: April 11, 2015
Intended mainly for archaeologists and economic historians, this page presents a comprehensive list, in alphabetic order, of all the opium brand names known to the editors to have been used by North American and Australian Chinese before 1908-10 when the smokable form of the drug became illegal in most non-Asian countries. The list shows brand names in the form of Chinese characters stamped on actual opium cans, not just mentions in newspapers and government documents. In the U.S., Priscilla Wegars of the AACC was the first to recognize the potential usefulness of such a list. The one shown here represents a substantial expansion of her pioneering effort,
When opium was bought and sold in the U.S. and Canada, the brand names were originally pronounced in standard Cantonese or in the Taishanese dialect. No widely recognized method for spelling either language with the Roman alphabet exists at present, and in those days romanization methods were so arbitrary that one often cannot work backward from a name mentioned in an English-language newspaper to the original name in Chinese characters. Hence, we have listed the following brand names according to their pronunciation in the Mandarin language (or Putonghua), using the standardized Pinyin romanization method. Those names are colored blue. When we know how a name was actually spelled in contemporary English-language periodicals, labels, or shop signs, that version is given in brackets and colored green.
All of the following brand names (except those on the KTW inventory) occur as stamped impressions on actual opium cans like those shown on the Opium and Opium-2 pages of this website. Cans with each brand name have been found at one or more sites in North America. Several have been found in Australia as well.
The list is now up to date as of April, 2015.
AACC = Asian American Comparative Collection in Moscow, Idaho, consisting of objects found or excavated in Idaho and neighboring states. Barkerville = Barkerville museum collection of objects excavated at sites in and near Barkerville, Cariboo District, BC. Grass Valley = from published inventory of the former Kwong Tai Wo store in Grass Valley in Nevada County, California. Marysborough = historic gold mining town in Victoria State, Australia. Montalbion = historic gold mining settlement in Queensland, Australia. NPRR sites = Gary Weisz’s finds at Northern Pacific Railroad sites in Montana, all dated to 1882; Quesnel = Quesnel Museum, Quesnel, Cariboo District, BC. RBC Museum = Royal British Columbia (Provincial) Museum, Victoria, BC. Sofala = historic gold mining town in New South Wales, Australia. Williams Lake=objects in Chinese Pioneer Virtual Museum, mostly found at sites near Williams Lake, British Columbia.
The largest colection of intact opium cans in North America is at the Kam Wah Chung Museum in John Day, Oregon. All of the Kam Wah Chung opium cans, many still with paper labels and customs seals, are Li Yuan/Lai Yuen and Fu Long/Fook Lung.
The legal trade in opium ended in 1908-9. Later, illegal opium was smugggled into the U.S. and Canada already packed in cans with oval cross sections, quite different from the cans listed above. Those later illegal cans bear distinctive brand names from Portuguese-and French-controlled areas. For examples, CLICK HERE.