Antique Shiwan Glazed Stoneware Opium Pillow, China (3849A-ZHK)


This five-sided Shiwan stoneware pillow with slanted top, open bottom, vibrant glazed surface, and etched coin and  diamond design was used for smoking opium as the cool shell cradled the users’ heads and necks and offset the warmth of smoking and the hollow inside stored valuables. We have another which can be paired with it. If a candle is placed inside it emits an amazing shadowy form of a coin, which appealed to those in an opium state.



Shiwan ceramic stoneware pillows were widely used in China especially in the Qing Dynasty made with a variety of glazes and designs and were believed to increase health, vitality and comfort and soothe one’s spirit. These functional-and-utilitarian pieces provided coolness during hot weather and were preferred over soft pillows which were believed to rob the body’s vitality and energy. The Chinese believed a pillow could impart special qualities to the person sleeping on it, and designs were chosen for their symbolic meaning so virtues represented would be passed to the user. Ceramic pillows called “opium pillows” were used for smoking opium in dens as their hard cold surface cooled the users’ heads and necks and the holes promoted ventilation and helped keep the pillow cool. It was often likened to floating on a cool cloud, and the hollow inside made easy to clean and store valuables. The coin on the side with a diamond-shaped center was etched during the first firing and the surface turned reddish beige which is visible through the glaze. Coins inside a square opening were known as “eye coins”, a pun for “before your eyes” meaning wealth and prosperity are “before you,” and “on their way.” Typical of Shiwan stoneware, it is covered with an off-white running glaze with traces of copper oxide, and wonderful green streaks cover the outside while the inside is unglazed. They were exported to overseas Chinese communities worldwide and used in commercial opium dens, although wealthy opium smokers would bring their own pillow for personal use. A similar piece is part of the Aggv Collection Museum in of British Columbia. This piece is part of the VA Antique-Chinese-Ceramics-and-Pottery Collection.

Click here for the blog The Allure of Shiwan Pottery

Sources: emuseum collection, Aggv Emuseum Art Gallery of British Columbia What were ceramic pillows used for in medieval China,

Cultural China, History and Literature –Archeology: Porcelain Pillows.

The Minnesota Institute of Arts, Objects in Focus: Chinese Ceramic Pillows.

China Daily, A Journey through the History of Chinese Porcelain Pillows

Additional information

Weight 6 lbs
Dimensions 12 × 9 × 9 in

Late 19th/Early 20th Century

Materials and Technique


Dimensions (inches)

Ht: 7.25” W: 5” D: 5”

Dimensions (metric)

Ht: 18.415cm W: 12.7cm D: 12.7cm


2lbs 14oz

Reference Number