Java Coca and the Dutch Narcotics Industry: An Almost Forgotten 20th C. History of Drugs Story

Editor’s Note: Today we welcome the return of guest blogger  Toine Pieters, Descartes Institute for the History and Philosophy of the Sciences, Utrecht University, who wrote memorably about the use of “sewage epidemiology” as a tool for tracking drug use a few weeks ago.  His post today is slightly more conventional, but no less cutting-edge.

This is a corrected version of the original post. Thanks to Hans Bosman and Toine Pieters for working out the edits and amendations. –eds.
The Great Seal of the Dutch East India Company

For most of us coca and cocaine production and distribution is synonymous with Latin American drugs cartels and Colombian drug lords. It is also common knowledge that Britain and other European empires ruled the waves during the 19th century opium wars and up to the 1920s did everything to frustrate the American-led war against drugs. Only those who read Joseph Spillane’s Cocaine: from Medical Marvel to Modern Menace  (2000) may remember that by far the most successful alternative coca growing venture outside Latin America before 1945 was in the Dutch East Indies on the island of Java. Spillane briefly mentions that Dutch colonial coca production began to dominate the global markets in the1910s and crowded South American producers from these markets. It is not farfetched to argue that the Dutch were the drug lords of the interbellum and continued to play a prominent position in the global narcotics industry after World War II.

Up until recently we knew relatively little about the halcyon days of Dutch drug production and trade. But on November 8 the 82 year old former employee of the Dutch Cocaine Factory (NCF), Hans Bosman, defended his thesis on ‘The history of the Nederlandsche Cocaine Fabriek and its successors as manufacturers of narcotic drugs, analysed from an international perspective’ at Maastricht University.

NCF factory 1909, reproduced with courtesy from Hans Bosman’s thesis p. 124
NCF Factory 1909, reproduced with courtesy from Hans Bosman’s thesis

From the 1860s until the turn of the century Peru was the major source by far of the raw  materials for cocaine: coca leaves and later on also crude cocaine. The coca leaves were used in Europe and the US for the popular cocaine-containing elixirs and tonics. Cultivation of the coca plant was attempted in a number of countries outside South America, notably on Java and Ceylon. In 1875 the Botanical Garden of Buitenzorg introduced two coca plants on the island of Java, which was at that time part of the Netherlands East Indies. Java coca had a high total alkaloid content but was initially rejected by cocaine manufacturers as a raw material. Java coca contained mainly secondary coca-alkaloids and the direct yield of cocaine from the leaves was low. Chewing Java coca leaves did not evoke the same energizing sensation as Peruvian coca.Read More »


The Points Interview — Howard Padwa

Editor’s Note:  “For an otherwise law abiding morphine addict struggling to overcome addiction in the late 1920s, Britain was a more welcoming place than France.”  So begins Howard Padwa’s Social Poison: The Culture and Politics of Opiate Control in Britain and France, 1821-1926 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012).  A graduate of the University of Delaware, Padwa continued his studies at the London School of Economics and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris before securing a doctorate in history from UCLA.  In our interview, Padwa highlights the place of  differing conceptions of proper membership in a national community as a deep source of Britain’s and France’s differential responses to illicit drugs. 

1.  Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.

I started with two simple questions: First, why did opiates become so tightly controlled in the early twentieth century? Second, were the reasons the same everywhere? While a lot of scholars have looked at these questions, most have focused on studying things either globally (why did drugs become tightly controlled everywhere), or nationally (why did drugs become tightly controlled in this country or that country). In Social Poison I blended these approaches, looking at things internationally, but with a detailed focus on two countries (Great Britain and France).

As for the first question—why did opiates become so tightly controlled? I approached this question by looking at what people were afraid would happen if they didn’t control opiates. What would society look like if everyone could use them as much as they liked whenever they liked? I found that two fears were particularly common in the nineteenth century. First, people feared that opiates would take a toll on physical and mental health, eventually making users unable to care for themselves or contribute to society. Second, they feared that people who used opiates would essentially “tune out” of society, neglecting their duties to their friends, families, and countrymen when they were under the influence. In both cases, what made opiate use problematic was not just that use was considered “immoral,” but also that it seemed to compromise users’ abilities to act as good citizens. Drug use was understood as more than just a medical or psychological disorder—it was also a threat to the normal functioning of social relationships.

This led to the second question—were the reasons drugs became tightly controlled the same everywhere? The kind of social problem opiate use could become depended, to a large degree, on how “society” was defined. In Britain, where the national community was imagined as individuals functioning in a free market, fears focused on the impact drug use could have on self-sufficiency and commerce. In France, on the other hand, the nation was understood in a more collectivistic way, and engagement of citizens with society was considered most important. So, in the French context, fears that drugs would make users disengaged or disloyal were much stronger. Each country developed its own specific brand of what I call “anti-narcotic nationalism”—reasons for opposing drug use that were particular both to opiates and to specific national concerns.

Anti-narcotic nationalism went beyond the ways that the British and French talked about opiate use in the nineteenth century; it also influenced the development of drug control in the early twentieth century. In Britain, concerns about the effect the drug trade could have on commerce facilitated the landmark piece of legislation that established opiate control on the British mainland during World War I. In France, concerns about drug use, treason, military discipline, and national security were the driving forces behind drug control initiatives that took effect in 1908 and 1916. Once drug control was established, anti-narcotic nationalism also influenced how British and French authorities treated their addicted citizens. In Britain, when it became clear that opiate use was not necessarily incompatible with self-sufficiency or productivity, the government sanctioned maintenance treatment for some addicts. In France, on the other hand, associations of drug control with national security remained in place, as did strict regulations limiting the provision of drugs to confirmed addicts.Read More »

Monitoring Drug Use through Sewage: A Helpful Supplement?

 Editor’s Note: Today we welcome guest blogger Toine Pieters, senior lecturer and researcher at the VU-Medical Center in Amsterdam (since 1998) and professor of the History of Pharmacy at the universities of Groningen and Utrecht (since 2008). Working at the intersection of psycho-pharmacology, addiction studies, genetics and eugenics, he is the author of Interferon: The Science and Selling of a Miracle Drug (London, 2005) as well as a host of diverse papers. In addition to teaching and writing, he also is the project manager of WAHSP and BIland: Web applications for historical sentiment mining in public media.  Pieters will be guest blogging at Points intermittently through the fall– we hope with a whole slate of provocative topics like today’s.

Archaeologists love to dig into trash as a source of information for reconstructing the past. Biochemical researchers have followed suit with another kind of waste: sewage.

Sewage Epidemiology

Over the past decade a new promising technique based on the analysis of urinary drug biomarkers in sewage has been developed to estimate drug use by specific populations. This approach has been referred to as ‘sewage epidemiology’. Throughout last year, researchers from 19 different European countries studied illicit drug use by chemically sifting through the sewers. What does the study tell us about monitoring drug use?

The claim is that screening for drugs that pass through the body and then get flushed down the toilet is a faster and more reliable way to assess a community’s drug use than the time consuming data gathering tools currently available: population surveys and indirect estimates of drug production and seizure. The major assumption is that a sample of waste water is representative of a pooled urine sample of the entire population in the study area.Read More »

Taverns, locals and street corners: Cross-chronological studies in community drinking, regulation and public space

Editor’s Note: Today brings the first in a series of postings on The Taverns Project, a  pilot study of Connected Communities sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK). Participant David Rosenthal, of the Architecture and Civil Engineering Department, University of Bath, describes the overall aims of the cross-disciplinary, multi-national, and transhistorical project; later posts from participants Fabrizio Nevola (Bath), Jane Milling (University of Exeter), and Antonia Layard (University of Cardiff) will report on work in progress and conjecture about future avenues for research.

The “Taverns, Locals, and Street Corners” project began with the idea that the ‘public’ places in which people drink play an important role in the theatre of urban life – they are socially, morally and sometimes politically charged spaces.

Public Drinking

It’s hardly a new or radical insight, but it is a useful one, a basis from which to launch questions about continuity and change. How has the culture of public drinking and the social significance of taverns/pubs transformed in Europe in the past 500 or so years? On the other hand, what parallels can be teased out between the early modern period and the present?

Our aim isn’t to offer any kind of comprehensive history of public drinking. This is a short, ‘pilot’ project, funded by the UK’s Art and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities program. We look at three specific case studies, 16th-century Florence, London in the 18th century; and Bristol today. The way the project is structured means that these are dealt with consecutively. At present, we are in Renaissance Florence, the Enlightenment London part of the project begins in October, and Bristol takes us from February to April next year. This first, brief blog is designed simply to set out the main questions and themes of the research – later blogs will address our findings in detail.

The Carnivalesque

What interests us are the urban spaces, associations, networks and indeed communities that are shaped by tavern-going – whether it’s an osteria in an alley in the centre of Florence in the 1550s or a pub in central Bristol in 2012. Read More »

Victorian Woman on Drugs, Part 3: Visual Representations

Points is pleased to present the third installment of guest blogger Kristina Aikens four-part series on women’s drug use in Victorian England. Today, Kristina looks at – among other things – visual representations of women’s drug use and the male gaze.

In my last post, I looked at autobiographical writing by women that reveals some surprisingly humorous and positive attitudes toward drug experimentation. Last week’s writings, however, were not nearly as pervasive as certain visual images—many of them used in advertising—that depicted women having a very different relation to drugs. These visual images were not realistic, nor were they intended to reveal anything about the female experience. Instead, they sought to appeal to a male audience, either to sell a product or warn consumers of its dangers. Due in part to the popularity of Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, the quintessential drug experimenter was already envisioned as being male. The visual images in this week’s post elaborate on this basic assumption, while adding exploring the personification of the drug itself as female. Many of the most widely known visual representations of drug use from the nineteenth century employ images of woman serving as little more than an object of the male gaze or as a cipher for the development of male subjectivity through drug experimentation.

Speaking of nineteenth-century French drug literature, Marcus Boon writes in his book The Road of Excess that “Drugs themselves were pictured as seductresses like Salome or the Odyssean Circe in this literature. Heroin was ‘the white fairy,’ morphine ‘the grey fairy,’ opium ‘the black idol,’ and absinthe ‘the green fairy.’ ‘She’ (the drug) seduced with her beauty and the pleasure she offered, and then led you to ruin” (48). These metaphors trade in the stereotypes of women as alluring, deceptive, and destructive and employ a conventional narrative about male drug use as tragically addictive.

Maignan's 'The Green Muse'

Perhaps the most familiar such personification is absinthe, the “Green Fairy.” The gendered metaphors Boon points out can easily be discerned in Albert Maignan’s 1895 painting The Green Muse. This painting depicts what seems to be the beginning of the love affair between a man and his drug, as the expression on the face of the writer suggests ecstasy. The beautiful woman soothes him with the touch of her fingers, and the painting’s title suggests that this Green Fairy inspires artistic expression. Still, the arguably haggard look of the man’s face and the position of his hands convey the possibility of a more tortured future.

Oliva's 'Absinthe Drinker'

The 1901 painting Absinthe Drinker by Viktor Oliva depicts what could be considered a more advanced stage in the affair. In this painting, the male protagonist, rather than being inspired or uplifted by the drug in any way, has been reduced to staring directly and quite blankly at the naked apparition before him. No pleasure is apparent in his expression, though he is nonetheless enthralled.

Privat-Livemont's Advertisement

In Victorian advertising, when women were featured drinking or offering absinthe or other drug-like beverages (such as Vin Mariani, a tonic of cocaine-infused wine), they were more likely than men to appear naked or in sexually suggestive poses. Some of these advertisements, such as the famous poster for Absinthe Robette by Henri Privat-Livemont, are now regarded as iconic art nouveau images. Others, such as this advertisement for Vin Mariani, dispensed with artistic sensibilities in favor of a more, shall we say, direct message about the product’s ability to increase sexual prowess. Even when a woman is shown clothed and actually drinking the beverage, she is still usually subject to the male gaze, as shown very clearly in a particularly creepy advertisement for Absinthe Montbeliard, in which a man sits directly across from a woman, staring at her as she sips her absinthe as if for his enjoyment rather than her own. Read More »

Paint It Black

Welcome to the second installment of guest blogger Henry Yeomans’ new series here on Points. Henry, a Lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Leed’s School of Law, has already provided us with an excellent article on Britain’s World War I-era teetotaler movement.  TodayHenry discusses debates over alcohol regulation in the Swinging ‘Sixties.

Chocolate egg, or alcohol vessel?

On 25th April 1961, an odd rhetorical weapon was brandished in the House of Commons. Members of the House debated whether or not to amend a piece of legislation passing through Parliament so as to enable proprietors to sell (alcoholic) chocolate liqueurs without a licence. Conservative William Clark MP argued that “spirits enclosed in confectionary” should not be regarded as “intoxicating liquor” and so be freed from licensing restrictions. Another Conservative MP, Sir Cyril Black, countered this perspective by producing a large chocolate egg. Black was a colourful parliamentarian, having notably campaigned against the decriminalisation of homosexuality and for the suppression of gambling, strip clubs and ‘obscene publications’ such as Lady Chatterley’s Lover. But he was not an eccentric maverick whose influence was confined to reactionary politics; he was chairman of the Moral Law Defence Association, president of the Band of Hope temperance society and member of the All-Party Temperance Group. Black’s views, moreover, encapsulate a significant and influential position within discourse on alcohol in England and Wales in the swinging sixties.  He was not alone in his outrage that the egg, which reportedly measured 15 inches across, “could contain enough liquor to intoxicate a considerable number of members.”

Lord Wolfenden

Throughout the mid-twentieth century, British debates over behavioural regulation were less focused on the morality of particular forms of conduct and increasingly targeted the consequences or harms associated with these behaviours. 1957’s Wolfenden Report exemplified this new approach, taking a libertarian view of sexual behaviour and arguing that homosexuality and prostitution should only be matters of public concern and legal intervention when they entail one person being involuntarily harmed by the actions of another. When no interpersonal harm is apparent, it is “not the law’s business” to intervene and individual freedom of action should prevail. This more permissive context coincided with the first significant relaxation of alcohol regulation in England and Wales for a century. The Licensing Act of 1961 allowed restaurants to apply for licences to sell alcohol for the first time, extended open hours for licensed premises, and scrapped the statutory Sunday closure of public houses in Wales. Within these shifting governmental sands, debates about alcohol came to be typified less by a Victorian preoccupation with the immorality of drinking as individuals were, to a certain extent, given greater autonomy over their own consumption. Read More »

Victorian Women on Drugs, Part 1: Queen Victoria

We here at Points are very excited to present the first installment of guest blogger Kristina Aikens’ four-part series. Kristina received her PhD in English from Tufts University in 2008, producing the thesis “A Pharmacy of Her Own: Victorian Women and the Figure of the Opiate.” Since then, she has been published under a variety of academic titles, including Gothic Studies, Critical Survey, and Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture. In the coming weeks, she’ll provide us with her insight on the role of drugs in the lives of Victorian women.

Victorian England, an era with a drug culture as distinct as any.

As readers of this blog will be aware, many people erroneously conceive of drug use, particularly what we now consider “recreational drug use,” as a twentieth century phenomenon. People are often surprised to hear that the subject of my English literature dissertation was the depiction of female drug use in Victorian fiction and poetry. After all, the Victorian era is considered a famously morally upright time and is not commonly associated with drug use. Pre-twentieth-century English drug use is normally associated with earlier, Romantic era poets such as De Quincey and Coleridge. Further, Victorian women are usually thought of as a particularly repressed group. Nonetheless, Victorian England was clearly a site of casual drug use. In fact, drugs such as opium, cocaine, and marijuana, were not only legal and loosely regulated, but they often appeared as ingredients in both prescription and patent medication during that time.  Drugs’ effectiveness as medication made them fairly common household objects, so it would be wrongheaded to apply today’s attitudes toward the use of these drugs in the nineteenth century. Nonetheless, our reaction to hearing that Victorians regularly used these drugs is usually informed by our current attitudes. The loose legal restrictions on these drugs did not mean there were no moral concerns about them, but Victorians’ attitudes regarding drugs were more complicated than what we might expect, given the era’s reputation.

Although my dissertation primarily focused on the ways authors employed metaphorical depictions of drug use in relation to female literary characters, I couldn’t help but wonder about the everyday uses of drugs by real women, especially the most famous woman of the century, Queen Victoria herself. Tracking down whether or not Queen Victoria used drugs is a difficult task, but the pursuit of this information provided an interesting case study into how people think about the gender dynamics of drug use.

I first became interested in the subject of Queen Victoria as a drug user while watching a History Channel documentary titled “Hooked: Illegal Drugs and How They Got That Way.” One of the experts interviewed for this program asserted that Queen Victoria used marijuana to relieve menstrual cramps. This was surprising to me, but certainly not outside of the realm of possibility. Women were commonly supplied with drugs in response to “female complaints,” particularly pain associated with menstruation and childbirth, or “feminine” illnesses, such as neuralgia and hysteria. My interest piqued, I looked for a citation that might corroborate this piece of information, thinking that a mention of marijuana in the Queen’s  diaries or correspondence could be highly relevant to my dissertation. All I found, however, was a number of un-cited assertions in various history books arguing that Victoria did indeed use marijuana. After some digging, I finally discovered that Queen Victoria’s personal physician, J. Russell Reynolds, widely prescribed cannabis for various reasons, including the treatment of menstrual cramps. Presumably this information is what led many to claim that Dr. Reynolds prescribed cannabis to the Queen. While this is not exactly a wild logical leap, it appears to be more an assumption than a fact. In his book Cannabis Britannica, James H. Mills writes that there is “no direct evidence” for the claim, going so far as to deem the claim that Queen Victoria was prescribed cannabis a “myth” (142).Read More »

St. Patrick’s Day and Temperance: An Unlikely Duo?

Editor’s Note: For Points readers getting  a head start on their St. Patrick’s day observances this year, we are pleased to present a thoughtful historicization of this generally most unthoughtful of holidays by Mike McLaughlin of Carleton University.  Drawing on research from his dissertation-in-progress, “Imperial Citizens: Irish Catholic Middle-Class Culture in Colonial Canada, 1855-1902,” it will give you something to talk about as you crawl from pub to pub this Saturday– or better yet, provide you with a usable past of pub-avoidance.

Patron Saint of Over-Consumption

Leprechauns, green beer, and shamrocks with quirky sayings on them will be everywhere this 17th of March. Yes, St. Patrick’s Day is a time to indulge in markers of Irish identity. One of the most  prevalent of which seems to be the excessive consumption of alcohol. In their The Wearing of the Green: A History of St. Patrick’s Day, Mike Cronin and Daryl Adair note the institutionalization of drinking marathons at pubs on the 17th of March.  And according to Beth Davies Ryan, global corporate-relations director of Guinness brewing company, while on any given day 5.5 million pints of Guinness are consumed globally, that number rises to 13 million on St. Patrick’s Day.

The relationship between booze and St. Patrick’s Day is not a new one. Cronin and Adair point out that as early as 1681 the English traveler Thomas Dineley observed that during St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Ireland many of the Irish drank so much that very few were found sober at night. In his writings, Dineley presented what he saw as the three main components of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in seventeenth century Ireland: wearing the colour green, adorning the shamrock, and indulging liberally in alcohol (Cronin & Adair, Page 25). These aspects resemble today’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and the not unrelated phenomena of green beer, packed pubs, and general goofiness.Read More »

On Speed: James Bond and the Myth of the Nazi Superman

Ian Fleming describes the preparations for a secret and dangerous operation of his secret agent and assassin James Bond in the 1954 novel Live and Let Die. Among other essentials, ‘There was even a box of Benzedrine tablets to give endurance and heightened perception during the operation…’

UK, 1954

Drug historians have quite rightly quoted this and similar lines from the Bond novels as an example of how the use of Benzedrine (an amphetamine more popularly known as speed) was quite wide spread throughout western societies in the 1950s. Charles O. Jackson even described the USA at that time as the ‘Amphetamine Democracy’.

Rereading the Bond novels we can detect more historical significance in 007’s drug use. Bond may be a playboy and a womanizer, an alcoholic according to present-day standards and at times a drug abuser, he is also a staunch pillar and defender of a tottering British Empire. There is a historical irony here: we notice that just before the emergence of a counter culture with a blooming use of all kinds of licit and illicit substances, a counter culture that will seem to threaten the very survival of the Empire itself, the potentials of drug use can work opposite ways. On speed you can either be ”on the bus”, as Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters who were fuelled with amphetamines as much as with LSD. Or you can, as 007, be “off the bus” and stick to the old ways and manners of the Empire.Read More »

Continental drinking: qu’est-ce que c’est?

Does drink sneak up on you? A recent UK Government campaign warns that it might, especially if you’re the kind of person who likes the odd glass of wine or beer at home.

"Don't Let Drink Sneak Up on You"UK Dept. of Health

One drink leads to two and then … well, most of us probably recognise the pattern.  But did you know drinking two large glasses of wine a day could make you three times as likely to get mouth cancer?  No? You do now. The irony is that this campaign targets a type of drinking that British policymakers have often encouraged: the relaxed, civilised glass of wine at home, as opposed to the raucous skinful down the pub.  That is, the ‘continental’, as opposed to traditionally (or, stereotypically) British approach.Read More »