The Art of Heroin Bags
Mar 28 2012
We all know that pumping heroin into your veins turns you into a phenomenal artist. Basquiat? Cobain? Burroughs? Have you seen the shit they were putting out before they started using? Of course you have, because it was put on your high school syllabus to teach you that you'll never be able to create real art without a smack habit. But one group of artists your school books might not have mentioned are the dealers who use their own graphics to beautify their heroin baggies. Kind of like acid tab art, I guess, only more sinister and likely to kill you.
Dequincey Jynxie is a female heroin user who runs a blog of the same name. It's basically a photo archive of all the various heroin stamps floating around the Brooklyn and Manhattan areas, with reviews of the product itself so that other users have a real-time directory of what's going to make them nod off into a state of blissful, introspective somnolence, and what's going to leave them puking water and bile for hours. By the way, I'm pretty certain Dequincey Jynxie is an allusion to Thomas de Quincey, and not her real name. That'd be too heavy a self-fulfilling prophecy to heap on a kid.
VICE: Hey Jynxie. What's the story behind your heroin stamp archive blog?
Dequincey Jynxie: Well, I was cleaning out my room, disposing of various trash and paraphernalia, when I found a variety of old stamps I'd tossed aside and decided I wanted to document them somehow. At first it was just images, but I added the reviews as it grew, almost as a notation to myself in case I came across something in the future. I started to save bags en masse, but eventually it got to be too much, as I was looking at a $30,000 pile of glassines to keep them all in, which probably could have paid for grad school or a sailboat. Fuck.
What is it about the art on heroin bags that you love so much?
My background is in fine art, and I worked as a mass market designer for a while, so I was always amused and excited by the branding. I also wanted to keep tabs on the quality of the product, especially if something was particularly good, bad, or just dangerous, so the site could work as a form of harm reduction.
Have you picked up on any trends?
In terms of packaging, the classic stamps are often either drug or danger-related, like "Knock-Out," or "DOA," or New York-centric, like "Brooklyn's Finest" or "Empire," for example. More recently, though, there's been quite a few more conspicuous urban-culture-related stamps, like "Bugatti," or "Gucci," or "Cash Money"—stuff like that. "Arm & Hammer" was a weird one. It's a baking soda toothpaste. I'm not sure why you'd want to associate your heroin with the most cliched cutting agent.
Is this just a New York thing?
As far as I'm aware, NYC, New Jersey, and Philly are the only areas of the country where this type of branding still happens. The New England market used to have stamps as well, but it changed in the early 00s and it's now sold in a 10g "finger," which gets its name from when dealers fill the fingers of rubber gloves with heroin and tie up the loose end.
What about the rest of the country?
The heroin market in the whole country is changing quickly, because of the Mexican cartels who are coming in with an entirely different product—black tar heroin, or "BTH"—than the Colombians, who import powder dope to the Northeast. I wouldn't be surprised if, within ten years, BTH becomes the primary market everywhere, in which case glassine packaging will be phased out, which is a shame. The tar in the Midwest and on the West Coast is normally sold in balloons, which is basically lower-level dealers haphazardly stuffing product into torn up Walmart bag bits. A little less romantic, for sure.
Weird. Does the bag design tell you a lot about the dealer behind it?
Not really, no. Most low-level dealers receive their product already stamped from above. I've known a couple who stamped their bags themselves, but they just used a generic stamp, like a star, or something that could be purchased at a stationery store. There have been cases, though, where the stamps are used to taunt the competition, like with the semi-famous "Shooters" stamp, which was two pistols pointed at each other.
What happened there?
It might just be an urban legend, but I have heard from a couple of different sources that a dealer in Bushwick got pissed that another guy had come onto his turf and copied his brand—"Too Strong," I think it was called. So, the first guy brought out a new brand, called "Shooters," with the two pistols facing each other, which was basically saying: "If you keep on messing with our market, you'll face the guns."
What's been the best stamp you've come across?
I like the stamps that incorporate graphics or utilize double entendres. It's old and doesn't have a review, but "Twilight" was a really amusing one. I'm not sure if they meant it literally or in terms of the vampire movie—the image looks like one of those drama masks—but it was funny.
If they go for existing brand names like that does the quality usually match? As in, would a Louis Vuitton stamp be better product than, say, a JCPenny stamp?
Nope. If anything, I've noticed the stamps with the most boasting monikers are often the worst.
Yeah, I guess that makes sense. Do people ever submit heroin substitutes? Do you ever refuse to put anything online?
Luckily, Krokodil hasn't made an appearance in the US yet, but no, I don't think I have turned away a submission, actually. As long as it's on-topic, I feel that information is power. People are going to do what they will—we all have vices and bad habits to balance our virtues. I feel it's important to just equip people with as much knowledge as possible so they can live as safely and as happily as possible.
Does anyone in the real-world community know it's you who runs the blog?
For the most part, no, I keep it anonymous.
Are you worried that word's going to get back to dealers that there are terrible reviews of their stuff coming from your site?
Haha, no, I've actually told a couple of dealers about the blog. I think it could be useful to them to know what their customers think. I generally let my sources know if their product was garbage because most don't use themselves and really do try to offer a superior product, so they value the feedback.
Are you going to do anything with all the stamps you've got lying around?
I actually don't really have any any more. At one point I'd saved up over 3,000 of them, but ended up just tossing them when I moved out of my last NY apartment. I generally find blatant "drug art" to be pretty lame, but in a perfect world I was thinking to cast each bag in bronze or metal and make an installation out of them. I don't have access to a foundry any more, though, and it would probably take five years to invest, cast and polish 3,000 tiny scraps of glassine. Oh well, a junkie can dream, eh?
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jamie_clifton