From Tachilek, Burma, this 18th (1700s) century bird weight is a charming 20 tical or kyat Burmese opium weight, formally
referred to as the royal animal shaped weights of the Burmese empires. The weight shows expected wear for its period and has a rich dark patina. Authentic opium weights are becoming rare, and supplies in Burma and Thailand are fast drying up, while fakes are increasing in number.
The bird form symbolized for the Burmese, a link between earth and heaven and
representing the flight of the soul. Please see below for dimensions,weight and shipping and further detail about opium weights from Burma.
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see our rarest opium weights from Burma
Characteristics Height: 6cm, 2.4 in
Base: 4cm, 1.6 in
Base plan: hexagonal
Base lines: Barely visible
The History of Opium
Burmese, along with
the many minority ethnic groups that make up Burma's rich culture
have been fashioning objects of beauty and utility for over 2000 years. From
royal to peasant, finely crafted objects were used in everyday life. One of the
most curious and engaging objects of daily use in Burma was the opium weight.
The name opium weight, whimsically dubbed by later visitors to Burma, is somewhat
a misnomer. These bronze zoomorphic weights of various styles were used to
weigh a variety of materials including silver and gold ingots, pearls, rubies,
coral, personal ornaments, spices, musk and costly medicines. More common
products of daily commerce were weighed with dome shaped marble weights.
The earliest written evidence for the
existence of animal weights is found in a palm leaf manuscript written by
Nandabahu, an administrator during the time of Alaung-hpaya (1752-60),
which contains a list of weights and their usage. The earliest weights date
from the 13-14th century Pinya-Ava period and are exclusively in the form of
birds and beasts. The oldest weight I have personally seen is from the late
14th-early 15th century. These weights were also used over North Siam, Laos and
Yunnan, the result of periodic domination by the Burmese in these regions.
Opium weights were made using the lost
wax method, which may have reached Burma through Bengal or Yunnan. Great
care was taken in weighing the amount of molten metal used in casting to
ensure that the purported weight was accurate. The weights and measures system
was subject to the scrutiny of the king or queen, who after assuming the
throne, had a master set of weights made in the animal of his or her choosing.
These were housed in the Supreme Council of State (Hlut-taw) and citizens were
expected to ensure that the weights they used conformed to the standard
weights. Animal shaped weights were cast in Burma up until the British took
over Burma in 1885, after which uninteresting round iron weights were used.
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