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Three Burmese Bronze Opium Weights

Three Karaweik bird weights on octagonal bases. Three weights from the traditional measurement of 20 Tikal down to ½ Tikal. These weights were used for standardising the weight of precious commodities such as gold, silver and pearls.
Burmese, circa 1800 - 1820
Stock No. 1302

Burmese Opium Weights
For the past several hundred years there is evidence of the Burmese people using weights as a method of standardising the weight of valuable commodities such as gold and silver ingots, pearls, spices, medicines and suchlike. With a weights and measures system implemented by the king or queen of the time, it was the monarch who chose the design of the new weights, it being an animal of their own choosing. With the new set of weights housed in the Supreme Council of State, (Hlut-taw), every citizen and trader was expected to ensure that their weights conformed with those of the standard. Although some of the smaller weights may have been used at times for the measuring out of opium, There is no evidence to suggest that this was their common use; it is merely a phrase attributed to them by western visitors to Burma. The use of ‘opium’ weights died out with the arrival of the British in Burma in 1885.

These weights fell into mainly two categories, the beast and the bird and came on a variety of base shapes. Bird weights are generally referred to as either Hintha (duck) or Karaweik (mythological duck bird) and the beast is generally called the Chinte or, earlier, the To (the lion). This mythical beast is said to have the mane and tongue of a lion, the horns of a deer, the feet of an elephant and the hind-quarters of a horse. Both forms are symbolic, with the bird in Buddhism representing spiritual purity and gentleness. It was believed that the bird could make a distinction between pure and impure silver alloys and would accurately reflect mass. The beast was thought to represent the Bodhisattva, one who seeks enlightenment from a compassion to release others from suffering. These beast weights were believed to have magical powers and it is commonly accepted amongst Burmese people now that those weights produced during the rule of King Bodawpaya (1782 - 1819) have strong healing powers.

The standard for weights in Burma is the Tikal (Tk). 100 Tikal make 1 Vis. From about 1700, and still currently used, the standard weight for a Tikal is approximately 16.3g. Therefore, the Vis = 1.63kg or 3.6lbs. These standards were valid for trade and for the measurement in weight of precious metals. It can only be conjecture as to the purpose of the punched marks that are found on these weights, but they may be a form of verification. There is no definitive method of dating these weights, but using expert/collectors opinions, an estimate can be established.

Price: £395.00




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Objects - Brass & Metalware

Three Burmese Bronze Opium Weights

Three Karaweik bird weights on octagonal bases. Three weights from the traditional measurement of 20 Tikal down to ½ Tikal. These weights were used for standardising the weight of precious commodities such as gold, silver and pearls.
Burmese, circa 1800 - 1820
Stock No. 1302

Burmese Opium Weights
For the past several hundred years there is evidence of the Burmese people using weights as a method of standardising the weight of valuable commodities such as gold and silver ingots, pearls, spices, medicines and suchlike. With a weights and measures system implemented by the king or queen of the time, it was the monarch who chose the design of the new weights, it being an animal of their own choosing. With the new set of weights housed in the Supreme Council of State, (Hlut-taw), every citizen and trader was expected to ensure that their weights conformed with those of the standard. Although some of the smaller weights may have been used at times for the measuring out of opium, There is no evidence to suggest that this was their common use; it is merely a phrase attributed to them by western visitors to Burma. The use of ‘opium’ weights died out with the arrival of the British in Burma in 1885.

These weights fell into mainly two categories, the beast and the bird and came on a variety of base shapes. Bird weights are generally referred to as either Hintha (duck) or Karaweik (mythological duck bird) and the beast is generally called the Chinte or, earlier, the To (the lion). This mythical beast is said to have the mane and tongue of a lion, the horns of a deer, the feet of an elephant and the hind-quarters of a horse. Both forms are symbolic, with the bird in Buddhism representing spiritual purity and gentleness. It was believed that the bird could make a distinction between pure and impure silver alloys and would accurately reflect mass. The beast was thought to represent the Bodhisattva, one who seeks enlightenment from a compassion to release others from suffering. These beast weights were believed to have magical powers and it is commonly accepted amongst Burmese people now that those weights produced during the rule of King Bodawpaya (1782 - 1819) have strong healing powers.

The standard for weights in Burma is the Tikal (Tk). 100 Tikal make 1 Vis. From about 1700, and still currently used, the standard weight for a Tikal is approximately 16.3g. Therefore, the Vis = 1.63kg or 3.6lbs. These standards were valid for trade and for the measurement in weight of precious metals. It can only be conjecture as to the purpose of the punched marks that are found on these weights, but they may be a form of verification. There is no definitive method of dating these weights, but using expert/collectors opinions, an estimate can be established.

Price: £395.00

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