Burmese Bronze Hintha Bird Opium Weight
Burmese Bronze Hintha Bird Opium Weight
Early 19th century, Burma (Myanmar).
Superb old bronze weight. The bronze opium weights were used not only as units of opium measurement, but used in everyday transactions where items were traded by weight, including food and precious commodities such as gold, silver, rubies, coral, pearls, spices, camphor, musk, and costly medicines. Certainly the mountain tribes of the Golden Triangle (Burma, Laos and Thailand) used the smallest ones for weighting opium. Items were measured by a beam hung with two baskets or trays. The weights were produced in a range of different designs, primarily based on animals or creatures from local religion and mythology. Most of the weights have been covered by a black coating possibly a protection against corrosion. The opium weights were produced in series from very small weights to much larger sizes. A full set of weights normal consists of 10 pieces from very small sizes up the largest size (100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 2, 1, 1/2, 1/4, and 1/8 tical). The weights and measures system in Burma was carefully controlled and weights checked for accuracy. They were legalised by a stamp or seal, usually difficult to read through use, given by the king or his officials in each town.
Most common opium weights are in the form of a Hintha bird or Brahmani duck, also called a hamsa. It was the emblem of the Mon kingdom, which once ruled Lower Burma. A duck’s beak and feet and a flamboyant, crested comb, with 3 to 4 layers of ruffles down the back of the neck is common. The beak is often holding foliage, worm or a pearl. The eye is usually outlined. The head is crowned by a two or three-point curling crest. The bird usually has a round, protruding breast and wings close to the body are often decorated with curved lines to indicate the main feathers. The wings and tail usually curl gracefully upwards. The tail may be short and stumpy. Back and tail feathers may have parallel curved lines. The feet may not be visible and the bird appears to be sitting on the base. Metal under the tail may add support. Head and feathers may be emphasised by incising. The hamsa symbolises the material prosperity and spirituality of the reign of 15th century Queen Shinsawbu.
Gorgeous Hintha bird style bronze weight. Six sided rounded base. Beautiful example of a real market weight. Two lines around the top of the base. Verification mark of 6 rayed star at the front of the base (almost disappeared). Good condition. Intact. Age-related wear and signs of use. Lovely deep dark brown patina. Size approx. 6,5cm x 4,2cm x 4,0cm. (20 ticals).
Provenance: Danish private collection
References and further reading:
A Model Chronology of the Animal Weights of Burma (Myanmar), Hartmut Mollat, Anthropos 104/2009, pp. 533-542, Published By: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, 2009.
Earth to Heaven: The Royal Animal‐Shaped Weights of the Burmese Empires, Donald Gear & Joan Gear, London: Twinstar, 1992.
Animal Weights from Burma and Beyond, R.J. Willis & G. Herman, River Books, 2019.
Analysis of historical Burmese opium weights and lead coins - metal origin, alloys and surface coating, Robert Lehmann, Hartmut Mollat, Ingo Horn, Ekkehard Döhring & Carla Vogt. Academia.edu.
Burmese Opium Weights, Sylvia Fraser-Lu, Arts of Asia 1, pp. 73–81, 1982.
Opium Weights, Rolfe Braun & Ilse Braun, London: Braun, 1983.
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