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1. Introduction Opium weights

1. Introduction Opium weights
‘Opium’ weights were cast in the shape of birds and animals of varying sizes with a solid round or rectangular base. They are referred to as ‘opium’ weights but the word ‘opium’ was most probably given to them by a foreigner with a vivid imagination and a fascination for the forbidden. Of course some of the smaller weights may have been used for measuring this drug but in general they served a much wider use, simply as counter weights used to weigh everyday items and food. Most commonly found are the weights cast in the shape of a Hintha bird or Brahmanu duck which is sometimes also referred to as a Hamsa. The emblem of the Mon kingdom which once ruled over lower Burma, it has a duck's beak and feet and a crested comb. Lions were also popular. Called a ‘Toe’ in Burma, these fabulous creatures have the face of a lion, horns, hooves and the tail of a horse. The scale consisted of an ivory beam which served as a balance with a thin metal dish hanging from each side. The item to be sold would be placed on one dish and a number of weights on the other one until the two dishes balanced. ‘Opium’ weights were produced in large quantities to be used in the market places of Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. Because of their popularity with tourists, fakes and reproductions of opium weights abound. Weights in bronze ceased to be made shortly after the British took over Burma completely in 1885. Most of the weights in our collection date from the 18th to the 19th century but a few may be earlier.
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