Beyond Aesthetics: The Art of Burmese Metalworking


The Art of Opium Weights

Animal folklore is prevalent in Burmese mythology and religion. Weights, loom pulleys, textiles, everyday household items, and everything in between, were commonly decorated with animal forms.

The earliest recorded Burmese weights are from the 13th century and only mimicked bird and quadruped shapes. They were used with balance scales in early commerce and most commonly ranged in weight from ½ to 100 ticals (3.5lbs). Weights and scales were often stored in boxes carved with intricate patterns.

Art collectors have referred to these weights as “opium weights.” However, art historians refer to them as graduated, or standard weights because only smaller weights were used in opium trade.

Toe weight
4” h x 3 ¼” w

(Header: Objects from Dr. Catherine Raymond's personal collection; photograph courtesy of Markie Striegel, NIU Center for Burma Studies)