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2006/101/1 Weights (3), bronze, maker unknown, Burma, 1800-1885. Click to enlarge.

Burmese bronze weights

Made in Burma, 1800-1885.

These three small bronze weights in the shape of birds or animals were an integral part of the Burmese economy from at least the 1300s to the 1800s. They were used in market places all over Burma to weigh commodities such as food, raw materials, metals and precious stones. Goods were measured on balance scales hung with a basket on either end, the weight of the purchase being equal to the selected bronze weight.

This system of weights and measures was controlled by the throne, with all weights ...

Summary

Object No.

2006/101/1

Object Statement

Weights (3), bronze, maker unknown, Burma, 1800-1885

Physical Description

Three bronze Burmese weights in the form of bird and animal figures on stands. The weights are in the form of a karaweik (Indian cuckoo or Burmese crane), hintah (or hamsa, the Brahmin duck), and toe oung (part bull, part lion).

Production

Made

Burma 1800-1885

Notes

These weights were made in Burma in the 1800s.

They were made by skilled artisans in pantin, the Burmese art of bronze casting by the lost wax method. When casting weights, great attention had to be paid to the exact amount of both wax and metal used.

Pantin utilises a rough core made from a mixture of clay, sand and rice husks which is dried before being covered by sheets of bees wax. The wax is then sculpted in the form of the finished piece including the detailing of facial features, etc. Pre formed wax is added to the body to form additions such as the handles. Next, nail-like pins are pushed through the wax into the core to hold it when the wax is later melted out and the metal poured in. The wax is then covered with many layers of clay mixed with cow dung and water and finally just clay and sand. When completely dry, a wire web is wrapped around the whole for support and it is placed over fire to allow the wax to melt, leaving an empty cavity between the core and outer layer. The piece is then fired, turned upside down and the molten cooper alloy poured in. When the metal has cooled, the outer layers are broken open with a hammer and the finished object appears and is filed and worked smooth.

History

Notes

These small bronze Burmese weights were an important and integral part of the Burmese economy. They were used to weigh commodities purchased in market places all over Burma including food, metals, raw materials and precious stones. The correct weight was placed in one basket, and the desired commodity in the other basket until the two balanced. These weights are sometimes erroneously described as opium weights, although the smaller ones may have been used to weigh the drug in the same manner as other commodities.

Used continuously in Burma from at least the 1300s to the 1800s, this system of weights and measures was ruled from the throne, with all weights required to match a standard which was determined by each king at the start of his reign and kept in the parliament (Hluttaw). Weights were made in sets of ten in the form of either birds or quadrupeds on differently shaped bases, both parts weighing roughly the same. The largest weight was a viss, being 100 ticals (about 1600 grams), down to 1/8 of a tical. When the British took over Burma in 1885, production of the weights ceased. It is also possible that they were at one time used over much of Thailand and Cambodia.

The creatures represented in these three weights are among the most commonly found:

50 tical weight in the form of a karaweik (Indian cuckoo or Burmese crane) on a round base with sharply pointed beak and feet like a chicken. The body is long and more streamlined than the hintah although both have similar crests. The neck feathers, frills and top of the base have been incised.
50 tical weight in the form of a hintah (or hamsa, the Brahmin duck) on a hexagonal base. The bird has ducks feet and beak and a crested comb with incising on the feathers and base.
20 tical weight in the form of a toe ung (part bull, part lion) on a square base. The body resembles a bull with the face of a lion, horns and the hooves and tail of a horse.

Collected by Alastair Morrison and lent by him to the Powerhouse Museum exhibition 'Tradewinds: arts of Southeast Asia' in 2001 and subsequently donated to the Powerhouse Museum at the conclusion of the exhibition.

Source

Credit Line

Gift of Alastair Morrison, 2006

Acquisition Date

28 July 2006

Cite this Object

Harvard

Burmese bronze weights 2019, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 9 December 2019, <https://ma.as/359451>

Wikipedia

{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/359451 |title=Burmese bronze weights |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=9 December 2019 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}

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