How to estimate the age of opium weights

Ofcourse, the collector of opium weights wants to know how old the opium weights that he possesses are. But it is not always possible to find out exactly.
It was Richard Temple who fried to give a difinition in 1898. He writes, that according to verbal information, the motifs shown on below image were said to be the motifs during the reigns of the different kings.

1 / 1
1 Images
1 /
Various Opium Weights With Dates

We are not sure whether Temple's classification is correct. But there are certain indications concerning the consistancy of material, the fashioning (motif, handle, pedestal) and the gauge marks, that make the chronological classification of the weights easier.

It is possible that within the next few years, comparitive studies of animal motifs will provide us with new information for the definition of the age of standard opium weight.

At the moment of writing (2016), the best available book about dating opium weights is 'Earth To Heaven by Donald and Joan Gear'.

Modern reproductions of opium weights

Nowadays modern reproductions of old animal opium weights are frequently to be found. There is no reason to condemt this, provided that the imitations are sold at a price corresponding to their true value. They are fakes as soon as their price represents the value of old weights.
During the last few years, old broken waights have often been melted down and recas as reproductions. The missing of natural patina was carefully imitated with black paint.

Nowadays whole sets of weights are offered that did not exist at all in earlier times, examples are frogs, peacocks and rhineceros, but also the set of elephant opium weights as shown below.

Recently cast sets of hintha weights, lion weights and elephant weights are offered all over the world.

There are several criteria that should be kept in mind by those who want to buy animal weights:

  1. Whenever rare motifs such as fish, rats, horses, monkeys, bulls, chicken, ect. are offered, we can be sure that these are imitations.
  2. When there are several identical examples of rare motifs they were cast in a single mould and this means they cannot be very old.
  3. A 'patina' of an unpolished black or an unnatural green prevails the reproduction. In most cases the paint can easily be scratched off.
  4. Reproductions often have sharp edges whereas old opium weights are most sympathatic to touch, as a result of frequent use.

Stay up-to-date with the latest news and receive our newsletter.