Genuine Antique Elephant Opium Weights Vs Fake Imposters

October 19th, 2023

We recently listed several authentic antique bronze elephant opium weights that we managed to find recently in Northern Thailand and Laos. Elephant weights are indeed rare nowadays and finding these elusive little treasures elicits a quite a buzz. You can view these elephant weights here: Antique Opium Weights

Before listing them we did a search on elephant opium weights and were disappointed to see that that the vast majority of them were modern reproductions presented as the genuine article, many in sets. Fake or reproduction elephant opium weights are generally easy to spot, especially if you are familiar with originals. The form is ugly, the alloy composition inferior, no signs of genuine wear, and a telltale patina that openly confesses its imposter status. Caveat emptor.

Below are photos of several fake antique elephant weights currently listed on the internet by unscrupulous sellers .

Fake elephant opium weights

Below are photos of the genuine elephant weights that we recently listed on sabai designs gallery.

genuine elephant opium weights from Thailand and Laos
verification marks of antique elephant opium weights
Bases of elephant opium weights

According to Gear*, while elephant weights are found occasionally in Laos, Burma, and Yunnan, there is little doubt that the origin of elephant weights was in north-west Siam, the former Lan-Na kingdom of Siam (Thailand) and not Laos, the former Lan Chang. It’s thought that elephant weights made their first appearance in Siam as early as 1581AD. By the 1800s a variety of animal weights were in use and even traded as currency and include birds, snakes, buffalo, rabbits, dogs, horses and monkeys. Elephant weights were cast in Phongsali, northern Laos, and Siam. It is widely agreed that the animal weights of Siam and Laos were generally much less accurate than Burmese weights. Genuine elephant weights have a distinct patina combining elements of dark grey, silvery, rusty brown.

* Earth to Heaven: The Royal Animal-Shaped Weights of the Burmese Empire Paperback , 2002 by Joan & Donald Gear

Opium weights, including the elephant, were often adjusted to match the modified mass unit scale (which varied over time) by removing a little alloy from the base of the weight or adding a nugget of metal. Laotian and Siamese opium weights were generally less accurate than Burmese weights. The mass scales varied from 11.8 grams to 16.3 grams. In 1826AD the mass unit was reported as 11.8 grams.

It is reported in the Annals of Chiangmai that in 1460 AD, the Siamese adopted the Chinese word peng to refer to a particular mass and today is used to refer to the bronze animal weights in general. In 1558 AD, Chiang Mai, the capital of the La-Na Kingdom, was sacked by the Burmese who destroyed the weights and measures system, and along with it, the currency of the kakim silver ingot. The Burmese introduced their own floral ingot as well its own standardization of weights and measures. It is likely that elephant weights were cast at this time and continued to be produced after the Burmese lost control in the second half of the 18th century. Following the departure of the Burmese, other animal shaped figurines made their appearance and it has been suggested that other than serve as weights, they were used as currency. By 1858 Siam began producing machine made coins eliminating the need for bronze figurines to serve as currency. Even so, animal shaped figurines continued to be cast. The elephant weights listed on our site were most likely cast in the late 18th – 19th century.

antique bronze elephant opium weights
antique elephant opium weight