World Coins

Tea bricks used as money offered in Album sale

A vintage brick of tea money, once part of the Charles Opitz Collection, is offered in Stephen Album Rare Coins’ May 13 to 15 auction.

Image courtesy of Stephen Album Rare Coins.

Many people have heard of the phrase “money to burn” but an auction in California offers a different take: money to drink.

Stephen Album Rare Coins’ auction No. 40, scheduled for May 13 to 15, includes two lots of tea money, bricks of the popular plant that spurred exploration and, in America, played part to rebellion.

According to the firm, tea was highly valued in Asia, leading people to use bricks of tea as a form of currency throughout China, Tibet, Mongolia, and Central Asia.

“Tea bricks were in fact the preferred form of currency over metallic coins for the nomads of Mongolia and Siberia in the early 20th century,” the auction firm said.

The tea could not only be used as money and eaten as food in times of hunger but also brewed as allegedly beneficial medicine for treating coughs and colds.

Until World War II, tea bricks were still used as a form of edible currency in Siberia.

According to the auction house, the average brick was valued at 1 Szechuan-Tibet rupee or 8 ga-den tangkas, and used for paying wages, buying provisions, and in ordinary trading.

The authentic brick offered in the auction can be traced to Mongolia and was produced circa 1900.

It measures 180 millimeters wide and 113 millimeters tall (about 7 inches by 4.5 inches). The auction firm did not describe its’ depth.

Two small birds appear on the front with TEA in English at lower right, and Chinese characters at lower left.

The brick was once part of the Charles Opitz Collection. Opitz is the author of An Ethnographic Study of Traditional Money.

Graded Very Fine by the auction house, the brick has an estimate of $250 to $350.

Modern replica also available

A modern replica from China is also part of the sale.

From 1975 to 1985 molds of this design were used in China to produce tea bricks such as this for sale as novelty items and as tea for drinking.

The replica measures 240 millimeters wide and 190 millimeters tall (9.5 inches by 7.5 inches), depth unknown, and has a patterned design.

Graded Extremely Fine by the auction house, the modern tea brick has a pre-sale estimate of $75 to $100.

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