Many people have heard of the phrase “money to burn,” but an auction in California takes a different approach: money to drink.
Stephen Album Rare Coins’ auction No. 40, scheduled for May 13-15, includes two lots of tea money, bricks of the popular plant that spurred exploration and contributed to America’s rebellion.
According to the company, tea was highly valued in Asia, which resulted in tea bricks being used as currency across China, Tibet, Mongolia and Central Asia.
“Tea bricks were the preferred form of currency over metal coins for the nomads of Mongolia and Siberia at the beginning of the 20th century,” said the auction house.
Not only could the tea be used as money and eaten as food in times of hunger, it could also be brewed as a supposedly useful medicine for treating coughs and colds.
Until the Second World War, tea bricks were still used as edible currency in Siberia.
According to the auction house, the average brick was valued at 1 Szechuan Tibetan rupee or 8 Ga-Den-Tangkas and was used to pay wages, buy food and do normal trade.
The authentic brick offered in the auction can be traced back to Mongolia and was made around 1900.
It is 180 millimeters wide and 113 millimeters high. The auction company did not describe its depth.
On the front there are two small birds with TEA in English at the bottom right and Chinese characters at the bottom left.
The brick was once part of the Charles Opitz Collection. Opitz is the author of an ethnographic study of traditional money.
The brick, rated very good by the auction house, has an estimate of $ 250-350.
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 make tea bricks like this one for sale as novelty and tea to drink.
The replica is 240 millimeters wide and 190 millimeters high (9.5 inches by 7.5 inches), has an unknown depth and a patterned design.
The modern tea brick was rated extremely fine by the auction house and has a presale estimate of $ 75 to $ 100.