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Goldweight

Goldweight

  • Place of origin:

    Ghana (made)

  • Date:

    late 19th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Cast brass

  • Museum number:

    CIRC.705-1969

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Natural gold resources generated wealth and influence for the Asante kingdom in Ghana, West Africa. From around 1600 small weights (mbrammoo) in brass and bronze were used to weigh gold dust, which was used for all commercial transactions. Anyone involved in trade and commerce owned, or had access to, a set of weights and scales.

This brass weight is in the form of a ceremonial sword decorated with a ram’s head. The ram symbolises strength balanced with humility. It will fight fiercely against an enemy, but it also submits to sacrifice, emphasising that even the strong should be humble. The pattern of small spirals on the blade is a symbol of leadership and high social standing.

Geometric shapes and designs predominated amongst the early weights but more naturalistic representations of court regalia began to appear in the 17th century. By the 18th and 19th centuries the weights reflected a wide range of human and animal figures, often in scenarios designed to represent popular Asante proverbs.

Physical description

Cast brass goldweight in the form of a ceremonial sword with a ram's head attached just below the handle.

Place of Origin

Ghana (made)

Date

late 19th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Cast brass

Dimensions

Length: 11.5 cm, Width: 3.25 cm, Depth: 2.25 cm

Object history note

Purchased from Gallery 43, 28 Davies Street, London, W1.

Historical significance: Goldweights were not simply functional items. They symbolised the meeting of communities for trade. Many carried messages of peace and goodwill. Geometric shapes and entwined plants reminiscent of Islamic art, probably influenced by long-standing links with Muslim North Africa, predominated among the early weights.

Historical context note

Natural gold resources generated wealth and influence for the Asante kingdom in Ghana, West Africa. From around 1600 small weights ('mbrammoo') in brass and bronze were used to weigh gold dust, which was used for all commercial transactions. Anyone involved in trade and commerce owned, or had access to, a set of weights and scales.

This brass weight is in the form of a ceremonial sword decorated with a ram's head. The ram symbolises strength balanced with humility. It will fight fiercely against an enemy, but it also submits to sacrifice, emphasising that even the strong should be humble. The pattern of small spirals on the blade is a symbol of leadership and high social standing.

The gold trade provided opportunities for artistic expression. Antedating the establishment of the Asante kingdom by about two centuries, the gold trade relied on a standardized weight system derived from North African, Dutch, and Portuguese precedents. To measure the gold dust, Akan merchants used diminutive brass weights called abramo. The form these weights took changed over time: the earliest weights were geometric, reflecting the influence of North African Islam, but by the seventeenth century naturalistic representations of court regalia were more prevalent. This shift may reflect the Asante kingdom's growing regulatory role in the gold trade. References to Akan proverbs in the form of complex images of animals and people appeared somewhat later, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Descriptive line

Asante goldweight in form of ceremonial sword, late 19th century, Ghana.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Patterson, Angus, "Asante Goldweights", The Journal of the Antique Metalware Society, Vol. 15, June 2007, p. 39

Materials

Brass

Techniques

Lost-wax process; Casting

Subjects depicted

Spirals; Sword; Ram

Categories

Metalwork; Black History; Africa

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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