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Goldweight

Goldweight

  • Place of origin:

    Ghana (made)

  • Date:

    late 19th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Brass, cast

  • Museum number:

    CIRC.83-1971

  • 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 fan consisting of eight flat spirals forming the outer edge and one central spiral on which sits a three-step pyramid. The handle of the fan consists of a single loop of twisted rope. Fans made of hide, of palm-leaves, of wood and of feathers were widely used by the Asante. Particularly elaborate forms were associated with royalty.

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

A cast brass goldweight in the form of a fan.

Place of Origin

Ghana (made)

Date

late 19th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Brass, cast

Dimensions

Length: 6.8 cm, Width: 5 cm, Depth: 1.25 cm

Object history note

Purchased from Arcade Gallery Ltd., 28 Old Bond 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 fan composed of eight flat spirals or stylised rams' horns, symbolic of strength and sacrifice. The central pyramid sits on a series of concentric circles, symbol of leadership and high status. Fans made of hide, palm leaves, wood and feathers were widely used by the Asante. Particularly elaborate forms were associated with royalty.

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 fan, 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

Fans (costume accessories)

Categories

Metalwork; Black History; Africa

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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