Goldweight

late 19th century (made)
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Metalware, Room 116, The Belinda Gentle Gallery
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

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 an Asante shield. On three of its edges are zigzag lines. The centre is hollow and crossed with bands of simulated wickerwork. The shield recalls the Asante proverb 'When a shield wears out, the framework still remains', meaning that the good deeds of people live after them.

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.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Cast brass
Brief Description
Asante goldweight in form of shield, late 19th century, Ghana.
Physical Description
A cast brass goldweight in the form of a Asante shield.
Dimensions
  • Length: 3.9cm
  • Width: 3.7cm
  • Depth: 1cm
Style
Object history
Purchased from Ian Auld (Antiquities & Ethnographica), 1 Gateway Arcade, Camden Passage, London, N1.



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
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 an Asante shield. On three of its edges are zigzag lines. The centre is hollow and crossed with bands of simulated wickerwork. The shield recalls the Asante proverb 'When a shield wears out, the framework still remains', meaning that the good deeds of people live after them.



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.
Subjects depicted
Summary
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 an Asante shield. On three of its edges are zigzag lines. The centre is hollow and crossed with bands of simulated wickerwork. The shield recalls the Asante proverb 'When a shield wears out, the framework still remains', meaning that the good deeds of people live after them.



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.
Bibliographic Reference
Patterson, Angus, "Asante Goldweights", The Journal of the Antique Metalware Society, Vol. 15, June 2007, p. 39
Collection
Accession Number
CIRC.232-1971

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record createdApril 5, 2006
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