Australian National University

from the Faculty's
London Collection

-- this presentation still in draft stage! --

"The discourse was interrupted by the entrance of a troop of eunuchs, bearing on their heads various articles ... which were passed in review before the gazing multitude. These were a number of ornaments, in molten gold, such as small plates, circlets, twists, etc., beside some large specimens of rock gold ... two fine camel's hair carpets ... nine large pieces of silk ... a long gold pipe, neatly and tastefully decorated with gold wire, the bowl being cast in the solid, and rudely sculptured; a massive breast plate cast pure, of the same metal, divided upon the outer surface into compartments, and coarsely moulded into a sort of filigrane work; a gold elephant's tail, composed of a thick bunch of wire ... besides a variety of the finest cotton cloths, striped and ornamented with silk in the fashions of the country"
(Dupuis 1824, 173-4, describing presents intended for the King of England).

The vast gold fields of Africa have produced not only great wealth, but have generated trade and art works. In Ashanti (present-day Ghana), a set of scales, and of brass weights for measuring out gold-dust, the local currency, was a treasured item for everyone, and their neighbours, and the vast quantities of gold mined and panned within the Asante kingdom were used for trading with outsiders, for making regalia and personal adornment, and as an internal currency (McLeod 1981, 122). Not for nothing was this area called the Gold Coast. It has been suggested that the average collection of weights was about forty - hence the large quantities (several hundreds of thousands) which survive. The very process of handling gold also required an extensive paraphernalia, from scales to boxes (in metal and leather), spoons and cloth.

Although weights have probably been made for several centuries, several hundreds of thousands survive from the 18th and 19th centuries, until the colonial administration, in an attempt to exercise closer control on commerce, banned their use in 1896, having already outlawed the use of gold-dust as currency in 1894. Since Sir Garnet Wolseley sacked Kumasi in 1874, causing disastrous effects on trade and on the complexion of the Ashanti state, it is unlikely that many weights were made after this date.

The brass (largely from a vigourous trade in European imports, as early as the later 15th century), was cast using the lost-wax method - the best way of preserving fine modelling and detail in the finished product, but in no way suited to "production-line" methods.

Read a short account of how the images were digitized.
For an online exhibition of Yoruba and Ashanti (Akan) art, go to

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