The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 15, Number 44, October 21, 2012, Article 4


Adolfo Bartolomucci of African Art Gallery in Milan, Italy forwarded information about a new book on the Odd and Curious money of Africa. -Editor

Monete tribali dell’Africa subsahariana
Author: Adolfo Bartolomucci
Aldo Tagliaferri
Piero Voltolina e Mary Beni
Giorgio Teruzzi
Lidia Calderoli
Language: Italian and English
Copyright 2012 by African Art Gallery – Milan
23x30,5 cm, 189 pages
320 color photographs
7 black and white photographs
Hardbound cover
Price: € 40

There is a wide-spread revival of interest in artifacts that served for many centuries as legal tender in Sub-Saharan Africa, and this richly illustrated catalogue, edited by Adolfo Bartolomucci, purports to present and investigate the extraordinary range of objects concerned. Contributions by scholars of African lore situate these expressions of native ingenuity in an historical context and document their connection to everyday living conditions and the beliefs prevailing among the different ethnic groups that produced them. The many questions raised by the monetary use of artifacts of this type were of necessity examined from different angles.

The more widely known examples of African currencies date back to early West African cultures, but lesser-known types, such as those introduced by European colonial powers or found in areas far off the beaten tracks of commerce, deserve no less attention.

In his introduction the editor communicates his experiences over decades of field-trips through Africa.

The essays that follow address various aspects of the problem: Lidia Calderoli illustrates how much these objects owe to the skill and versatility of African smiths, Aldo Tagliaferri comments on the relationship between function and inherent meaning, while others provide further background and explain the use of specific items, such as conch shells and glass beads, known to have played an important role in the economic systems of Africa.

All the currency presented in this book – 227 kinds, 361 pieces – is part of a collection belonging to the African Art Gallery of Milan. The collection may be viewed on site in Milan at 28 Via Caterina da Forli. All the objects are mounted on iron. The entire collection (361 pieces) can be bought along with 300 copies of the book African Currency by collectors, foundations, museums, banks or galleries.

The making of this book, the result of more than 50 years of research and study in South-Saharan Africa, required courage, great efforts and, above all, perseverance in dedicating the major part of time spent in Africa on a subject held to be unimportant by most. I took a trip through the Nok area where I was shown a forged iron, shovel-shaped object and told that it was a currency used in commercial transactions in the 1920’s and ’30’s. I promptly bought it. That was the beginning of my interest in these strange metal objects, which we called ethnic currency.

Sometime later, going through the frontier zone between the Ivory Coast and Liberia, I found a big bronze ankle bracelet with bells that weighed 4 kg. It belonged to a woman and the fact that she was the wife of the village chief conferred particular importance to this currency. Bought after lengthy negotiations, this ankle bracelet also became part of my currency collection, and from that moment on I began to systemically look for these currencies in every country or area that I visited.

Consulting old books written by European explorers, I realized that all the nations and all the nations and all the ethnic groups in various shapes and sizes which were used for commercial exchanges in place of minted money. Their value depended principally on shape and weight. Over time I discovered that there was glass bead currency and that artefacts of ivory, shells, pieces of fabric and other objects could also be employed as currency. I collected most of the currencies proposed in this book on site from families or from local vendors who sold these materials; however they had scarce information about how or when they were made and how they were used.

I saw my first real Luba exemplar, an X shape in copper, during the first trip I took in Katanga: I was already aware of the shapes because in 1961 the provisory Katanga government had minted two official coins on which the old X-shaped currency was reproduced. The most surprising impact I had in regard to this currency was with the Guinzé, called Kissi penny by the Europeans and used among the Kissi and the Loma of Liberia and the Conakri in Guinea. During a trip from the Ivory Coast to Malì I decided to take the Abidjan - Man - Zérékoré – Sigiri – Bamako route. I actually saw my first real Kissi pennies in Zérékoré, a territory of Guinea.

From 1995-2000 there was a turning point in the currency market. The interest of European traders was so strong that the market squares in Lomè, Abidjan, Duala and Acra were over flowing with every sort of object defined as currency. When I was in Lomé I saw embossed, forged iron sheets weighing from 8-15 kg. that were hoe shaped-shaped. They came from Nigeria, and I was told that these Angas currencies were used as a gift for the father of the bridge during the wedding and also for buying animals, slaves and weapons. In the Abidjan market on the Ivory Coast, I found notable quantities of Liganda, forged iron objects similar to long lances, Mbole copper ankle bracelets and bronze Ekonda leg shields, all coming from Congo Leopoldville, as the D.R.C. was called at the time.

For more information, see:

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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