The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 22, Number 11, March 17, 2019, Article 6


John and Nancy Wilson submitted this review of a new book by James Zylstra on the primitive money of Africa. Thanks! -Editor

Primitive Money of Africa: Tales & Details,
Author James Zylstra, Foreword by Robert D. Leonard Jr., 2018,
Reviewed by John and Nancy Wilson

Primitive MOney of Africa book cover Primitive Money of Africa: Tales & Details by author James Zylstra is a soft bound 215-page reference which has hundreds of color illustrations. It isn't a price list of African primitive money but is a useful resource for the dealer or collector of these artifacts.

In the foreword Robert D Leonard Jr. commented Zylstra considers the dual nature of much African primitive money - as ornament and valuable - and the difficulties encountered in actual use, because of the different types demanded in each local market. He suggests that primitive money persisted as long as it did because modern currency lacked religious and traditional value, and potentially spoiled the enjoyment of vigorous bargaining."

Mr. Zylstra won the 2019 Florida United Numismatists Best-in-Show award with his exhibit titled Primitive Money from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In the introduction he discusses metal coins from the seventh century BC along with other types of money right up to his examination of primitive money in the African context. The author lived and worked in Africa in the 1970s and gained a vast knowledge of how money was used in government offices, banks and market places. This first-hand knowledge along with his study of primitive money from books made it possible to write this book.

The book is an easy read and explains some of the native reasoning for some of the primitive money. The author defines money and functions of money as he portrays it in this book. The four primary functions are, 1. medium of exchange. 2. store of value. 3. standard of value. 4. symbol of wealth.

The book of the Henry M. Stanley and his expedition in 1871 to search for the missionary explorer David Livingstone covers the many forms of money it used. The author says that most primitive money in Africa was used in the marketplace. He discusses the market day and the trials and tribulations of a shopper and what they went through to make purchases. The cost of a laying hen in the early 1900s may have been 650 cowries which would equal 14 cents in American money.

The author describes an African marriage he attended in 1976. He explains bride-price and how the value of the marriage was negotiated between the families. He mentions that domestic slaves were a commodity and were the second most important primitive money after iron.

The author discusses the value of salt which goes back eight thousand years. Slavery existed before the time of written history and slavery still exists in Mauritania, with 150,000 slaves out of a population of 3.8 million.

Primitive money can be items for farming, hunting, status symbols, bracelets, body decorations. Beauty, balance and grace are evident in many of the money items.

Tribal leaders utilized many sources to show their status with not only villagers they controlled but other tribes they encountered. How they dressed and the adornments they wore along with other contributing factors such as the size of how many villagers they controlled, location of village, size of army, wealth they possessed & displayed and lastly the royal courts they ruled.

One of the most popular primitive money was cowries. It took 4000 cowries to equal one shilling. Without slaves it was impossible to transport cowries as their weight was greater than their value. This helped bring the demise of primitive money in Africa.

In 1949 the manilla was no longer legal tender in West Africa.

Near the end of the book you will find 65 primitive money items with pictures of them and a description and area it was used. Citations give the author and page of their book.

The book retails for $22.00. It can be purchased from under the author's last name. Many other numismatic book dealers also carry the book. Mr. Zylstra will also be attending coin shows in Schaumburg, Michigan and Florida where he will have books for sale.

For more information, or to purchase, see:
Primitive Money of Africa: Tales and Details (

Archives International Sale 51 cover front

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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