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african money

Old Money: Currency forms of sub-Saharan Africa at Hurst Gallery

Hurst Gallery

53 Mount Auburn Street, Cambridge, MA 02138  

(617) 491-6888 managerAThurstgallery.com

Norman Hurst: Owner, Dealer, and Director
Mary Fichtner: Gallery Manager

February 24 – April 6, 2007

Indigenous African currencies were both aesthetic and functional.  Composed of metal, shell, beads, cloth, and even salt, regional currency forms varied widely.  In its latest exhibition, Hurst Gallery offers a comprehensive collection of African currency with forms as varied as the horseshoe boloko of the Nkutshu peoples and the spear-like doa currency of the Topoke peoples of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Old Money represents both the functional and abstract forms characteristic of traditional African monies.  Certain currency forms—such as spearheads, hoes, knives, or jewelry—had real commodity value, and thus derived their worth from the implements they represented.  These utilitarian forms of currency are juxtaposed with a selection of abstracted, elaborated shapes, most of which are based on the functional prototypes mentioned above.  The largest, least portable objects (such as the Katanga crosses of the Luba peoples or the twisted bronze "snake manila" of the Igbo) were often restricted to "big business" transactions, including the payment of fines and bride-prices.  

Still other currency forms represented in the exhibition were specially shaped for use as media of exchange without reference to any commodity parity or prototype.  The famous Kissi pennies of Sierra Leone, for example, were used in the marketplace for the purchase of everyday goods.  Their function and use most resembles that of the colonial period, with its European systems of coinage and notes.  

Additionally, the exhibition includes traditional prestige objects and those of symbolic value. There are several purses and pouches, in which some form off currency would have been transported.  Also represented are weapon forms and symbolic power emblems, speaking to the flexible concept of currency in traditional African societies.

Because iron and copper alloy were valued significantly less in Europe, European economic influence in sub-Saharan Africa during the nineteenth century brought about rapid change in the use and acceptance of these traditional forms of currency.  In some cases, native currencies were retained for ritual and ceremonial exchange, but most of the indigenous forms quickly fell out of use.

The currency forms offered in Old Money pay tribute to the creative energy and inspiration of the tribal blacksmith.  Hurst Gallery hopes that visitors to the exhibition will also find the objects moving and beautiful in their own right.  Old Money seeks to illuminate for the viewer the past function of these currencies, while emphasizing their lasting elegance and beauty.  

View thumbnails of the exhibition:

The following are representative examples of the types of currencies featured in “Old Money.” In many cases, there are several available examples for each type represented here. Please contact the gallery for more information.

Dimensions are approximate. For space considerations, the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) has been abbreviated to “DRC.”

(Click on photo to see a larger image of the object)

Hoe currency11. Hoe currency, “kundja”
Ngelima or Mongo peoples, DRC
Iron
Height circa 40 inches
$850 – $950
Gong currency12. Gong currency, "gunga"
Nkutshu/Jonga peoples, DRC
Iron
Height 21 inches
$1200
Gong currency13. Gong currency, "gunga"
Probably Igbo peoples, Nigeria
Iron
Height 12 inches
$650
Sickle currency14. Sickle currency
Mumuye peoples, Nigeria
Iron
Height 13.5 – 18 inches
$500 – $850
1Abstract openwork currency5. Abstract openwork currency
Azande peoples, DRC
Copper
Height 15 – 16 inches
$1300
Cross currency16. Cross currency, "mnamu ya biombo" (Katanga cross)
Luba peoples, DRC
Copper alloy
Height 9.5 inches
$800 – $850
H-form currency17. “H”-form currency
Luba peoples, DRC
Copper alloy
Length circa 3 inches
$450
Bar currency18. Bar currency
Ngombe, DRC
Copper alloy
Height 19 – 22 inches
$950
Conus shell currency19. Conus shell currency
Lunda, Luba, or Tabwa peoples, Democratic Republic of Congo/Zambia
Diameter 2.6 inches
$175
Spiral bow currency
20. Spiral bow currency
Matakam (Kirdi), Cameroon
Iron
Height circa 8 inches
SOLD


The following are representative examples of the types of currencies featured in “Old Money.” In many cases, there are several available examples for each type represented here. Please contact the gallery for more information.

Dimensions are approximate. For space considerations, the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) has been abbreviated to “DRC.”

Old Money: Currency forms of sub-Saharan Africa

February 24 – April 6, 200

The following are representative examples of the types of currencies featured in “Old Money.” In many cases, there are several available examples for each type represented here. Please contact the gallery for more information.

Dimensions are approximate. For space considerations, the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) has been abbreviated to “DRC.”

(Click on photo to see a larger image of the object)

Bell currency
21. Bell currency
Yoruba, Nigeria
Iron
Height 12.6 inches
$1,500
Bead currency22. Bead currency, ”nzimbu“
Congo River basin, DRC
Glass
Length 43 inches
$400
Kissi pennies23. Kissi pennies
Kissi; Sierra Leone, Sierra Leone, Guinea
Iron
Length circa 12 inches
$600 for lot
Purse24. Purse
Fingo peoples, Republic of South Africa, Eastern Cape
Leather and metal
Length 35 inches
$650
Purse25. Purse
Fingo peoples, Republic of South Africa, Eastern Cape
Leather, metal, bicycle reflector
Length 34 inches
$650
Purse26. Purse
Kuba peoples, DRC
Glass beads, cloth, fiber
Length 24 inches
$1,500
Scepter27. Scepter
Konda peoples, DRC
Iron
Height 11 inches
$900
Ceremonial staff28. Ceremonial staff
Asante peoples, Ghana
Iron
Height 47 inches
$1,750
 

Bibliography

Old Money: Currency forms of sub-Saharan Africa

Ballarini, Roberto. Armi Bianche Dell’Africa Nera (Black Africa’s Traditional Arms). Milano: Africa Curio, 1992.
Horstmann, Udo. Other People’s Money: Money in Africa, ex. cat. Zug, Switzerland: The Huberte Goote Gallery, 1995.
Johansson, Sven-Olof. Nigerian Currencies: Manilla, cowries and others. 2nd edition, trans. Jim Learmonth. Sweden: Alfa-Truck, 1967.
M.J. Herskovits, The Economic Life of Primitive Peoples.Journal of the Royal African Society, Vol. 40, No. 159 (Apr., 1941), pp. 188-189.
Opitz, Charles J. Odd and Curious Money: Descriptions and values, 2nd edition. Oscala, FL: First Impressions Printing, 1991.
Quiggin, A. Hingston. A Survey of Primitive Money: the Beginnings of Currency. London: Methuenn & Co, Ltd, 1979.
Westerdijk, Peter and Joan Rosacsco, ed. Symbols of Wealth: Abstractions in African Metalwork , ex. cat.Michael Wrad, Inc, New York, 1988
Wieschhoff, H.A. Primitive Money, University Museum Bulletin (Vol 11, No. 3), Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania, Dec. 1945.
The Neil Kent Becker Collection of Primitive Money. Auction Cat. New York: Christie’s East, Saturday, February 7, 1981 (sale no. 153).
 

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