Although often identified with the Asante, the most numerous and best known of the Akan peoples, weights for measuring gold dust were made and used throughout Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire. For more than five centuries, from about 1400 to 1900, Akan smiths cast weights of immense diversity. Their small size made them portable and easy to trade. Each weight was cast individually in the lost-wax method. What resulted was a unique piece, but one that had to be a specific weight to function. The shape or figure of a weight did not correspond to a set unit of measure: a porcupine in one set could equal an antelope in another, or a geometric form in a third. For important transactions, gold dust was placed on one side of a small, handheld balance scale, a weight on the other. Each party to the dealing verified the amount of gold dust using his or her own weights.
Visually, weights fall into two distinct categories: geometric and figurative. Stylistically they are divided into early (c. 1400-1700) and late (c. 1700-1900) periods. Although geometric weights were made in the late period, figurative weights increased in both number and variety. Generally late-period figurative weights have added details and textures beyond the basic form that would identify the subject. This object is an early-period figurative weight. These weights are relatively simple, with any decoration being large in scale and undetailed.
Figurative weight in the form of a flat fish with raised sun motif on its side.
Mr. and Mrs. Eric de Kolb, New York, before 1970
Bevill, Bresler, & Schulman, Newark, New Jersey, -- to 1975
Slavery and Freedom, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., September 24, 2016 (ongoing)
Elmina: Art and Trade on the West African Coast, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., October 10, 1992-May 2, 1993
History, Context, Materials: Selections from the Permanent Collection of the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 12, 1985-January 5, 1986
Geary, Christraud M. and Andrea Nicolls. 1992. Elmina: Art and Trade on the West African Coast. Exhibition booklet. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 11.
University of Notre Dame Art Gallery. 1970. Ashanti Goldweights and Senufo Bronzes: Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Eric de Kolb. Notre Dame, no. 232.