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Money and Trade

Objects of Value
Africa, Ibo<br><i>Currency</i>, 20th century<br>Copper<br>Minneapolis Institute of Arts<br>The Christina N. and Swan J. Turnblad Memorial Fund
zoom Africa, Ibo
Currency, 20th century
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The Christina N. and Swan J. Turnblad Memorial Fund


Throughout Africa’s history, items such as shells, beads, salt, cloth, gold and metal jewelry, weapons, and tools were used as currency in trade. Because many diverse cultures populated the vast expanse of Africa, people needed to agree on consistent values for currency objects. This meant currency had to be made from materials prized by all, and commonly accepted in trade. Additionally, careful craftsmanship and thoughtful artistry could increase the value of the currency objects.

While smaller objects, such as shells and beads, were used to carry out necessary everyday purchases and changed hands often, larger objects, like this copper currency bracelet from Nigeria, were reserved for more significant transactions. Special occasions and important life events such as a birth, death, or marriage involved the exchange of wealth.

Currency in the form of jewelry was prized because it could be worn as a symbol of status, representing the wealth of a family. It was valued not only for its material worth but also for the quality of its design. Every piece of currency created by a metal worker was unique and demonstrated the skill and craftsmanship of its maker. Jewelry was often custom fit to the wearer’s body. Although these objects are no longer traded as currency, they continue to be valued today for their substance and beauty.

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1. This heavy currency bracelet is made up of carefully twisted copper bands.
2. Currency bracelets vary in size and value.
Africa, Ibo, Currency, 20th century, Copper, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The Christina N. and Swan J. Turnblad Memorial Fund
3. Bracelets and anklets were a convenient way to store and transport wealth.
Africa, Kaba, Currency, date unknown, Bronze, copper, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Gift of Ousman Kabba


February 2008