Figural Gold Weight

Artist: Artist Once Known
Culture/People: Ashante/Akan
Place: Ghana, West Africa
Media: Bronze
Dims: 2.75 x 1 x .5 in. (7.6 x 2.5 x 1.3 cm)
Date: late 19th century 
RTC No. AF0138
Gift of Ralph T. Coe, 2011


This small bronze figure, carrying an object on its head, is an Asante gold weight or mrammuo. The incredible detail of this figure makes it appear larger than its actual size (only 7 x 1.5 cm). Gold weights, such as this one, often depicted Akan proverbs, which are an important part of Akan culture, in their designs.

The Asante kingdom, an Akan state, existed from roughly 1700 to 1900 in what is now Ghana. In the Asante kingdom, gold dust was used as currency, partially due to its prominence as a natural resource. To weigh the gold dust, sets of bronze gold weights were used to balance delicate scales. Sets of weights could be numerous, and weights were also handed down from one generation to the next. The skill of carefully handling gold dust was also passed down, as any gold dust that fell to the ground in a marketplace became the property of the Asante government.

Gold weights were created using either the direct casting or the lost wax casting process. An object (for direct casting) or a wax sculpture (for lost wax casting) is first covered in slip and then covered with a mixture of clay and charcoal. The clay is then heated, either incinerating (direct casting) or melting (lost wax casting) the object within. This creates a space, or mold, within the clay in the shape of the object that was encased. Bronze is then poured into the mold, and allowed to cool. The clay is chipped away, leaving a cast bronze item. The production of gold weights used for measurement largely ended in 1899, when the British outlawed the use of gold dust as currency as a way to exert power over the Asante government.

The Coe has several other gold weights in our collection. To read about an elephant gold weight and the proverb that it relates to, click here.

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