Inventory no.: 1081

West African ganets


Two Polyhedral Garnet Weights

West Africa

19th century

weights: 174g and 127g; diameters: approximately 5cm and 4cm

Each of these stones is a single, naturally occurring crystal; their polyhedral shape being one of the natural states in which garnet crystals are found. (The word ‘garnet’ comes from the Latin ‘granatum’ meaning seed-like for the resemblance to pomegranate seeds.) Both have a great deal of patina from handling, consistent with their probably use as game counters or perhaps personal weights.

Personal weights were used in Ghana and elsewhere in West Africa. Principally, small weights were used to weigh gold dust which became the currency used to settle everyday transactions. Each party to any transaction would typically use their own weights. The negotiating process not only would include the cost in gold dust of the items being transacted over but also a comparison of weights, debate over the scales used and the purity of the gold dust (gold often was adulterated with brass filings). Even transactions as rudimentary as buying vegetables in a street market necessitated this process.

Gold weights were cast in brass or bronze but also were fashioned from other materials. Dried berries also sufficed as gold weights. They were used by the Akan who occupy a large part of West Africa including parts of Ghana and the Ivory Coast and include many sub-ethnic groups such as the Baule and the Asante. Gold became an important commodity which gave rise to Ghana’s old colonial name of the Gold Coast. The region was known as the Gulf of Guinea and in England, a gold coin worth twenty-one shillings became known as a guinea (Philiips, 2010).


Phillips, T., African Goldweights: Miniature Sculptures from Ghana 1400-1900, Edition Hansjorg Mayer, 2010.

Inventory no.: 1081