Iron currency, 1900-1950



Gift of funds from Beverly Grossmanexpand_more  2019.44.8

This elegant iron comes from Gabon, where the Kwele peoples used it as currency, especially to compensate the bride’s family in marriage transactions. Interestingly, the two oval appendages could be taken off as single pieces and spent as a fraction of the entire object.

The design of this currency appears to be inspired by the European ship’s anchor. Beginning in the late 1400s, first the Portuguese, then the Dutch, French, Spanish, and English landed on Gabon’s shores to buy ivory, hardwoods, and, increasingly, enslaved people. With their seemingly endless supplies of cloth, firearms, and alcoholic beverages, these ships were perceived as imbued with power, wealth, and prestige. One can imagine that anchors carried special associations that made them fit to be adapted to local currency.

Iron currency
Accession Number
Curator Approved

This record has been reviewed by our curatorial staff but may be incomplete. These records are frequently revised and enhanced. If you notice a mistake or have additional information about this object, please email

Does something look wrong with this image? Let us know

Zoom in on the left to the detail you'd like to save. Click 'Save detail' and wait until the image updates. Right click the image to 'save image as' or copy link, or click the image to open in a new tab.

No Image Available