Scroll down for price list

    Copper was the "red gold" of Africa and had been both mined there and traded across the Sahara by Italian and Arab merchants. The early Portuguese explorers of the 1470s observed that copper bracelets and legbands were the principal money all along the west African coast. They were usually worn by women to display their husband's wealth. The Portuguese crown contracted with manufacturers in Antwerp and elsewhere to produce crescent rings with flared ends of wearable size which came to be called "manilla," after the Latin manus (hand) or from monilia, plural of monile (necklace).
    While copper bracelets dating prior to 1600 AD which likely had some exchange function continue to be excavated around Jenne-Jeno and related sites, we can only guess today at what prototypes may have inspired the distinctive flare-ended crescent shape. One theory is that Europeans copied a splayed-end raffia cloth bracelet worn by women, another that the well-known Yoruba Mondua with its bulbous ends inspired the manilla shape. Much closer in form to modern manillas, however, is this type, excavated at Igbo-Ukwu. In "Die sog. Geldeifen aus Benin," Der Primitivgeldsammler #28/1, p.29-35, Rolf Denk summarizes what is known about heavy, faceted pieces with enlarged ends such as this one (25cm across and 4.5cm gauge) from the Museum für Volkerkunde in Vienna, which may predate European manillas.
    Records of a contract between the Portuguese government and Erasmus Schetz of Antwerp, who supplied the Portuguese factory at Mina with as many as 150,000 manillas per year, are widely quoted. The standard in 1529 was supposedly about 240m long, about 13m gauge, weighing 600 gram. However, no examples of torque-shaped bracelets in this weight range are known today, and a wreck dated to 1524 carried manillas of typical form but only slightly flared, averaging 306 grams. Do these heavy Schetz manillas even exist today, and if so, what do they look like? Duchateau, Royal Art of Benin, page 15 shows a plaque with a European holding two pieces with barely flared ends whose apparent size could match these specifications, while page 60 illustrates five pieces of conventional form, but without scale. Then, too, the Dutch participated in the trade. Did they get their manillas from nearby Antweerp as well, or did they use something different still?
     Manillas from the 1524 wreck recently recovered from the Guetaria Bay off the Basque coast of Spain are described in detail in Der Primitivgeldsammler #26/1 p.9-12 (Manuel Artica). These brass manillas average 306gms, 103 x 87mm size, and gauge increasing from 12mm at center to 22mm at ends, giving a "flare ratio" of 1.86. The shape is thus more similar to the familiar French Popo manilla than the British, but even less pronounced in the flare. There was a falling out between the Portuguese and their supplier Schetz, with 1547 given as the date they switched their contracts to Cristoff Fugger. If correct, the Guetaria Bay finds would thus be Schetz products. The new Fugger pieces were called tacoais with different standards, of 284gm (Mina) and 241gm (Guinea), for the different trading areas.
     Four types of manillas lighter than the Guetaria Bay specimens are known. Their average weights match the Fuggers' Guinea specifications with two specimens (281, 294 grams) in the Mina range. Possibly earliest is the least flared, #937 with a modest 1.96 flare ratio and average weight of 241gm. Opitz p.213 upper left is likely this type. Other types with visibly greater end flares (#939-941) range from 226 to 294 grams, though to date few specimens have been studied. The earliest British manillas have flare ratios approaching 3.0. An African name for the more flared Guinea pieces, at least, is Mkporo. As the manilla shrank in size over the centuries, the Mkporo were promoted from everyday trade use to burial money and a standard of wealth.
    Although Gold was the primary and abiding merchandise sought by the Portuguese, by the early 16th century they were participating in the slave trade for bearers to carry manillas to Africa's interior, and gradually Manillas became the principal money of this trade. By the end of the 1500s the Portuguese had been shouldered aside by the British, French, and Dutch, all of whom had labor-intensive plantations in the West Indies, and later by the Americans whose southern states were tied to a cotton economy. A typical voyage took manillas and utilitarian brass objects such as pans and basins to West Africa, then slaves to America, and cotton back to the mills of Europe.
    Early in the 18th century Bristol, and then Birmingham, became the most significant European brass manufacturing city. It is likely that most types of brass manillas were made there, including the "middle period" Nkobnkob-Onoudu whose weight apparently decreased over time, and the still lighter "late period" types such as Okpoho and those salvaged from the Duoro wreck of 1843. Among the late period types, specimen weights overlap type distinctions suggesting contemporary manufacture rather than a progression of types. The Popos, whose weight distribution places them at the transition point between Nkobnkob and Onoudu, were also made in Nantes, France, and possibly Birmingham as well. They are wider than the Birmingham types and have a gradual, rather than sudden, flare to the ends.
     The Africans of each region had names for each variety of manilla, probably varying locally. They valued them differently, and were notoriously particular about the types they would accept. The price of a slave, expressed in manillas, varied considerably according to time, place, and the specific type of manilla offered. Internally, manillas were the first true general-purpose currency known in west Africa, being used for ordinary market purchases, bride price, payment of fines, compensation of diviners, and for the needs of the next world, as burial money. Cowrie shells, imported from Melanesia and valued at a small fraction of a manilla, were used for small purchases. In regions outside coastal west Africa and the Niger river a variety of other currencies, such as bracelets of more complex native design, iron units often derived from tools, copper rods, themselves often bent into bracelets, and the well-known Handa (Katanga cross) all served as special-purpose monies.
    As the slave trade wound down in the 19th century so did manilla production, which was already becoming unprofitable. By the 1890s their use in the export economy centered around the palm-oil trade. Although manillas were legal tender, they floated against British and French West African currencies and the palm-oil trading companies manipulated their value to advantage during the market season. Probably for this reason the British undertook a major recall dubbed "operation manilla" in 1948 to replace them with British West African currency at a rate of 3 Pence for the commonest type. The campaign was largely successful and over 32 million pieces were bought up and resold as scrap. The manilla, a lingering reminder of the slave trade, ceased to be legal tender in British West Africa on April 1, 1949.
    An unanswered question is whether "manillas" were made in Africa by native smiths during the period when European types were imported. It is hard to believe that no such attempts were made. Offered for sale below and linked to scans are obvious counterfeits, but such pieces made of lead, or underweight pieces in impure brass are rather uncommon and it is unclear where they were made. More interesting is the group of horseshoe-shaped pieces as well as gleanings from several years' worth of poring over Africa Traders' stocks, looking for pieces with flared ends within the known manilla weight range. Are they proto-manillas, early European manillas, or African-made pieces during the period of European importation which - deliberately or coincidentally - resemble the European type? All are copper, rough with verdigris indicating some age.
     Many other things are called manillas by authors and collectors. Commonly available are many distinctive regional bracelet forms of copper, brass, nickel, and iron made in Africa in the 19th-20th centuries with varying monetary functions and ranges of use. Legbands, collars, and coiled forms made of Calabar rod. Those with flared ends are often called manillas. Other flare-end forms of large size, called "King" and "Queen" manillas, are ceremonial rather than trade manillas, and from Zaire come large copper crescents in several distinctive shapes, sometimes including flared ends, which are likely forms of bullion storage (like the Katanga cross).
     I have dubbed one class of large manillas "Portuguese King and Queens," due to their size, quality, and subtly flared ends. They exist in a wide range of weights, and two levels of quality. Whether they are indeed Portuguese (or European) made, African prototypes or imitations, ceremonial or commercial, is conjectural. The profile is more ovoid than the lighter (±300 gm), Guetaria Bay commercial pieces, but degree of end flare and end-body proportions are similar, and four pieces clustering tantalizingly about the 600 gram figure suggest that they could be the as-yet unidentified earlier Schetz pieces. Larger specimens have subtly, gradually flared, well- rounded ends and smooth surfaces, suggesting a purity of metal and sophistication of manufacture. They usually bear etched designs, and have variable width gaps, but these factors could be altered post-production. Smaller pieces show slight variation in the foot flare (a-d vs. m-q) and are unadorned but are otherwise similar to larger pieces. The renowned metalsmiths of Benin were certainly capable of producing torques of this quality, but their usual work is more complex and ornate. Published specimens are Eyo p.61 and Ballarini (2009) #2.9 right & center. The pieces which I call imitations have a similar weight range. The feet are less regularly rounded and the surfaces generally rougher, suggesting poorer metal purity and casting; they nearly always bear etched designs. Exact specimen weights are here.
     For more depth on bracelet monies in general see InfoSheet 62. There is a remarkable lack of academic interest in the tangible objects of the slave trade and African monies in general. Artica's Der Primitivgeldsammler bibliography references a to-be-published article in "Gaceta Numismatica" (Barcelona) by A. Benito and M. Ibanez. "Copper to Africa: Evidence for the international trade in metal with Africa" by P. T. Craddock and D. R.. Hook, p. 181-193 of British Museum Occasional Paper 109 (1995), notes that the British Museum is beginning to keep samples of trade goods found on dateable wrecks, but so far has manillas only from the Duoro of 1843, and The Charles of 1684. The Duoro pieces are well known, and I am still hoping to find someone at the BM willing to send me photos and specs on the earlier piece. Another well-researched article, which I have yet to digest, is R. L.. Leonard's "Manillas - Money of West Africa" published by the Chicago Coin Club in 1998.


     Manilla typology is a largely unexplored subject. While trader and traveler accounts are both plentiful and specific as to names and relative values, no drawings or detailed descriptions have survived which could link these accounts to specific manilla types found today. Historians and economists emphasize patterns of trade and show no interest in the specific appearance or variations among trade goods. Collectors rely on a confusing and incomplete chart by Johansson, Nigerian Currencies, unsourced, but reproduced endlessly, including in scholarly works. When I asked Johansson in 2007 about his sources, he said he could not remember. The chart shows nine named pieces, and he cites other types by area of use, which are not shown. Distinguishing factors are thickness and the diameter and degree of flare to the ends, size / weight, and shape. I believe that there really are few discreet types, mainly an evolutionary process: from large to small, heavy to light, crude to finished; end flare subtle to exaggerated, and footprint wide and rounded to small and elongated. The proliferation of African names is probably due more to regional customs than actual manufacturing practices. My own approach has been to examine and sort thousands of pieces obtained from different places over time, and try to apply the names in Johansson's chart, where possible, to varieties as found.
     Portuguese manillas, being significantly heavier than even the early British, tend not to turn up in mixed lots. Rolf Denk agrees in assigning the three varieties shown below (#939-941) to the Portuguese, and the distinctive Guetaria type is securely dated to the Portuguese era. The French Popo manilla, with three rather subtle variations, used to be the most available type from African suppliers. About 1990 these began to dry up and the British types became common. I have probably handled 10,000+ pieces, selling mostly to wholesale and promotional markets. Groups from Africa tend to include a limited range, sometimes predominantly heavy, early types, but more often the small, compact late types exemplified by the Duoro wreck pieces.
    In March 2007 I purchased a group of 72 pieces with similar patination and soil crusting, suggesting common burial. There were 7 brass Mkporo (941); 19 Nkobnkob-round foot (945) ranging 108 - 184gm; 9 Nkobnkob-oval foot (943) ranging 148 - 206gm; and 37 Popo-square foot (988). Since the lightest Nkobnkobs in the hoard are 108 and 114gm, while they are routinely found (called Onoudu) under 80gm, this strongly suggests that the group was buried at a certain point in the size devolution of the Manilla. The weight correspondence of the oval-foot Nkobnkob with the high end of the round-foot range suggests that it is either the earlier variety, or contemporary with the earliest round-foots. Finally, the exclusive presence of the square-foot variety of French Popo, normally scarce among circulation groups of Popos, confirms that this is the earliest variety, as their more irregular feet suggests. It also dates the earliest French manillas as likely contemporaries of the earliest British pieces, and virtually rules out the possibility that this hoard was a creaming of large pieces from a later burial, as square-foots are not heavier than later Popos, nor easily distinguishable. A May, 2009 purchase of 134 heavily patinated pieces which the supplier had culled for size out of a larger group, contained only 943s and 945a's in a rough 2/3 ratio, plus three 940s and a scattering of lighter 945b's. This suggests to me that, as per Gresham's law, the heavier Portuguese types left circulation, possibly hoarded, melted, or retained for ceremonial use, when the earliest Birmingham manillas were in use. In May, 2010 I purchased a ot of 18 pieces of #937, a low-flare Fugger type.    HOARD STATISTICS
    In the listings below I designate "top" as the middle of the crescent opposite the "feet" and "gauge" as measured here.

935Late Schetz Type(?), ca. 1524   Brass, slightly flared ends, average 306gms, 103 x 87mm size, and gauge increasing from 12mm at center to 22mm at ends, giving a "flare ratio" of 1.86. Found in ship wrecks, and best studied from a 1524 wreck in Guetaria Bay, Spain. See Manuel Artica, Der Primitivgeldsammloer #26/1 p.9-12. Some specimens are rumored to have come on the market in Europe. NA
937Fugger Type: Low Flare, post 1547   Brass, slightly flared ends, average 240.8gm, 100.1 x 83.3mm size, and gauge increasing from 10.8mm at center to 21.1mm at ends, giving a "flare ratio" of 1.96. Ends irregular shape but tending to oval in up-down direction to emphasize flare. Mkporo? Known from a lot of 18 pieces found in Africa with orange soil and patchy dark-green adhesions. Earliest orders receive heaviest pieces.SOLD
939Fugger Type: Medium Flare, closed ends   Brass, Nearly closed ends. For 2 specimens: 228, 294gm, 84, 85m across x 82, 90m high x 251, 255m circumference, 11-13m top gauge, feet irregularly round to oval. Mkporo.SOLD
940Fugger Type: Medium Flare, Copper   Copper, For 3 specimens: 226, 244, 264gm, 99-100m across x 82m high x 236-238m circumference, 11-13m gauge. Feet irregularly round to oval. Slightly less flare, broader back and asymmetrical shape with thicker "ankle" on the short side distinguish these from the brass version (941). Mkporo.   Specimens SOLD
941Fugger Type: Medium Flare, Brass   Brass, For 7 specimens seen: 228-250gm, 88-98m across x 90-95m high, 10-13m gauge. Feet irregularly round. Mkporo.SOLD
943Nkobnkob-oval feet [Early Period]     Ends sharply flaring creating large feet with oval footprint. 81-85mm across by x 70 -73mm, 9-12mm gauge, 148-206gm. Essentially a Nkobnkob profile as shown in Johansson, but with more distinctive heels. Earlier than, or contemporary with earliest of round-foot Nkobnkob. Likely the earliest Birmingham Manilla.   SPECIAL: take 943 + 945A @ $55.0035.00
945ANkobnkob     Ends sharply flaring producing roughly rounded but asymmetrical footprint. 75-76m across by 77-85m, 11m gauge, 160-225 grams. Nkobnkob are often found roughly cast with flashing at the seams, as these examples. Likely the earliest Birmingham Manilla.   SPECIAL: take 943 + 945A @ $55.0035.00
Flashing SetNkobnkob     Three pieces as shown in this scan (943 & 945) with casting flash or a stongly offset seam on the foot. Casting flashing is not unusual, but these are extreme examples. Many specimens are found filed smooth.90.00
945B    —  [Middle Period]    Smaller specimens, 9-11m gauge, 68-71m across by 73-78m high, 130-160gm 25.00
946Onoudu    Similar to Nkobnkob, but smaller, 65-71mm across by 72-75mm, under 80-120gm, 8-9m gauge, often showing casting seam. Large, broad footprint ranges 23-26mm across. Specimens offered are 100gm and up.13.50
946F    —    Distinctive variant. with a broader back, rather than crescent shape. Same size & weight range.13.50
948Okpoho [Late Period]    Smaller than earlier types, foot significantly smaller and more symmetrical teardrop shape, no seam. 57-68mm across by 59-64mm, 8-9m gauge, 65-85gm (most 70-80); footprint 19-20mm across. A later time period than the Nkobnkob & Onoudu types. Commonest Manilla variety. 12.50
950Ejema?    Footprint more rounded. 59-65mm across by 59-65mm, 8m gauge, 60-90gm (most 65-75); footprint 18-19mm across.13.50
969"Duoro type"    Late type with more compact form: thick back and feet more pulled together Dateable to 1843. Foot is a rounded oval, almost circular. Side view of foot is thick. Two specimens from the wreck are 8-9m gauge, 57-58m across by 54-55m across, 71.29 & 71.35gm with corrosion and patination different from circulation manillas. Specimen SIMILAR to Duoro, but not from the wreck:N/A
970Atoni?    "Elephant foot:" foot is rounded oval, slightly pointed at bottom; side view of foot is thick, especially at bottom. 53.5-59.5m across by 56-60mm, 77-88gm, some heavier, 7-10m gauge . 9.50
971Unknown name    Foot is narrower with only a slight bulge at top. Foot profile is thick but not flared at top. Similar dimensions, 70-81gm. 10.00
972Okombo?    Foot is narrower still, almost a symmetrical oval. Foot profile is thick with a large bulge at top. Similar dimensions. 59-71gm. 10.00
975Late Manilla    Thin-profile foot with sharply pointed teardrop footprint. Sharp ridge behind foot. 7-8m gauge, 52-56 across by 58-60mm, 54-66gm (most 54-60).16.50
965LLead Manilla, general type of 970-972 late Manillas with good shape but prominent seam on foot. Counterfeits?? Scarce.17.50
965xCounterfeit Manilla?   Low weight (41-54gm) with deteriorated metal suggesting high lead content. Not too common. (3 pcs. $15)6.50
965dDamaged Manillas   Mixed types, but mostly early and middle period British with heavy corrosion, usualy feet are chipped or splitting. Per 10 Manillas:29.50
965bBroken Manillas   Mixed types, but mostly early and middle period British. These have broken roughly in half. Per 20 half-pieces.15.00
988Popo-Square end    Squarish, often convex ends; nearly seamless body. Much evidence of post-cast filing on both ends and body. 102-160gm, 134gm avg. Slightly cruder than round-end type; presence in hoard of early British types suggests this is the earliest French variety.22.50
992Popo-Round end    Smaller, irregularly-roundish or heart-shaped ends. Often with prominent seam on end and body. 79-85x70-72mm, 9.5 -11mm gauge, 95-159gm, 131.4gm avg. SOLD
994Popo - Rim end    Similar but less evidence of seams or filing with a slight raised rim around the foot. Possibly a late variety using more advanced casting technique.SOLD
996SBasic Set:    Early and Late British, and French (946, 970/71/72, 992/94) 3 pieces    32.95
997SBasic British Set:    Early, middle, and late period examples (945b, 946, 970/71/72) 3 pieces    39.95
997TExpanded British Set:    Most of the types above, covering all periods: (943 or 945a, 946, 946F, 948, 950, 970, 971, 972, 975 plus miscast piece) 10 pieces    115.00
995SFrench Set   : All three varieties, probably representing different periods of manufacture: (988, 992, 994) 3 pieces    SOLD
996TComprehensive Set:    All of the types above (except lead & Duoro) plus a miscast piece and broken fragment to show cross section. (British: 943, 945a, 946, 946F, 948, 950, 970, 971, 972, 975 plus miscast & broken pieces, Fench: 988, 992, 994) 14+ pieces 195.00
996vGrand Set:    Comprehensive Set as above, plus a large copper bullion Manilla which I call the "working Queen" 260.00
Bulk Quantities    I can supply unsorted quantities of British manillas per 10, 50, 100, etc. Please Inquire.
910fRounded shape with closed gap, sharp flares   60 oz, 72 oz, 115, 130mm across (for 2 specimens)SOLD
930a"Horseshoe" Manilla   NIGERIA, unpublished?, My made-up name for 9 intriguing pieces found in the stock of an African trader specializing in metal objects, along with many bracelet pieces of usual types. They are heavily corroded brass, suggesting significant age. The flared ends resemble ordinary trade manillas and the weight range places them with the early- mid period British Nkobnkob manilla type. My guess is an African-made "imitation" of European manillas, or could they be the "Dutch" manilla?. Width 85-95mm, Weights 118 (missing end), 130, 157, 160gm30.00
930b"Horseshoe" Manilla   Weights 173, 187, 195, 200gm35.00
Used throughout west and central Africa, the large King and Queen Manillas are offered HERE

WEBSITE DIRECTORY    | | |    INDEX OF ARTICLES    | | |    Ethnographic Money For Sale    | | |    Ceremonial Manillas