Before the gold standard

Cowry shell were used as currency on both the Western and Eastern coasts of Africa for centuries. They originated in Africa and were used for trade with India, Asia, and Europe during the colonial era. The value of a cowry shell is determined by the size of the shell itself, meaning that bigger shells represent a larger value or currency.
Manillas were crafted of metal, usually a combination of metals that can be used to trace their origin in various locations in Europe and Africa. They were primarily used by Europeans to trade with West Africa in exchange for goods, including slaves. Manillas were manufactured until 1894 as they had become too expensive to produce. They were still actively used as currency until 1948 when they were withdrawn from the economy and government buy-back programs exchanged them modem currency.
Both the cowry shells and manillas were frequently used in jewelry as well as for decorating or creating cultural objects.
Download pdf
Abstract/Description: Cowry shell were used as currency on both the Western and Eastern coasts of Africa for centuries. They originated in Africa and were used for trade with India, Asia, and Europe during the colonial era. The value of a cowry shell is determined by the size of the shell itself, meaning that bigger shells represent a larger value or currency. Manillas were crafted of metal, usually a combination of metals that can be used to trace their origin in various locations in Europe and Africa. They were primarily used by Europeans to trade with West Africa in exchange for goods, including slaves. Manillas were manufactured until 1894 as they had become too expensive to produce. They were still actively used as currency until 1948 when they were withdrawn from the economy and government buy-back programs exchanged them modem currency. Both the cowry shells and manillas were frequently used in jewelry as well as for decorating or creating cultural objects.
Subject(s): Colonial era
Undergraduate Research
West Africa
Currency