Collectors are often, and rightly, concerned about the age and authenticity of the pieces they buy and study. Ethnographic monies, however, often served purposes other than monetary - such as adornment or ritual - both during their main periods of use, and afterwards. In Africa, blacksmithing certainly did not die out as iron money forms fell from use as currency. Recently I have seen a number of iron (and other) money-form pieces which are similar to known types, but more ornate or with novel features. As a class, they show little or no wear or imperfection, superficial rather than deep rust, and occasionally incorporate known forms of evident age through welding. None seem to be published in academic or gallery works earlier than the 21st century, though some are claimed to have been collected in the 1980s. They are quite attractive and will certainly appeal to lovers of African metal art. According to an Africanist who has travelled widely in Nigeria, these likely come from the Mandara Mountains on the Cameroun / Nigeria border region - perhaps a single maker or a village. Below I first illustrate a number of these pieces which were offered to me by a London-based trader in 2011, though I have not seen similar pieces with American traders until 2015, and they are becoming more common. I have included photos of "Mumuye torch" and collars, Vere knives, and spiral objects which were offered by the same source, and similarly lack exact published prototypes, as well as gigantic copper collar forms first seen 2019.
Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths, published in conjunction with a UCLA fowler Museum exhibit and co-edited by Tom Joyce, a respected collector and blacksmith, includes a small number of these suspect objects, all with similar patina and no sign of wear, but attributed to various tribal groups as "mid 20th century." While many ritual objects are shown in-use, these are not. There are many photos of both functional and ceremonial iron objects being made and offered in native markets, including double gongs whose rusted ancestors are often sold as currency objects. Overall it is an amazing book on the subject explaining and illustrating many legitimate currency objects.
Manform Throwing Knives These appear to be invented forms. They do not really match anything in Felix's Kipinga. Note the similarity in etchings among these various types. None of these pieces have imperfections, nor deep rust, nor any signs of wear. I have bought a few pieces for stock, as they are reasonably priced if only as art objects. Striking Iron pp.331, 333, 336 shows typical pieces as ritual or ceremonial staffs of the Ga'anda peoples, Nigeria, "mid 20th century." The best documented piece(p.333) is described as (maker) Jinus Sawa, "active mid to late 20th century . . .gift of Dr. Marla C. Burns, Provenance: field collected . . . 1981.". Kipinga-type Throwing Knives These two pieces are deeply rusted, but the edges are squared rather than tapered, and have a sharp feeling, showing no wear or use. Alone they are deceptive, but comparing them to worn specimens of more conventional shape they stand out. I suspect they were cut out of some old sheet iron. Closeup of one piece
Vere Knives (?) Nicely made, but the iron shows only the most superficial of rust. These are copies of a known form (Striking Iron p.339 shows natural wear?) but are not currency items.
"Mumuye Torch" I am suspicious of this type of object altogether. I have handled two pieces previously and continue to offer them, but perhaps they are a pure invention? Bartolomucci's African Currency, p. 45, notes a specimen as "Gathered on site in eastern Nigeria in the Eighties." Striking Iron p.92, 2 examples.
Spiral Objects The spirals appear identical from piece to piece. The bottom specimen incorporates a common noisemaker anklet of obvious age, though the rest of the piece looks new.
Mumuye Collars Are these also pure inventions? Can such amazing objects have escaped the notice of travelers and scholars until now? Some of the specimens I have handled had end pieces with arrows, twists, sockets and the like (one damaged) found on Idoma or "Lobi snakes", but these could be welded to modern-made collars.
Off-Metal Katanga Crosses Riffing on the large Ingombe-Ilede types, these are of similar size but thicker and less broad, one type with a raised rims meeting in a square at center. There are no signs of wear and they are brass, no doubt ingots from the lesser-known 16th c. Katanga brass mines 😛. Another version has rounded arms and apparently comes in brass and some silver(?) metal. Photo links:
Teke Collars Flat, machicolated complexly incised brass rings worn by chiefs, and status objects rather than currencies (Opitz, 2000, pp. 115-16, 343). I am seeing photos of well-preserved specimens in quantity, but have not examined any closely.
HUGE Bracelet Forms Loose copies of known bracelet forms, but the size of watermelons and so heavy they are difficult to carry. They have no real patinas, but could be treated to look antique and legitimately sold as decor objects. I first saw these 11/2019. Note the shoe in the Mondua copy; the piece is about 3x a normal Mondua. Photo links:
Congo Knives From Austria! Manfred Zirngibl, collector and co-author of works on Congo knives such as Panga ni Visu and Afrikanische Waffen has been outed for commissioning and marketing to collectors and museums many too-amazing-to-be-true specimens, which were in fact created by Austrian blacksmith Tilman Hebeisen, who believed they were being sold as reproductions. Other tribal art dealers subsequently tapped this blacksmith's talents, and his products became so popular with duped collectors worldwide that African blacksmiths have begun imitating inauthentic types! Ethan Rider, co-author of this expose, has published short articles on other high-quality forgeries and fantasies of throwing knives and Congo status blades.