The Mike and Lynn Noel Africana Collection overview photo

The Mike and Lynn Noel Africana Collection

  • Duration:Temporary
  • Location:Whitten Featured Object Case

(date) 9/15/2015–1/3/2016

Mike and Lynn Noel began their lifelong interest in African art and culture in 1966, serving as members of the Peace Corps Teachers for West Africa program in Ghana.

One of the many types of objects the Noels collected is currency. Traditional African currency comes in many shapes and sizes. Shells, beads, metal, salt, and textiles have all been used as methods of transaction. These were not barter items; each type of object had a recognized value level. Despite earlier efforts to introduce European coinage and paper currency, local currency remained in active use across African nations into the 1940s.

Many of the materials used as currency had origins in Europe and Asia but traveled along trade routes to the east and west coasts of Africa. Trade beads (left/right case, top shelf) were crafted locally or imported from Venice and India. In some instances, the imported beads were melted and redesigned by local artisans. Metals like copper and iron brought from England were traded as bars or shaped into objects such as bracelets, swords, or spears. Raffia cloth could be exchanged in individual sheets or stitched together and worn to show an individual’s wealth and status. The conus shell pendants (2013.05.1761, 2013.05.1762) were cut from a shell found in the Indian Ocean.