More than seventy-five Genuine bronze Manilla slave bracelets used in the slave trade in the 1700s, used as money to purchase slaves. It would take 2 to 15 of these bracelets to purchase a healthy male, depending upon the supply and where he was sold. The bracelet depicted was salvaged from a sunken slave ship. It is about 2 1/4" wide, 3 oz.
BACKGROUND: Copper was the "red gold" of Africa and had been both mined there and traded across the Sahara by Italian and Arab merchants. Size is 3.25" in diameter. The early Portuguese explorers of the 1470s observed that copper bracelets and leg bands 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 they called "manilla," after the Latin manus (hand) or from monilia, plural of monile (necklace). 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. By the 1780s traders had discovered a growing preference among African slavers for brass over copper, and manillas of varying size with subtle differences in thickness and end-flare were being made principally in Birmingham, a major brass-working center, though the French probably cast theirs in Nantes. The Africans had names for each variety of manilla, 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.