Africa, the arrival of Europeans and the transatlantic slave trade

Coin scales

Designed by Anthony Wilkinson, made by R Brown, Prescot, about 1817
Wood and brass

Object number 1973.65.18

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Coin scales

Gold was one of the natural resources which drew European traders to west Africa from the 1400s. The coastal part of modern Ghana was known as the Gold Coast as rivers washed loose gold deposits down to the coast. British traders established a settlement on the Gold Coast in 1618 and began to trade in both gold and slaves. The gold was used for jewellery and coinage.

Folding coin scales were designed to be carried in the pocket to check a coin’s worth before accepting it. Only coins of the correct weight were worth their face value. Coins would become underweight through wear or the clipping of edges for re-use in counterfeits, particularly common when coins were in short supply. This set was used to weigh sovereigns and half-sovereigns, but some could weigh up to a guinea. Sovereigns were re-introduced in 1817 after an absence of over two centuries.

The coin to be weighed would be placed in one pan and the appropriate coin weight in the other. A genuine coin was shown by a level balance arm on the scales; the balance arm would be uneven if the coin had been worn or shaved.

This information was provided by curators at the Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI).