Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities

Materiality

Artefacts

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Glass beads

During the early modern period, glass beads were not only used as jewellery, but also as a currency. Gaining sad notoriety, these trade beads played a particularly crucial role in the West African slave trade as a payment method. Today, when we admire the beauty, the colourfulness, the joyful designs of these precious artefacts, we should be aware that during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, millions of such beads were shipped in barrels from Europe to Africa as part and in support of the triangular slave trade. The bead necklaces in the picture were found in 2017 by our Dutch colleagues in letters coming from Elmina castle, the headquarters of the Dutch slave forts in West Africa, addressed to relatives and famous merchant houses in the beads trade in Amsterdam, a centre of bead making. These beads were to serve as samples for the merchants of future shipments. The artefacts have survived in astonishing condition. Sheltered for centuries in closed letters, they look good as new, which, given the historical background of these beads, leaves the viewers both amazed and deeply moved. After the materiality shots and digital images of these artefacts and the corresponding letters were produced by our imaging operators, they have now been transferred to the TNA safe rooms. TNA, HCA 32/996

Learn more about the ship on which the letters were found

Learn more about Materiality Shots here

Read more about these artefacts in Erik van der Doe's article "Small hidden treasures in the Prize Papers: Beads and gold rings from West Africa", Magazine of the Friends of The National Archives, November 2019, Vol. 30, No. 2.

Pencils and seals

Due to the circumstances of capture, it is also not uncommon that even original pencils have survived, tied to books or inserted in them. In some instances, even letters have been inserted into the books. Here we can see a small notebook with a pencil found on board the ship Azie. As part of this court bundle, many official seals also survived. TNA, HCA 30/652

For more information see here.

Playing cards

Playing cards were a common item on board early modern ships. In the Prize Papers, we frequently encounter such cards or even cards sets. However, as their appearance shows, these cards apparently were not only used for gambling purposes but were also used for orders, memos, scribbling, calculations, as business cards, invoices, or other credit documents. In the example we can see a set of twelve playing cards showing different names and merchant notations written on them, symbols marking different parts of the cargo on the ships owned by different people. Since we know that these cards were found on a smuggling vessel, we can assume that they served as a kind of unofficial bill of lading for the brandy loaded on the ship. TNA, HCA 32/139/27

The cards can be found here.

Learn more about Brandy smuggling here.