Coins on a Palestinian saffeh

Jewellery is often regarded as an extra investment and savings account. When a family has money to spare, it is often used to buy jewellery. In countries where inflation and economical crises occur regularly, it is more wise to invest in jewellery that can be sold when needed, than to keep money in a bank account where it might well lose its value over time. On the other hand, when the family needs money, jewellery is sold. The jewellery of a woman is sometimes described as the family only wealth. During my research for Desert Silver, I have collected prices as they were mentioned in several traveler’s descriptions of their journeys into the Middle East, and compared them to the amounts of jewellery given to a woman on her wedding day. It appeared that the family’s real capital is not in jewellery, but in cattle and land. The jewellery of a woman however formed her own capital and personal savings account.

The largest amount of jewellery is collected at the occasion of a woman’s wedding. The dowry is pivotal to the marriage negotiations between two families and reflects the status of a woman as bride and wife. The jewellery gift a woman receives is hers to keep, as is stated in the Qur’an. The amount of jewellery acquired at marriage can be increased upon the birth of a child or other festive occasions. This jewellery as well belongs only to the woman, who can sell it at will.

One of the aspects of my research into jewelry is the wider economical landscape that can be reconstructed using coins that are used in jewelry. In addition to the most coveted coins such as the Maria Theresia Thaler and the pillar dollar, that appear virtually everywhere, many other coins are used on jewelry and costume. Upon a closer look, these coins reveal a lot about the trade contacts between groups. By comparing the reach of the exchange of currency and thus establishing the existence and intensity of contact more firmly, also other cultural exhanges can be traced and sometimes explained.