Every summer millions travel to the beaches around the world. Some to relax in the sun, others for the adventure of battling a large game fish swimming just off shore. Still the one, almost universal activity which each and every beachcomber does while walking alone the shoreline is hunt seashells.
Each morning, just at sun rise, no matter which beach your on, or in what part of the world, your sure to meet another Treasure Hunter meandering along searching for their trip’s souvenir.
It has been said that life itself came from the oceans, that mankind is a child from the very shorelines so many flock to each year. Whether this is true or not is a debate which will be carried on into eternity, yet there is one truth that can never be debated, Man has had a fascination with the sea and it’s seashell’s throughout time.
Due to the use of seashells for religious ceremonies and personal decoration, the Seashell’s use as currency has been discovered on every continent dating back into prehistoric times. Some so popularly used that even today their name hints to their past.
And the wide use of seashells does not lend itself only to currency. Spiritually, the use of seashells in religion spans the globe. The Scallop Shell, also known as the Pilgrim Shell, came to symbolize Saint James in Christianity for the custom of Medieval Christians wearing the shell on pilgrimages the apostle’s shrine at Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. While the Shankha shell, also known as a Conch Shell is important to both Hinduism and Buddhism. Similar to the Greek God Triton, these religions use the Shankha as a trumpet bellowing out during their religious ceremonies, especially blessed is the person of Hindu faith which finds a Conch shell with a left handed twist.
When it comes to personal decorations, we know that this has been carried on for at least 2600 years. There are documented cases of whole shell necklaces made by Tasmanian Aboriginal women during this time, along with Shell necklaces found in Stone Age graves as far inland as the Dordogne Valley of France. The use of seashells in custom jewelry continues on into the present day. Craftsmen around the world adorn fine jewelry with seashells and inlays of fine Abalone. Below is just a few examples of the craftsmanship you can find on Etsy.
Moving on into the late 19th century, Seashell Art entered into a new era. Traveling Sea Merchants and Sailors needed gifts to return home with. In a play on the shellwork artifacts made by the Aboriginal women of Sydney, New South Wales, the Sailor’s Valentine was born. A small jewelry box, normally octagon shaped and adorned with small seashells. Often these boxes featured heart-shaped designs, or included a sentimental expression of love spelled out in shells.
These sentiments of love, along with other forms of Seashell Art have been carried on ever since. Below is a few examples of Seashell Art which my family picked up on our trips to the coast during the 1960s and 1970’s.