Monday, December 06, 2010

One thousand, four hundred and fifty snail shells

We spent Sunday afternoon at a pre-Christmas antique fair. This particular fair is always billed as "Retro Design and Antiques". I'm not sure what that means, but what we find is a hodge-podge of antiques and old "stuff". This time, Laurie bought Japanese porcelain and some jade, as usual, and a tiny amber teapot, with insects embedded in the amber.

I bought a couple of old boxes, not antiques, fairly cheap.

I often see boxes and plaques decorated with flowers and leaves formed out of tiny shells, mostly pink and yellow macoma clams. I skip those; they remind me of the handcrafts we always did at summer camp, a perennial source of frustration for me; I never was good at following someone else's pattern.

This box is covered in glued-on shells, but it's different. It celebrates the shells themselves, instead of trying to make them into flowers.

1,450 snail shells on a 6x4.5 inch box.
 Front, back, sides and top are decorated with only snail shells. They all seem to be the same species*; same size (6-7 mm), same number of whorls, same shape of opening. But the colours and patterns vary considerably.

Browns, pinks, greys, black and red. Rays, dots, and stripes.

Detail of top.

A red and black striped snail shell.
 I have no idea where these snails were collected; the box is home-made, and has no label or other markings. Could be anywhere in the world; one of those curios that travellers brought home as souvenirs or gifts. No matter; I'm going to just enjoy examining them, all 1,450 individual critter houses, one by one.

Looking from the Richmond flats, over Vancouver, to the North Shore mountains. Just a hint of snow, so far.
On the way back, the sun shone so warmly that I had to turn off the car heater. I took this photo as I drove, holding the camera one-handed on my shoulder. A perfect ending to a happy day.

*UPDATE: Snail, in the comments, identifies them as Umbonium. (Compare these photos.)


  1. Somebody knew what they were doing when they made this box. I like its simplicity and the lovely way different coloured shells punctuate the whole! Lovely and a super find!!

    It was so nice to see the Richmond flats this morning...I miss them!

  2. I want one of those!

    Interestingly - and only very tangentially - scientists can use snail shells to date prehistoric landscape features. One so called pre-historic chalk hill carving in the UK was shown to be only a 800 years old by digging up the debris and finding it included snail shells of species that were only introduced after about 1200 AD

    So more to shells than we might think

  3. Such a beautiful variety, I had no idea

  4. The shells look as though they might be Umbonium. (I am prepared to be wildly wrong!)

  5. Snail; Thanks, that looks right. I just looked at a hundred or so photos of Umbonium; the ones with locations attached were from the South Pacific shores. I wonder what the history of my box is.


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