Seashells are objects of great natural beauty and have often been used decoratively.
The Victorians and Edwardians formed them into mosaics and life-sized bouquets
and also embellished boxes and picture frames with them.
Seashells have been used to decorate objects since at least
3000BC, when a
magnificent harp was embellished with white shells in Babylon.
In more recent times, shellcraft (the art of using shells decoratively) enjoyed a real vogue among Victorian ladies of leisure and, later, with the Edwardians, who were great visitors to the seaside.
Shells were used to decorate picture frames, they were added to collages and they were also grouped into stunning mosaic pictures. Souvenir boxes were adorned with them and so, too, were pincushions.
But perhaps the most elaborate arrangement of seashells was in shell flower bouquets, where a whole variety of shells were wired and glued into place to resemble a vase of flowers.
Hour upon hour
went into creating these amazingly detailed table centrepieces, which were usually kept free of dust beneath a glass dome.
As more people visited the seaside and wanted a small memento to take home, shellcraft changed from being just a hobby for womenfolk, or something for sailors to do on long voyages, and became part of a thriving souvenir industry.
Shop-bought shell boxes might have an inscription, perhaps in shells, saying
'A present from Brighton', or wherever.
Most were, in fact, made in small workshops in Birmingham, Manchester or London.
The best Victorian and Edwardian examples are often expensive. However, it is still possible to find small items, such as shell napkin rings, which are attractive and good value.
Individual shells, especially large tropical ones, are attractive to collect in their own
The types of shell used on an object often indicate where it came from. Clam or dogwood
shells, for example, suggest an American origin shell pictures were as popular in the USA as they were in Britain - while razor shells, whelks, winkles and small bivalves are found in British shell pictures.
With practice and the help of a good shell hook you will soon learn to identify these shells and the brightly coloured ones from the West Indies.
Some of the best places to find shell-decorated items at reasonable prices are seaside antiques shops.
These items are also just the sort of thing that you might still find in granny's attic or, with luck, at a jumble sale it's always worth having a good rummage!
Look for pieces in good condition. The better the piece and the rarer the shells, the more valuable it will be. Pieces with damaged or missing shells may have little value.
Look too for pieces with good colour; many will have
faded badly or become stained. Although shells can be cleaned with warm, soapy water this may be difficult with intricate designs.