These wealth objects are made from gold lip oyster shells polished on both sides and decorated. This example has a carrying handle of hand-twisted twine wound round with red cloth at the top. The hand woven tab over the valve is edged with three rows of white beads eacjh tipped with a feather. (The woven tab is an indication that the piece was made before 1950, and more recently produced shell wealth pieces do not have them, Dimensions: Width of shell 14 cm/ 5 ½ inches, carrying handle 15 cm / 6 ½ inches, bead strings 4 cm / 1½ inches, exclding feathers. .
These objects are used for payment of bride price and compensation for serious offences and are carried for display only, never worn on the body. There is therefore no patina of use on the shell. Curiously enough, it was the perfection of the polished shell that determined the value of these objects, not the quality of the decorations, and there is a theory put forward by Knowles and Gosden that heavy ornamentation was added to distract from imperfections in the shell itself. (Knowles C and Gosden C, "Art and Design Among the Arawe", in "Form. Color. Inspiration", Ingrid Heermann ed, Arnoldsche, 2001).
Condition: Please note a chip on the edge of the shell visible on the left of the tab.
Refrerences: One of these objects, collected in 1909 by Westrack and now in the Linden Museum collection, can be seen on p.159 of "Form. Color, Inspiration", Ingrid Heermann ed, Arnoldsche, 2001.A further example can be seen in the catalogue of the George Wirz Collection, lot 110, page 84 (Sotheby Park Bernet, 28th June 1978)