Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Drawer 6.1: Shells

According to To Have & to Hold, Philipp Blom’s wonderful (pun not intended) book on collecting, wunderkammers first appeared in the 16th ct. with the Age of Exploration.  Never before seen marvels were arriving in Europe with every returning ship - in 1633, John Trandescant , collector extraordinaire, acquired an unknown fruit: the banana! - & collecting those arriving wunders became a preoccupation for those of means.  The “custom of the time” was that cabinet of curiosities should include both naturalia & artificialia;  Nearly always, among the naturalia, there were shells, easily transported by sailors from far-flung locations.

When I started in on my own Cabinet, I had no idea that shells were de rigueur so there must be something about them that just begs harboring. There are Nautili (sp?) in Drawer 3.2 (from HWI’mT & my honeymoon) and there’s coral from Hainan Island/South China Sea in Drawer 3.7

But the shells in Drawer 6.1 come to the cabinet not by benefit of sea or sailor but from the waste heaps of the captains of industry. 

On a bicycle tour, on my way to Xitang, the Water Town that hosted Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 3, I started to notice massive piles of…

oh! perforated clam shells!…filling the front yard of every structure on both sides of the road. It took me not a short while (duh) to realize their reason for being: buttons! The town’s entire industry is shell buttons… shell buttons: who had ever really thought about how shell buttons come into being. For sure, not me. And now, how glorious! Shell button holes!

Turns out that the scrapped & perforated shells are also players in one of China’s many Copy-Cat-Economy stories: the industry started when one clever soul saw the opportunity in all the discard clam shells from the town’s food trade. He made a lot of money. So all his neighbors, one by one, began to follow suit.  Soon there was so much stock that competition drove the price straight down. Now, no one is making much money as there’s just the tiniest profit margin per button. Which still doesn’t make 'em cheap at Shanghai’s notions market...where I’m always coveting them…

Not sure how much of a market there is for shell water bowls for crickets ...

Drawer 6.1:  From top: 1., 3. & 4. Perforated shells from  Shell Button Factory Yard, Xitang, China  2. Tin container with Traditional Chinese Medicines found in the Cabinet at time of purchase
Photo credits: Full drawer: Bruno David; all others, Christina Shmigel.

For related drawers, see Drawer 3.2: Double Happiness, Drawer 3.7: Coral by Sand & by Design  & Drawer 8.1: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

No comments:

Post a Comment