Shelling It Out

Before the coin, shells = money.  Cowrie shells, 40-100 strung on a thread in West Africa, or spilling from a pouch as this 1845 print depicts. Shells were so commonly traded in China that the character for money is the same as that for the cowrie .貝  

Likewise, shells were currency in India, in Australia, in Papua New Guinea, where on at least one island, they’re still a legal form of exchange. On the Eastern coast of America, the early settlers fell easily into the Iroquois and Algonquian practice of trading with wampum beads, cut from the shell of the quahog.  Sale on!

Money became ornament.  Shells are beautiful, after all, and people the world over have worn them adorning belts, neckpieces, ears, inflaming the tribal love of adornment.   We’re carrying on that tradition at ibu.  Loving the natural, worn patina of old money, transforming it into a wild, new beauty.  


Val shares my love of shell.  A counselor and social worker in issues of substance abuse, she has come to her jewelry-making with a gentle soul and a light touch, crafting beautiful long necklaces out of Ostrich shells found and chiseled in Africa, where once they were shaped and chipped by one’s own teeth.  She uses Kwalia Currency shells from New Guinea, and rare Campa Beads from Central Vietnam, knotting them delicately by hand.

ibu’s own Jewelry Designer, Megan Landau, pumps up the drama withlocal sea urchin shell.  And, we’re soon due to have in a new style of the ever popular Cowry Shell neckpieces from Proud Mary - made in West Africa. 


So, you know what it means to shell it out!  Better than jingling in your pockets - float the old money on your neck and ears.  Feel the wealth of centuries coming down, exchange after exchange, camel to pouch to souk and market, value added and lost, life’s abundance changing hands, over and over,  in shards of legal tender.  

all the best -

Susan Hull Walker