This pair of ear ornaments is of thin discs of shell. The edges are drilled with small holes, and each has a larger central hole with a narrow crevice to the outer edge. One of the ornaments has an old collection label affixed which has a handwritten note to the effect that the ornaments are earrings worn by the natives of New Guinea and that they were collected in 1859. The ornaments are sewn onto an old collection card which has a separate handwritten note which says: ‘Earrings, made from the top of cone shells. Worn by natives of South Africa [sic]. Esteemed by them as charms. Rare’.
Similar shell discs were used as currency which was transported attached to string bags. Peltier & Morin (2007, p. 300) reproduces an illustration of a pair of Arapesh women carrying ceremonial bags decorated with a variety of shell ornaments, some of which are of similar form to the examples here.
Related cone shell ear ornaments also were worn in the Solomon Islands (see Hurst, 1996, p. 56)
The ornaments here were acquired from the UK and are from an old ethnographic collection assembled during the Victorian era.
Daalder, T., Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment: Australia, Oceania, Asia, Africa, Ethnic Art Press/Macmillan, 2009.
Hurst, N., Power and Prestige: The Arts of Island Melanesia and the Polynesian Outliers, Hurst Gallery, 1996.
Peltier, P. & F. Morin, Shadows of New Guinea: Art from the Great Island of Oceania in the Barbier-Mueller Collections, Somogy, 2007.