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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Michael Backman Ltd - Home Pair of Cone Shell Ear Ornaments
New Guinea
collected in 1859
maximum diameter of each: 7cmThis 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.

The dating of this pair is important. There is little doubt that the attached note saying that the ornaments were collected in 1859 is contemporaneous with the 
pair (or near to it), and yet without this dating, a much later dating - perhaps (say) a hundred years later - might have been given to the pair.
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.