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Copyright, 1908, by 
The Century Co. 

Pitblishei October. DOS 







Introduction xv 

I Pearls among the Ancients 3 

II Medieval AND Modern History OF Pearls 15 

III Origin of Pearls 35 

IV Structure AND Forms OF Pearls 51 

V Sources of Pearls 65 

VI The Pearl Fisheries of the Persian Gulf 85 

VII East African Pearl Fisheries 153 

VIII Pearl Fisheries of the British Isles 159 

IX Pearl Fisheries of THE South Sea Islands 189 

X Pearl Fisheries of Venezuela 225 

XI Pearl-Culture and Pearl-Farming 285 

XII Mystical and Medicinal Properties of Pearls . . . 301 

XIII Values and Commerce of Pearls 319 

XIV Treatment and Care of Pearls 375 

XV Pearls as Used in Ornaments and Decoration . . . 403 

XVI Famous Pearls and Collections 449 

XVII The Aboriginal Use of Pearls, and Their Discovery 

IN Mounds and Graves 485 

Bibliography 517 

Index 541 


The Czarina of Russia Frontispiece 


Ancient Chinese crown with pearls. Ancient Chinese pearl rosary. 
Chinese priests keeping guard over the tombs of the kings, in Muk- 
den, where the crowns are preserved 4 

Grecian pearl and gold necklace 8 

Front cover of Ashburnham manuscript of the Four Gospels .... 16 

Francis I, King of France, 1494- 1547. Isabelle de Valois 19 

(From photographs by A. Giraudon) 

Maria Theresa (17 1 7- 1 780), Queen of Hungary 24 

Facsimile of title-page of decrees of Venetian Senate regulating the wear- 
ing of pearls 27 

Lady Abinger. Mrs. Adair. Baroness de Forest. Hon. Mrs. Renard 
Greville. Marchioness of Lansdowne. Lady Londonderry. Lady 
Wimborne 30 

(From photographs, copyright by Lafayette, Ltd., London) 

Venezuela shell. Panama shell 36 

Shells from Venezuela with attached pearls. Exterior view of same. 
X-ray photograph of shell, printed through exterior of shell and show- 
ing encysted pearls 39 

Mexican pearl-oyster with adherent pearl. Group of encysted pearls in 
shell of Australian pearl-oyster. Mexican pearl-oyster with encysted 
fish. Group of encysted pearls (oriental). Reverse of same group, 
showing outline of the individual pearls 42 

Cross section of an irregular pearl, magnified 80 diameters. Cross 
sections of pearls, magnified 30 diameters. Thin section of mother- 
of-pearl, magnified, showing sponge borings which traversed the pearl 
shell. Structure of conch pearl produced by fracturing, magnified 80 
diameters 53 

Pearls from common clam of eastern coast of America. Pearl " nuggets " 
from the Mississippi Valley. Wing pearls from the Mississippi Val- 
ley. Dog-tooth pearls from the Mississippi Valley 55 



Actual sizes of pearls from i^ grain to 1 60 grains 57 

Brooches made of petal, dog-tooth, and wing pearls 58 

Gray pearls in the possession of an American lady and brooch from 

Tiffany & Co.'s exhibit, Paris Exposition, 1900 60 

Shell of pearl-oyster with attached pearl 68 

Pinna or wing shell. Pearl-oyster of Ceylon 72 

Shell and pearls of the common conch 76 

Cargo boat in pearl fishery of the Persian Gulf. Huts of mats and palm 
leaves, the homes of the pearl fishermen at Menamah, Bahrein Islands, 

Persian Gulf 87 

Agha Mohammed (1666-1725). Shah Sulaiman (1647-1694) .... 88 

Arab pearl-divers at work in the Persian Gulf 90 

His Imperial Majesty, Mohamme.d Ali, Shah of Persia 94 

The "Prince of Pearls"; the late Rana of Dholpur in his pearl regalia . loi 

The late Maharajah of Patiala . ■ 108 

Facsimiles of notices of pearl-fishing at Mjarichchikadde, in English and 
Cingalese iio-iii 

Unloading oysters from the vessels into the kottus at Marichchikadde, 
Ceylon. The pearling fleet on the shore at Marichchikadde, Ceylon. 

Hindu workmen preparing to drill pearls, Marichchikadde, Ceylon . 115 

Indian pearl merchants ready for business. Children of Persian pearl 

dealers 120 

Street scene in Marichchikadde, the pearling camp of Ceylon. Return of 

the fleet from the pearl reefs to Marichchikadde, Ceylon 126 

Pearls presented by the Imam of Muscat to President Van Buren . . .131 

Necklace and earrings from the treasury of the Emir of Bohkara . . .136 

Carved "Jerusalem Shell" from the Red Sea 142 

Cap of State, from looting of summer palace, Pekin, in i860 .... 145 

Fishing for the awabi (abalone) shells at Wada-no-hara, Japan .... 148 

(From " The Burlington Art Magazine ") 

Old print showing four methods of catching pearl-bearing mollusks . .160 
Madame Norischkine nee Straudman. Duchesse Elizabeth (Constantin). 

(From a photograph by Ch. Bergamasco, St. Petersburg) (From a photograph by A. Pasctti, St. Petersburg) 

Daughter of General Sobelieflf, first Countess Beauharnais . . . .163 

Scotch pearl rivers 167 

Great Cameo Pearl 170 



Dowager Czarina of Russia. Grand Duchess Vladimir. 

(From a photograph by Ch. Bergamasco. St. Petersburg) 

Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna 174 

Miter of Patriarch Nikon 1 76 

Panagia or ornament worn on the breast of a bishop in Russia . . . .180 
Russian Boyard ladies of the seventeenth century, showing caps and other 

ornaments of pearls 184 

Pearl-divers of the Tuamotu Archipelago. Settlement of pearl fishermen 

at Hiqueru, Tuamotu Archipelago I97 

Pearling boats at Hiqueru, Tuamotu Archipelago. Australian pearl- 
diver (armored) coming up from the depths 204 

Opening pearl-oysters and searching for pearls, off the coast of Australia. 
Grading, weighing, and packing mother-of-pearl, off the coast of 
Australia 213 

Moro boats, used among the pearl islands of the Malay Archipelago. Raft 

used for pearl-fishing in the Malay Archipelago 216 

Pearling village, with youthful fishermen, Sulu Islands. Japanese diver 

in Dutch East Indies, come up to " blow " for a few minutes . . . 220 

Gray pearls from Lower California, and diamonds 228 

Clara Eugenia, daughter of Philip II 237 

The Adams gold vase .... 248 

Negro pearling camp, on bank of an Arkansas river. Group of Arkansas 

pearl fishermen 254 

Brooch, Renaissance style, set with baroque pearls, from American streams 259 

Brooches and rings of fresh-water pearls from Wisconsin and Tennessee . 262 

Pearl-bearing unios 266 

Pearling scene on White River, Arkansas. Pearling camp on upper 

Mississippi River 270 

The evolution of buttons, made from Mississippi shells . . . ' . . .275 

Necklace of fresh-water pearls 276 

Shell of pearl-bearing abalone 280 

Shell of Dipsas plicatus, with attached metal figures of Buddha coated 
with nacre. Shell of Dipsas plicatus, with attached porcelain beads 
coated with nacre 286 

Artificial rearing-ponds for the development of pearl-oysters on the Island 
of Espiritu Santo, Gulf of California. Trays containing small pearl- 
oysters prepared for placing at the bottom of artificial rearing-ponds 291 

Japanese legend of the dragon and the pearl, idealized in Jade . . . 302 

Russian eikon of the Madonna 312 



Pectoral cross of Constantine IX, Monomachus (1000-1054 A.D.) . . . 321 

Great pearl necklace of the French crown jewels 332 

The Siamese Prince in full regalia 336 

Half-pearls: lots of three different sizes. Brooch of half-pearls and onyx, 
United States, i860 343 

Pearl nose rings, Baroda, India. East Indian earring of strings of pearls 
and table diamonds. Grape pendants. Oriental pearls 345 

Necklace containing 126,000 seed-pearls, Louis XVI period .... 346 

Seed-pearls and gold ; Chinese ornaments of the nineteenth century. 

Complete set of seed-pearl jewelry in original case 357 

Persian princess and ladies in waiting 364 

Facsimiles of the title-page and last leaf of an enactment abolishing duty 

on pearls, English Parliament, 1 732 36S 

Pearl drilling 376 

Pearl stringing 3^3 

Necklace of seed-pearls. United States, Civil War period 389 

Mother-of-pearl shell from Tahiti 390 

Ladies' sewing case and scissors inlaid with half-pearls ; watches incrusted 
with half-pearls; snufT-box, ivory inlaid with fresh-water pearls; 
miniature surrounded by half-pearls 395 

Evolution of a seed-pearl brooch. Seed-pearls, Indian strings. White 

horse-hair for stringing 396 

Facsimile of letter of M. Gaston Mogeaud, Director of the Louvre . . 398 

Madame Thiers's pearl necklace, bequeathed to the Louvre Museum, Paris 398 

(Prom a photograph by A. Giraudon) 

Antique ornaments of pearls 404 

Tyszkiewizc bronze statuette of Aphrodite 407 

Pearl earrings from Herculaneum and Pompeii 408 

Antique pearl ornaments 4'0 

East Indian necklace of pearls, table diamonds, glass beads, gold and 

enamel 4i3 

Crown of Reccesvinthus and other Gothic crowns of the seventh century 416 

(From a photograph by A. Giraudon) 

HerMajesty.QueenAlexandraof Great Britain and Ireland, Empressof India 418 

( From a photograph by W. & D. Downey, London ) 

Crown of St. Edward 424 

(From " The EngHsh Regalia," published by Kegan Paul, Trench, Triibner & Company, Ltd., London ) 



The Empress Dowager of China 43 1 

Pearl ornaments of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries .... 434 

Margherita, Dowager Queen of Italy 439 

Collection of black pearls belonging to an American lady 440 

Sefiora Carmen Romero Rubio de Diaz, wife of President Porfirio Diaz 

of Mexico 442 

(From a photograph by Valleto & Co., Mexico) 

Jade jar inlaid with pearls set with fine gold. Japanese decoration set 

with pearls 444 

Gaikwar of Baroda, 1908 450 

Mary, Queen of Scots 453 

(From " Portraits and Jewels of Mary Stuart," published by James MacLehose and Sons, Glasgow) 

Queen Elizabeth of England. Elizabeth of France 456 

Pearl carpet or shawl of the Gaikwar of Baroda 460 

The Hope pearl. Weighs 1800 grains 463 

Her Grace, the Duchess of Marlborough 465 

(From a photograph by Lafayette, Ltd., London) 

The Madame Nordica collection of colored pearls 468 

Grand pearl diadem of the French crown jewels 471 

The Imperial Austrian crown 472 

The Great Sevigne of the French crown jewels 474 

Madame Nordica 476 

Mrs. George J. Gould 480 

Fresh-water pearls from Hopewell group of mounds, Ross County, Ohio 499 

Fresh-water pearls from Hopewell group of mounds, Ross County, Ohio 510 



The pearling regions in Ceylon and British India 129 

Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, the pearling center of the world . . .140 

The pearling regions in Oceania and Malaysia 191 

Venezuela and Panama, the principal pearling regions of South America 227 
Gulf of California and the pearling territory of western Mexico . . . 243 


The preparation of this book has been a joint labor during the spare 
moments of the two authors, whose time has been occupied with sub- 
jects to which pearls are not wholly foreign — one as a gem expert, and 
the other in the fisheries branch of the American government. But 
for the views and expressions contained herein, they alone are per- 
sonally responsible, and do not represent or speak for any interest 
whatever. For many years the writers have collected data on the 
subject of pearls, and have accumulated all the obtainable literature, 
not only the easily procurable books, but likewise manuscripts, copies 
of rare volumes, original edicts, and legislative enactments, thousands 
of newspaper clippings, and interesting illustrations, many of them 
unique, making probably the largest single collection of data in exist- 
ence on this particular subject. It was deemed advisable to present the 
results of these studies and observations in one harmonious volume, 
rather than in two different publications. This publication is not a 
pioneer in an untrodden field. As may be seen from the appended 
bibliography, during the last two thousand years hundreds of persons 
have discussed pearls — mystically, historically, poetically, and learn- 
edly. Among the older writers who stand out with special prominence 
in their respective periods are the encyclopedist Pliny, in the first cen- 
tury A.D. ; Oviedo and Peter Martyr of the sixteenth century; the 
physician Anselmus De Boot, and that observant traveler and prince 
of jewelers, Tavernier, in the seventeenth century. It would be difficult 
to do justice to the many writers of the nineteenth century and of the 
present time; but probably most attention has been attracted by the 
writings of Hessling and Mobius of Germany; Kelaart, Streeter, 
Herdman, and Hornell of Great Britain; Filippi of Italy, and Seurat 
and Dubois of France. While the book is a joint work in the sense 
that each writer has contributed material to all of the chapters and 
has critically examined and approved the entire work, the senior author 
has more closely applied himself to the latter half of the text, covering 
antiquity values, commerce, wearing manipulation, treatment, famous 
collections, aboriginal use, and the illustrations, while the junior 
author has attended to the earlier half of the book, with reference to 


history, origin, sources, fisheries, culture, mystical properties, and the 
literature of the pearl. 

The senior author has had exceptionally favorable opportunities to 
examine the precious objects contained in the various imperial and 
royal treasuries. Through the courtesy of the late Count Sipuigine, 
Court Chamberlain, and of the late General Philamanoff, custodian of 
the Ourejena Palata, he was permitted to critically examine the Rus- 
sian crown jewels in the Summer Palace on the Neva, and in the 
Palata in the Kremlin, at Moscow, he examined the crowns and 
jewels of all the early czars. Through the courtesy of Baron von 
Theile, he was permitted to inspect carefully and in detail the won- 
derful jewels of the Austrian crown, which are beautifully ordered 
and arranged. The English and Saxon crown jewels were also seen 
under favorable conditions which permitted detailed examination, and 
the jewel collections of almost all the principal museums of Europe 
and America were carefully studied. As regards the literature of the 
subject, the senior author has gathered together the largest known 
existing collection of works treating of pearls and precious stones. 

In covering so comprehensive a subject, many obligations have been 
incurred from individuals and officials, to whose courtesy and assist- 
ance is due much of the interest of this work. To list all of these is 
impossible, yet it would be ungrateful not to note the following: her 
Majesty Queen Margherita of Italy; his Royal Highness the Gaikwar 
of Baroda ; to H. R. H. le Prince Ruprecht of Bavaria, of Munich ; to 
the late Prince Sipuigine, then chamberlain of the Russian Imperial 
Appanages ; to Sir Edward Robert Pearce Edgcumbe for data relative 
to fisheries of East Africa ; Dr. H. C. Bumpus, director of the Amer- 
ican Museum of Natural History, New York, for many courtesies 
in regard to materials and illustrations; Sir Caspar Purdon Clarke, 
director. Dr. Edward Robinson, assistant director, J. H. Buck, 
curator of Metal-work, and A. G. St. M. D'Hervilly, assistant curator 
of Paintings, all of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for numerous 
courtesies; Archer M. Huntington, founder of the Hispanic Society 
and Museum in New York City; Dr. Bashford Dean, Prof. Friedrich 
Hirth, Chinese professor, Dr. Berthold Laufer, Prof. A. V. Wil- 
liams Jackson, professor of Indo-Iranian languages, and Prof. M. H. 
Saville, all of Columbia University, New York City; J. Pierpont 
Morgan, for the right to publish the illustration of Ashburnham 
missal; Dr. W. Hayes Ward, Assyriologist ; Dr. Charles S. Braddock, 
formerly Chief of Medical Inspection for the King of Siam ; Robert 
Hoe, for the two plates of unique Persian illustrations from his manu- 
scripts; Edmund Russell, for East Indian material; F. Cunliffe- 
Owen, the author of diplomatic subjects ; Ten Broeck Morse ; Walter 


Joslyn ; Stansbury Hagar ; Henri de Morgan, explorer ; Dr. Nathaniel 
L. Britton, director New York Botanical Garden, J. H. Lawles, and 
Ludwig Stross, for many courtesies ; Miss M. de Barril and Miss 
Belle da Costa Greene, all of New York; Dr. Stewart W. Culin, of the 
Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences ; the Contessa Casa Cortez, for 
Peruvian information, of Brooklyn; Dr. Charles B. Davenport, of the 
Carnegie Institution Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor; Arthur C. 
Parker, archaeologist. State Museum, Albany, N. Y. ; A. S. Clark, 
antiquarian, Peekskill, N. Y. ; Dr. Richard Rathbun, assistant secre- 
tary, Dr. Cyrus Adler, curator. Dr. Otis S. Mason, curator of Eth- 
nology, all of the Smithsonian Institution; Dr. S. W. Stratton, chief of 
the Bureau of Standards; Miss E. R. Scidmore; Gilbert H. Grosvenor, 
editor. National Geographic Magazine; Hon. William Eleroy Curtis; 
his Excellency Enrique C. Creel, Embajador de Mexico, and James T. 
Archbold, war correspondent, all of Washington, D. C. ; Prof. W. P. 
Wilson, director Philadelphia Commercial Museum, Clarence B. 
Moore, Academy of Natural Sciences, and T. Louis Comparette, 
curator Numismatic Collection, U. S. Mint, all of Philadelphia; Prof. 
Henry Montgomery, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada; Dr. 
Warren K. Moorehead, archaeologist, Andover, Mass.; H. D. Story, 
and Theo. M. Davis, curators of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 
Boston, Mass.; Miss Mathilde Laigle of Wellesley College; Prof. F. 
W. Putnam and Alfred M. Tozzer, Peabody Museum of Archaeology, 
Cambridge, Mass. ; Prof. Edward S. Morse, Salem, Mass. ; Dr. 
Hiram Bingham, Yale University; W. E. Frost, Providence, R. I.; 
Dr. Edgar J. Banks, University of Chicago, Chicago, 111. ; Hon. F. J. 
V. Skiff, director, for several photographs of museum material, and 
Dr. George A. Dorsey, curator of Anthropology of the Field Colum- 
bian Museum; Dr. A. R. Crook, curator of the Museum of Natural 
History, Springfield, 111.; Richard Hermann, director Hermann Mu- 
seum, Dubuque, la. ; Charles Russell Orcutt, San Diego, Cal. ; David 
I. Bushnell, St. Louis, Mo. ; Dr. J. H. Stanton, Prairie du Chien, Wis. ; 
Joe Gassett, Clinton, Tenn. ; Prof. Wm. C. Mills, University of Ohio, 
Columbus, O., for material covering the new Ohio mound discoveries ; 
Mrs. Marie Robinson Wright, author and South American traveler, 
New York City; Miss Helen Woolley of Judson College, Alabama; 
Prof. Dr. Eugene Hussak, Rio Janeiro; Hon. George E. Anderson, 
Consul General of the United States, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Senor 
L. E. Bonilla, Consul General of Colombia; Madam Zelia Nuttall, 
Coyoacan, Mexico; Prof. Waldstein, University of Cambridge, Cam- 
bridge, England ; Dr. O. F. Bell, assistant keeper Ashmolean Museum, 
Oxford; Dr. Stephen W. Bushell, Chinese authority; Lady Christopher 
Johnston, Dr. William F. Petrie, University College, Dr. Charles 


Hercules Read, director of the department of Archaeology, British' 
Museum, for illustrations and data; Cyril Davenport, antiquarian 
writer of the British Museum, for the illustration of the English 
crown, and crown information ; to Sir John Evans, late veteran archse- 
ologist and writer ; Thomas Tyrer, chemist, W. Talbot Ready, A. W. 
Feaveryear, E. Alfred Jones, author on metal-work, Edwin W. 
Streeter, all of London, England; Prof. H. P. Blackmore, curator 
Blackmore Museum, Salisbury, England ; Dr. Thos. Gann, Harrogate, 
England; Prof. Arthur E. Shipley, Cambridge, England; Dr. Wil- 
fred Grenfell, Labrador; T. W. Lyster, librarian of the National 
Library of Ireland, Prof. R. F. Scharff, director of the National 
Museum of Ireland, Dublin, W. Forbes Hourie, all of Ireland; 
Mr. James Hornell, Dr. W. A. Herdmann, all on information 
concerning the Ceylon fisheries; Prof. James M. Milne, Belfast, 
Ireland; David MacGregor, Perth, Scotland; Joseph Baer & Co., 
Frankfurt, Germany; Herrn C. W. Kesseller, Idar, Germany; Prof. 
Dr. Carl Sapper, University of Tiibingen, Germany; Geheimrath 
Prof. Dr. Max Bauer, University of Marburg, Germany; Herrn Prof. 
Dr. Hofer, director Biologische Versuchsstation, Munich; Flerrn 
Ernst Gideon Bek, Pforzheim, Germany; Hon. Albert H. Michelsen, 
American Consul at Turin; Sabbatino De Angelis, of Naples, Italy; 
Mons. Alphonse Falco, of the Chambre Syndicale Pierres Precieuses 
of Paris; Prof. A. Lacroix, Musee Histoire Naturale, Paris; Mons. 
Georges Pellisier, Paris; Sr. Gaston J. Vives, La Paz, Mexico; Prof. 
R. Dubois, Facuelte des Sciences, University of Lyons, France; Prof. 
P. Candias, director of the National Museum, Athens, Greece; Prof. 
G. A. F. Molengraaff, University of Delft, Holland; the late Prof. Dr. 
Furtwangler of Munich ; Dr. Otto Leiner, Custus Landes-Museum at 
Constanz, Baden; Herrn Dr. A. B. Meyer, Herrn Carl Marfels, Ber- 
lin ; Prof. Dr. H. Schumacher, University of Bonn ; Geheimrath C. F. 
Hintze, Breslau; Herrn R. Friedlaender & Sohn, Berlin; Herrn Reg.- 
Rath Dr. W. von Seidlitz, Dresden; Dr. R. Jacobi, director Konig 
Zoologichen Museum, Dresden, Germany ; his Excellency Dr. Szalaz, 
director Hungarian National Museum; Dr. S. Radischi, director Na- 
tional Industrial Museum of Budapest ; and to Herrn A. B. Bachrach, 
Budapest, Hungary; Frau Melanie Glazer, of Prague, and Herrn V. 
Fric, Prague, Bohemia; Herrn Prof. Dr. F. Heger, Custus Imperial 
Archaeological Collection, Vienna; Herrn H. von Wilier and Herrn 
Max Zirner, of Vienna; Herrn Leopold Weininger, the artisan gold- 
smith of Austria, for many courtesies; Prof. W. Vernadskij, Univer- 
sity of Moscow ; Mons. C. Faberje, Joaillier de la Cour, St. Petersburg, 
Russia; his Excellency Baron P. Meyerdorfif, assistant director, 
Musee des Antiques, Ermitage Imperiale, St. Petersburg, for impor- 


tant data and illustrations ; his Excellency N. J. Moore, Premier, West- 
ern Australia; Dr. K. Van Dort, engineer of Bankok, Siam; Dr. J. 
Henry Burkill, of the India Museum, Calcutta, India; Alphaeus E. 
Williams, manager of the De Beers Mine, Kimberley; Capt. E. L. 
Steever, District Governor of Jolo, Philippine Islands ; Dr. T. Nishi- 
kawa. Zoological Institute; K. Mikimoto, both of Tokio, Japan; Dr. 
S. M. Zwemer of Bahrein, Persian Gulf; Mr. Hugh Millman of Thurs- 
day Island, Australia; Julius D. Dreher, American Consul at Tahiti, 
Society Islands ; and not least, by any means, the uniform promptness 
and completeness with which the officials of the British Colonial Ser- 
vice have responded to the many inquiries which the writers have 
addressed to them. 

The Authors. 

September, igo8. 




The richest merchandise of all, and the most soveraigne 
commoditie throughout the whole world, are these pearles. 

Pliny, Historia naturalis. 

Lib. IX, c. 35. 

PERFECTED by nature and requiring no art to enhance their 
beauty, pearls were naturally the earliest gems known to 
prehistoric man. Probably the members of some fish-eating 
tribe— maybe of the coast of India or bordering an Asiatic 
river— while opening mollusks for food, were attracted by their luster. 
And as man's estimation of beauty developed, he found in them the 
means of satisfying that fondness for personal decoration so charac- 
teristic of half-naked savages, which has its counterpart amid the 
wealth and fashion of the present day. 

Pearls seem to be peculiarly suggestive of oriental luxury and 
magnificence. It is in the East that they have been especially loved, 
enhancing the charms of Asiatic beauty and adding splendor to bar- 
baric courts celebrated for their display of costume. From their pos- 
session of the rich pearl resources it is natural that the people of India 
and of Persia should have early found beauty and value in these jewels, 
and should have been among the first to collect them in large quan- 
tities. And no oriental divinity, no object of veneration has been with- 
out this ornament; no poetical production has lacked this symbol of 
purity and chastity. 

In a personal memorandum. Dr. A. V. Williams Jackson, professor 
of Indo-Iranian languages in Columbia University, states that it is 
generally supposed that the Vedas, the oldest sacred books of the Brah- 
mans, contain several allusions to pearl decorations a millennium or 


more before the Christian era, as the word krisana and its derivatives 
— which occur a half dozen times in the Rigveda, the oldest of the 
Vedas— are generally translated as signifying "pearl." Even if this 
interpretation of the term be called into question on the ground that 
the Hindus of the Panjab were not well acquainted with the sea, there 
can be little or no doubt that the Atharvaveda, at least five hundred 
years before the Christian era, alludes to an amulet made of pearls and 
used as a sort of talisman in a hymn' of magic formulas. 

Those two great epics of ancient India, the Ramayana and the Ma- 
habharata, refer to pearls. The Ramayana speaks of a necklace of 
twenty-seven pearls, and has pearl drillers to accompany a great mili- 
tary expedition.^ An old myth recounts the offerings made by the ele- 
ments as gifts worthy of the deity: the air offered the rainbow, the fire 
a meteor, the earth a ruby, and the sea a pearl. The rainbow formed a 
halo about the god, the meteor served as a lamp, the ruby decorated 
the forehead, and the pearl was worn upon the heart. 

The literature of Hinduism frequently associates the pearl with 
Krishna, the eighth avatar or incarnation of Vishnu, the most popular 
god of Hindu worship. One legend credits its discovery to the ador- 
able Krishna, who drew it from the depths of the sea to adorn his 
daughter Panda'ia on her nuptial day. Another version makes the 
pearl a trophy of the victory of Krishna over the monster Pankagna, 
and it was used by the victor as a decoration for his bride. 

In the classic period of Sanskrit literature, about the first century of 
the Christian era, there were abundant references to pearls, generally 
called mitkta (literally "the pure") ; and there are dozens of words for 
pearl necklaces, circlets, strings, and ornamental festoons, particularly 
in the dramas of Kalidasa— the Hindu Shakspere, who lived about the 
third century a.d.— and of his successors. 

In the Mahavansa and the Dipavansa, the ancient chronicle his- 
tories of Ceylon in the Pali language, are several early Cingalese rec- 
ords of pearl production and estimation.^ The Mahavansa lists pearls 
among the native products sent from Ceylon about 550 B.C., King 
Wijayo sending his father-in-law gifts of pearls and chanks to the 
value of two lacs of rupees; and notes that about 300 B.C., several 
varieties of Ceylon pearls were carried as presents by an embassy to 

In the ancient civilization of China, pearls were likewise esteemed; 
this is evidenced by the frequent mention of them in traditional his- 
tory, their employment in the veneration of idols, and as tribute by 

'See pp. 301, 302. 'Geiger, "Dipavansa und Mahavansa, die 

2 See Jacobi, "Das Ramayana," Bonn, beiden Clironiken der Insel Ceylon," Erl- 
1893. angen, igoi. 

vVlKicnt Cliiiic^c Ln./wii willi pcarl- 

Ancient Chinese pearl rosan,' 

Chinese priests keeping guard over the tombs of the kings, 
in Mukden, where the crowns are preserved 


foreign princes to the emperor. One of the very earliest of books, the 
Shu King (dating from about 2350-625 b.c), notes that, in the 
twenty-third century B.C., Yii received as tribute oyster pearls from the 
river Hvvai, and from the province of King Kau he received "strings 
of pearls that were not quite round."^ That ancient Chinese dic- 
tionary, the Nh'ya, originating thirty centuries ago, speaks of them as 
precious jewels found in the province of Shen-si on the western 

Many fantastic theories regarding pearls are to be found in ancient 
Chinese literature. Some writers credited them as originating in 
the brain of the fabled dragon ; others noted that they were especially 
abundant during the reign of illustrious emperors, and they were used 
as amulets and charms against fire and other disasters. Curious allu- 
sions were made to pearls so brilliant that they were visible at a dis- 
tance of nearly a thousand yards, or that rice could be cooked by the 
light from them. And one found about the beginning of the Christian 
era, near Yangchow-fu, in the province of Kiang-su, was reported so 
lustrous as to be visible in the dark at a distance of three miles. 

In Persia, the popularity of pearls seems to date from a very early 
period. Professor Jackson states that if they are not mentioned in the 
extant fragments of the ancient Zoroastrian literature, the Avesta and 
the Pahlavi, or by the Middle Persian books from the seventh century 
B.C. to the ninth century a.d., it is probably a mere accident, due to the 
character of the work or to the fragmentary condition of the literature; 
for pearls were well known during that entire period, and seem to be 
indicated in extant sculptures. The coin and the gem portraits of 
Persian queens commonly show ear-pendants of these. The remains 
of a magnificent necklace of pearls and other gems were recently 
found by J. de Morgan in the sarcophagus of an Achaemenid princess 
exhumed at Susa or Shushan, the winter residence of the kings of 
Persia. This necklace, perhaps the most ancient pearl ornament still 
in existence, dates certainly from not later than the fourth century 
B.C., and is now preserved in the Persian Gallery of the Louvre." Even 
if we had no other evidence, it would be natural to assume that 
the knowledge of pearls was as wide-spread among the Iranians in 
antiquity as it was among the Hindus, since the Persian Gulf, like the 
Indian Ocean, has been famous for its fisheries from ancient times. 

In the ruins of Babylon no pearls have been found ; indeed, it would 
be surprising if they could survive for so many ages in the relatively 
moist soil which contains much saltpeter. Inlays of mother-of-pearl 
and decorations of this material have been secured from the ruins of 
Bismaya, which Dr. Edgar J. Banks refers to about 4500 b.c. 

'Legge, "The Shu King," Oxford, 1879, pp. 67, 69. -See p. 404. 


There is likewise little evidence that pearls were extensively em- 
ployed by the ancient Assyrians, notwithstanding that excavations at 
Nineveh and Nimrud have furnished much information regarding 
their ornaments; and the collars, bracelets, sword-hilts, etc., wrought 
in gold and ornamented with gems, show that the jewelers' art had 
made much progress. This is not wholly trustworthy as determining 
the relative abundance; for being of organic or non-mineral origin, 
pearls would not have survived the burial for thousands of years so 
well as the crystal gems. An inscription on the Nineveh Obelisk, 
which states, according to Sir Henry Rawlinson, that in the ninth year 
of his reign Temenbar received, as "tribute of the kings of the Chal- 
dees, gold, silver, gems, and pearls,"^ shows that the sea-born gems 
were highly valued there. 

The mother-of-pearl shell was in use as an ornament in ancient 
Egypt certainly as early as the sixth dynasty (circa 3200 B.C.), the 
period of the Tanis Sphinx. In a recent letter from Luxor, where he is 
studying the ruins of ancient Thebes, Dr. James T. Dennis states that 
he has found several of these shells bearing cartouches of that period ; 
and in the "pan-bearing graves" of the twelfth dynasty (2500 B.C.), 
the shell occurred not only complete, but cut in roughly circular or ob- 
long angular blocks and strung on chains with beads of carnelian, 
pottery, etc. 

So far as can be determined from the representations of ancient 
Egyptian costumes, pearls do not seem to have been employed to any 
great extent in their decoration. The necklaces, earrings, and other 
jewels found in the tombs, which are composed largely of gold set with 
crystal gems, contain the remains of a few pearls, but give no indica- 
tion that they were numerous. In fact, no evidence exists that they 
were used extensively before the Persian conquest in the fifth century 
B.C. ; and probably it was not until the time of the Ptolemies that there 
beean the lavish abundance which characterized the court of Alex- 
andria at the height of her power. 

The authorities differ in regard to the mention of pearls in ancient 
Hebrew literature; although in the Authorized Version of the Old 
Testament, this significance has been given to the word gabisli in Job 
xxviii. 18, where the value of wisdom is contrasted with that of 
gabish. Some writers claim that this word refers to rock crystal, 
bther authorities are of the opinion that the word peniuim in Lam. iv. 
7, which has been translated as "rubies," actually signifies pearls. In 
Gen. ii. 12, Prof. Paul Haupt has proposed to render shoham stones 
by pearls, since the Hebrew word translated "onyx," if connected with 
the Assyrian sdndu, might mean "the gray gem." It does not 

1 Rawlinson, "Cuneiform Inscriptions of Babylonia and Assyria," London, 1850, p. 38. 


appear that they entered into the decorations of the Tabernacle and 
the Temple, or were largely employed in the paraphernalia of the 

In the New Testament, however, there are numerous references to 
the estimation in which pearls were held. In his teachings, Christ 
repeatedly referred to them as typifying something most precious : 
"The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly 
pearls : who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold 
all that he had, and bought it" (Matt. xiii. 45, 46) ; and in "casting 
pearls before swine," in that great Sermon on the Mount (Matt. vii. 6). 
In picturing the glories of the Heavenly City, St. John made the twelve 
gates of pearls (Rev. xxi. 21) ; and what could better serve as portals 
through the walls of precious stones ? 

In the Talmud, pearls are frequently mentioned, and usually as 
signifying something beautiful or very costly, as "a pearl that is worth 
thousands of zuzim" (Baba Batra, 146a) ; a "pearl that has no price" 
(Yerushalmi, ix. I2d) ; the coats which God made for Adam and Eve 
were "as beautiful as pearls" (Gen. R. xx. 12), and the manna was 
"as white as a pearl" (Yoma, 75a). Their purchase formed one of 
the exceptions to the law of Ona'ah (overcharge), for the reason that 
two matched pearls greatly exceeded the value of each one separately 
(BabaMezi'a, iv. 8). 

The high value attached to pearls by the ancient Hebrews is illus- 
trated by a beautiful Rabbinical story in which only one object in 
nature is ranked above them. On approaching Egypt, Abraham hid 
Sarah in a chest, that foreign eyes might not behold her beauty. When 
he reached the place for paying custom dues, the collectors said, "Pay 
us the custom" ; and he replied, "I will pay your custom." They said 
to him, "Thou carriest clothes" ; and he stated, "I will pay for clothes." 
Then they said to him, "Thou carriest gold" ; and he answered, "I will 
pay for gold." On this they said to him, "Surely thou bearest the 
finest silk"; and he replied, "I will pay custom for the finest silk." 
Then said they, "Truly it must be pearls that thou takest with thee" ; 
and he answered, "I will pay for pearls." Seeing that they could name 
nothing of value for which the patriarch was not willing to pay cus- 
tom, they said, "It cannot be but that thou open the box and let us see 
what is within." So the chest was opened, and the land was illumined 
by the luster of Sarah's beauty.^ 

The love which the early Arabs bore to pearls is evidenced by the 
references to them in the Koran, and especially the figurative descrip- 
tion given of Paradise. The stones are pearls and jacinths ; the fruits 

iQen. R. xl. 6. This story also exists somewhat altered in Arabic literature; see Weill's 
"Biblical Legends of the Mussulmans," New York, 1846. 


of the trees are pearls and emeralds ; and each person admitted to the 
delights of the celestial kingdom is provided with a tent of pearls, 
jacinths and emeralds; is crowned with pearls of incomparable luster, 
and is attended by beautiful maidens resembling hidden pearls/ 

The estimation of pearls among the art-loving Greeks may be traced 
to the time of Homer, who appears to have alluded to them under the 
name Tpiy'K-qva (triple drops or beads) in his description of Juno; in 
the Iliad, XIV, 183: 

In three bright drops, 
Her glittering gems suspended from her ears. 

and in the Odyssey, XVIII, 298: 

Earrings bright 
With triple drops that cast a trembling light. 

Classical designs of Juno usually show the three pear-shaped pearls 
pendent from her ears. The ancient Greeks probably obtained their 
pearls from the East through the medium of Phenician traders, and 
a survival of the word TpC-yXrjva seems to exist in the Welsh glain 
(bead), the name having been carried to Britain by the same traders, 
who exchanged textiles, glass beads, etc., for tin and salt. 

The Persian wars in the fifth century B.C., doubtless extended the 
acquaintance which the Greeks had with pearls, as well as with other 
oriental products, and increased their popularity. One of the earliest 
of the Greek writers to mention pearls specifically appears to have 
been Theophrastus (372-287 B.C.), the disciple and successor of Aris- 
totle, who referred to them under the name yLapyapiT-q^ (margarifcs), 
probably derived from some oriental word like the Sanskrit maracata 
or the Persian mirwareed. He stated that pearls were produced by 
shell-fish resembling the pinna, only smaller, and were used in making 
necklaces of great value. In Pliny's "Historia naturalis," that great 
storehouse of classical learning, reference is made to many other 
writers — mostly Greeks — who treated of gems; but virtually all of 
these writings have disappeared, except fragments from Theophras- 
tus, Chares of Mytilene, and Isidorus of Charace. 

From Greece admiration for pearls quickly extended to Rome, where 
they were known under the Greek word margaritce. However, a more 
common name for this gem in Rome was itnio, which Pliny explained 
by saying that each pearl was unique and unlike any other one. The 
conclusion of the historian Ammianus IMarcellinus (330-395 A.D.), 

^Sale, "Preliminary Discourse to the Quran," London, 1882, Vol. I, pp. IS3-I59. 


Of about third century B.C. 
Now in Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 


that it was because each one was found singly in a shell/ seems 
scarcely correct. Claude de Saumaise, the French classical scholar, 
thought that the common name for an onion was transferred to the 
pearl, owing to its laminated construction.^ According to Pliny, the 
Romans used the word tinio to distinguish a large perfect pearl from 
the smaller and less attractive ones, which were called viargaritce.^ 

It was not until the Mithridatic Wars (88-63 b.c.) and the con- 
quests by Pompey that pearls were very abundant and popular in 
Rome, the great treasures of the East enriching the victorious army 
and through it the aristocracy of the republic. In those greatest spec- 
tacular functions the world has ever known — the triumphal processions 
of the conquering Romans — pearls had a prominent part. Pliny 
records that in great Pompey's triumphal procession in 61 b.c. were 
borne thirty-three crowns of pearls and numerous pearl ornaments, 
including a portrait of the victor, and a shrine dedicated to the muses, 
adorned with the same gems.^ 

The luxuries of Mithridates, the treasures of Alexandria, the riches 
of the Orient were poured into the lap of victory-fattened Rome. From 
that time the pearl reigned supreme, not only in the enormous prices 
given for single specimens, but also in the great abundance in posses- 
sion of the degenerate descendants of the victorious Romans. The in- 
terior of the temple of Venus was decorated with pearls. The dress 
of the wealthy was so pearl-bedecked that Pliny exclaimed in irony: 
"It is not sufficient for them to wear pearls, but they must trample and 
walk over them";"* and the women wore pearls even in the still hours 
of the night, so that in their sleep they might be conscious of possess- 
ing the beautiful gems." 

It is related that the voluptuous Caligula (12-41 a.d.) — he who 
raised his favorite horse Incitatus to the consulship — decorated that 
horse with a pearl necklace, and that he himself wore slippers embroid- 
ered with pearls; and the tyrannical Nero (37-68 a.d.), not content 
with having his scepter and throne of pearls, provided the actors in his 
theater with masks and scepters decorated with them. Thus wrote 
the observant Philo, the envoy of the Jews to the Emperor Caligula: 
"The couches upon which the Romans recline at their repasts shine 
with gold and pearls ; they are splendid with purple coverings inter- 
woven with pearls and gold." 

Yet not all the men of Rome were enthusiastic over the beautiful 
"gems of the sea, which resemble milk and snow," as the poet ManHus 

' Lib. XXIII, c. 6. ° Ibid., Lib. IX, c. 53. 

-"Plinianse Exercitationes in Solinum," "Ibid., Lib. XXXIII. c. 3. Also Bottiger, 

1629, pp. 822-4. "Sabina oder Morgenscenen," Leipzig, 1803, 

S"Historia natiiralis," Lid. IX, c. SQ. Vol. I, p. 158. 
'Ibid., Lib. XXXVII, c. 2. 


called them. Even then, as now, there were some faultfinders. The 
immortal Cassar interdicted their use by women beneath a certain 
rank; Martial and Tibullus inveighed against them; the witty Horace 
directed his stinging shafts of satire against the extravagance. Re- 
ferring to a woman named Gellia, Martial wrote: "By no gods or god- 
desses does she swear, but by her pearls. These she embraces and 
kisses. These she calls her brothers and sisters. She loves them more 
dearly than her two sons. Should she by some chance lose them, the 
miserable woman would not survive an hour."' Hear what stern old 
Seneca had to say: "Pearls offer themselves to my view. Simply one 
for each ear? No! The lobes of our ladies have attained a special 
capacity for supporting a great number. Two pearls alongside of 
each other, with a third suspended above, now form a single earring ! 
The crazy fools seem to think that their husbands are not sufficiently 
tormented unless they wear the value of an inheritance in each ear!"" 
The prices reported for some choice ones at that time seem fabulous. 
It is recorded by Suetonius, that the Roman general, Vitellius, paid the 
expenses of a military campaign with the proceeds of one pearl from 
his mother's ears: "Atque ex aure matris dctractum unioncm pigncra- 
verit ad itineris impensas." In his "Historia naturalis," Pliny says 
that in the first century a.d., they ranked first in value among all 
precious things,^ and reports sixty million sestertii* as the value of the 
two famous pearls — "the singular and only jewels of the world and 
even nature's wonder"— which. Cleopatra wore at the celebrated ban- 
quet to Mark Antony. And Suetonius^ places at six million sestertii 
the value of the one presented by Julius Caesar as a tribute of love to 
Servilia, the mother of Brutus, who thus wore 

The spoils of nations in an ear. 
Changed to the treasure of a shell. 

Or, as St. Jerome expressed it in his "Vita Pauli Eremitse": 

Uno filo villanim insunt prctia. 

We are told by /Elius Lampridius that an ambassador once brought 
to Alexander Severus two remarkably large and heavy pearls for the 
empress. The emperor offered them for sale, and as no purchaser was 
found, he had them hung in the ears of the statue of Venus, saying: 
"If the empress should have such pearls, she would give a bad example 

' Martial, "Epigrammata," VIII, 8l. worth about $1,300,000 at the present time, 

" Seneca, "De beneficiis." Lib. VII, c. 9. but of far greater value in Roman days. 

' Pliny, "Historia naturalis." Lib. IX, c. 35. ^ "Divus Julius Cssar," c. 50. 
* Equivalent to 1,875,000 ounces of silver, 


to the other women, by wearing an ornament of so much value that no 
one could pay for it." 

The word "margarita" was used symbolically to designate the most 
cherished object; for instance, a favorite child. In an inscription 
published by Fabretti, p. 44, No. 253, the word margaritio has the same 
significance. (Sex. Bruttidio juveni margaritioni carissimo, vixit 
annis II mensibus VII, diebus XVIII.) ^ 

While the ancient writers were familiar with the pearl itself, they 
knew little of the fisheries, and related many curious stories which had 
come to Athens and Rome. Pliny and /Elianus quoted from Megasthe- 
nes that the pearl-oysters lived in communities like swarms of bees, 
and were governed by one remarkable for its size and great age, and 
which was wonderfully expert in keeping its subjects out of danger, 
and that the fishermen endeavored first to catch this one, so that the 
others might easily be secured. Procopius, one of the most entertain- 
ing of the old Byzantine chroniclers, wrote of social relations between 
the pearl-oysters and the sharks, and of methods of inducing the 
growth of pearls. 

The principal fisheries of antiquity were in the Persian Gulf, on the 
coasts of Ceylon and India, and in the Red Sea. The pearls referred to 
in ancient Chinese literature appear to have been taken from the rivers 
and ponds of that country, while those in Cochin China and Japan 
seem to have come from the adjoining seas. The pearls were dis- 
tributed among the nations in control of the fisheries, and from them, 
other people received collections, either as presents, in conquest, or by 
way of trade. History makes no mention of pearls having been ob- 
tained elsewhere than in the Orient up to the time of Julius Caesar, 
when small quantities of inexpensive ones were collected in Britain 
by the invading Romans. And in the first century a.d., Pliny states 
that small reddish pearls were found about Italy and in the Bosphorus 
Straits near Constantinople. 

A number of specimens of pearls of the artistic Greeks and of the 
luxurious Romans are yet in existence, and some of these are in a 
fairly good state of preservation. A notable and interesting example 
is a superb Greek necklace of pearls and gold, referred to the third 
century B.C., and now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New 
York. Several earrings now in that museum, in the Hermitage at 
St. Petersburg, the British Museum, the Louvre in Paris, and in the 
Boston Museum of Fine Arts, are shown in this book. Some of these 
may have decorated ears that listened to the comedies of Aristophanes, 
the tragedies of Euripides, the philosophies of Plato, or the oratory 
of Demosthenes. A number of classic statues have the ears pierced 

' "Dictionnaire des Antiquites Grecques et Romaines," Paris, 1904, Vol. Ill, pp. 1595-6. 


for earrings, notably the Venus de Medici now in the Tribuna of the 
Uffizi, Florence; and a magnificent pair of half-pearls is said to have 
decorated the Venus of the Pantheon in Rome/ Pearl grape earrings 
are shown on the artistic intaglio by Aspasios, representing the bust 
of the Athene Parthenos of Phidias, which has been in the Gemmen 
Miinzen Cabinet at Vienna since 1669. 

The beautiful Tyszkiewicz bronze statuette of Aphrodite was 
acquired in 1900 by the Boston Museum "of Fine Arts, and has even 
yet a pearl in a fairly good state of preservation suspended from each 
ear by a spiral thread of gold which passes quite through the gem and 
also through the lobe of the ear. This statuette has been described as 
"the most beautiful bronze Venus known." ^ Professor Froehner con- 
siders that it belongs nearer to the period of Phidias (circa 500-430 
B.C.) than to that of Praxiteles (circa 400-336 b.c.) ; but Dr. Edward 
Robinson does not concur in this opinion, and refers it to the Hellenic 
period (circa 330-146 B.C.). 

However, considering the very large accumulations, relatively few 
pearls of antiquity now remain, and none of these is of great orna- 
mental value. Those in archaeological collections and art museums are 
more or less decayed through the ravages of time and accident to 
which they have been subjected. While coins, gold jewelry, crystal 
gems, etc., of ancient civilizations are relatively numerous, the less 
durable pearls have not survived the many centuries of pillage, waste, 
and burial in the earth. 

A well-known instance of this decay is found in the Stilicho pearls, 
which owe their prominence to the incident of their long burial. The 
daughters of this famous Roman general, who were successively be- 
trothed to the Emperor Honorius, died in 407 a.d., and were buried 
with their pearls and ornaments. In 1526, or more than eleven cen- 
turies afterward, in excavating for an extension of St. Peter's, the 
tomb was opened, and the ornaments were found in fair condition, 
except the pearls, which were as lusterless and dead as a wreath of 
last year's flowers. 

'See p. 449. "Froehner, "La Collection Tyszkiewicz," Munich, l8p2. 





I 'II set thee in a shower of gold, and hail 
Rich pearls upon thee. 

Antony and Cleopatra, Act II, sc. 5. 

THE popularity of pearls in Rome has its counterpart in the 
Empire of the East at Byzantium or Constantinople on its 
development in wealth and luxury after becoming the capital 
of that empire in 330 a.d. Owing to its control of the trade 
between Asia and Europe, and the influence of oriental taste and 
fashion, enormous collections were made; and for centuries after 
Rome had been pillaged, this capital was the focus of all the arts, and 
pearls were the favorite ornaments. The famous mosaic in the sanctu- 
ary of San Vitale at Ravenna, shows Justinian (483-565) with his 
head covered with a jeweled cap, and the Empress Theodora wearing a 
tiara encircled by three rows of pearls, and strings of pearls depend 
therefrom almost to the waist. In many instances the decorations of 
the emperors excelled even those of the most profligate of Roman 
rulers. An examination of the coins, from those of Arcadius in 395 
to the last dribble of a long line of obscure rulers when the city was 
captured and pillaged by Venetian and Latin adventurers in 1204, 
shows in the form of diadems, collars, necklaces, etc., the great quan- 
tity of pearls worn by them. The oldest existing crown in use at the 
present time, the Hungarian crown of St. Stephen, which is radiant 
with pearls, is of Byzantine workmanship. 

Outside of Constantinople, the demand and fashion for pearls did 
not cease with the downfall of the Roman Empire and the spoliation of 
Rome in the fifth century. The treasures accumulated there, and the 
gems and jewels, were carried away by the conquering Goths and 
scattered among the great territorial lords of western and northern 

In the ancient cities of Gaul, in Toulouse and Narbonne, the Ostro- 
goth and the Visigoth kings collected enormous treasures. The citadel 


of Carcassonne held magnificent spoils brought from the sacking of 
Rome in 410 by Alaric, king of the Ostrogoths, consisting in part of jew- 
els from the Temple, these having been carried to Rome after the spolia- 
tion of Jerusalem in 70 a.d. Several beautiful objects of this and some- 
what later periods are yet in existence, notably the Visigothic crowns 
and crosses, in the Musee de THotel de Cluny, Paris, the most beautiful 
of which are probably the crown and the cross of Reccesvinthus.^ 

Even as the treasures of Rome were despoiled by the Ostrogoths 
and the Visigoths, so, later, their collections were depleted by the mili- 
tary operations of the Franks, when Narbonne was pillaged; when 
Toulouse was sacked by Clovis, or Chlodowig, in 507; when the 
churches of Barcelona and Toledo were despoiled by Childebert in 531 
and 542 ; and by various expeditions in succeeding years. 

The military triumphs of the Franks placed them in the highest 
rank among the peoples of Europe, in the sixth and seventh centuries, 
in the possession of treasures of jewels which enriched their palaces 
and great churches. And the taste which the triumphs of war had 
developed was maintained by the trade carried on by the Jewish and 
Syrian merchants. The inhabitants of Gaul were extremely fond of 
objects of art, of rich costumes, and of personal decorations ; and the 
courts of some of the early kings rivaled in magnificence those of 
oriental monarchs. Especially was this true during the reign of King 
Dagobert (628-638), who competed in splendor with the rulers of 
Persia and India. His skilful jeweler, Eligius (588-659), was raised 
to the bishopric of Noyon, and eventually— under the name of St. Eloi 
—became one of the most popular saints in Gaul. Under direction of 
this artistic bishop, the ancient churches received shrines, vestments, 
and reliquaries superbly decorated with pearls and other gems. In- 
deed, for several centuries following the time of Eligius, the greatest 
treasures of jewels seem to have been collected in the churches. 

The use of gems in enriching regalia, vestments, and reliquaries in 
Europe, advanced greatly during the reign of Charlemagne (768- 
814) ; and princes and bishops competed with each other in the mag- 
nificence of their gifts to the churches, sacrificing their laical jewels 
for the sacred treasures. Few of the great ornaments of Charle- 
magne's time are now in existence in the original form. Doubtless the 
most remarkable pieces are the sacred regalia of the great emperor, 
preserved among the imperial treasures in Vienna. 

An artistic use for pearls at that time was in the rich and elegant 
bindings of the splendidly written missals and chronicles, finished in 
the highest degree of excellence and at vast expense. An artist might 
devote his whole life to completing a single manuscript, so great was 

'■ See p. 415. 


From the ninth century. One quarter of the actual dimensions 
Owned by J. Pierpont Morgan, Esq. 


the detail and so exquisite the finish. Vasari states that Juho Clovio 
devoted nine years to painting twenty-six miniatures in the Breviary 
of the Virgin now in the royal library at Naples. The library at 
Rouen has a large missal on which a monk of St. Andoen is said to 
have labored for thirty years. These books were among the most 
valued possessions of the churches, and their bindings were enriched 
with gold and pearls and colored stones. The wealthy churches had 
many such volumes ; Gregory of Tours states that from Barcelona in 
531 A.D. Childebert brought twenty "evangeliorum capsas" of pure 
gold set with gems. Several of these superbly bound volumes are yet 
in existence, in the Basilica of St. Mark in Venice; in the treasury of 
the cathedral at Milan; among the imperial Russian collections in the 
Ourejenaya Palata at Moscow, etc. ; and they furnish probably the 
most reliable examples of artistic jewel work of the Dark Ages. 

The most remarkable specimen of these books in America is doubt- 
less the Ashburnham manuscript of the Four Gospels, now owned by 
J. Pierpont Morgan, Esq., which afifords an interesting example of the 
jeweler's art. For many centuries it belonged to the Abbey of the 
Noble Canonesses, founded, in 834, at Lindau, on Lake Constance. 
After an extended examination, Mr. Alexander Nesbit concluded 
that the rich cover of the manuscript was probably made between 
896 and 899 by order of Emperor Arnulf of the Carolingian dynasty. 
Most of the ninety-eighf pearls appear to be from fresh water, and 
probably all of them were obtained from the rivers of Europe. This 
is one of the few remaining pieces of the magnificent ecclesiastical 
jeweling of that period. 

After the death of Charlemagne, internal dissensions, separations 
and the division of the Empire into the nations of Europe, annihilated 
commerce, oppressed the people, and impoverished the arts. In the 
ninth century, the Normans pillaged many of the palaces and churches 
in Angouleme, Tours, Orleans, Rouen, and Paris, and destroyed or 
carried away large treasures. The tenth and the eleventh centuries 
were indeed the Dark Ages in respect .to the cultivation of the arts ; yet 
even during that period the churches of western Europe received many 
gems from penitent and fear-stricken subjects. The heart of man, 
filled with the love of God, laid its earthly treasure upon the altar in 
exchange for heavenly consolation. Pious faith dedicated pearls to the 
glorification of the ritual; altars, statues, and images of the saints, 
priestly vestments, and sacred vessels, were surcharged with them. 
The great museums and the imperial collections contain some beautiful 
and highly venerated objects of this nature. 

In the meantime pearls of small size and of fair luster had been 
collected in the rivers of Scotland, Ireland, and France, the headwaters 


of the Danube, and in the countries north thereof. In England, as 
noted in the preceding chapter, they were obtained by Caesar's invading 
legions, who carried many to Rome. Ancient coins indicate that pearls 
formed the principal ornament of the simple crowns worn by the early 
kings of Britain previous to Alfred the Great. 

The river pearls were not so beautiful as oriental ones ; but, owing 
to the ease with which they were obtained, they were employed more 
extensively and especially in ecclesiastical decorations, the principal 
use for pearls from the eighth to the eleventh century. Apparently 
authentic specimens of fresh-water pearls of an early period are the 
four now in the coronation spoon of the English regalia, which is at- 
tributed to the twelfth century. 

From the most ancient times until the overthrow of the Roman 
Empire, practically the only use for pearls was ornamental; but after 
the eighth century there developed a new employment for these as well 
as for other gems. Natural history was little studied in Europe from 
the ninth to the fourteenth century, except for the effect which its sub- 
jects had in medicine and magic, which were closely allied. Largely 
through Arabic influence, the practice of medicine had developed into 
administering most whimsical remedies, among which gems, and espe- 
cially pearls, played a prominent part, and belief in the influence of 
these was as strong as in that of the heavenly bodies. For this applica- 
tion, large demands had arisen for pearls, which seem to have been 
prescribed for nearly every ill to which the flesh was heir. On account 
of their cheapness, the small ones — seed-pearls — were used principally; 
though larger ones were preferred by persons who could afford them. 
While many of these so-called medicinal pearls were obtained from the 
Orient, most of them were secured from the home streams in the north 
of Europe and in the British Isles. 

After the decadence of Roman power in the East, the rulers of 
India and Persia, through their control of the fisheries, again accumu- 
lated enormous quantities of pearls. All of the early travelers to those 
countries were astonished at the lavish display of these gems in dec- 
orative costume. 

The manuscript of Renaudot's two Mohammedans, who visited In- 
dia and China in the ninth century, notes that the kings of the Indies 
were rich in ornaments, "yet pearls are what they most esteem, and 
their value surpasses that of all other jewels ; they hoard them up in 
their treasures with their most precious things. The grandees of the 
court, the great officers and captains, wear the like jewels in their 
collars." 1 

* Renaudot, " Ancient Accounts of India and China by Two Mohammedan Travelers," 

London, 1733, p. 98. 




Inventories of some of the oriental collections of later times seem to 
be extravagant fiction rather than veritable history. In that interest- 
ing book dictated in a Genoese prison to Rusticiano da Pisa, accounts 
are given by Marco Polo of great treasures seen by the first Europeans 
to penetrate into China. He describes the king of Malabar as wearing 
suspended about his neck a string of 104 large pearls and rubies of 
great value, which he used as a rosary. Likewise on his legs were 
anklets and on his toes were rings, all thickly set with costly pearls, the 
whole "worth more than a city's ransom. And 't is no wonder he hath 
great store of such gear ; for they are found in his kingdom. No one 
is permitted to remove therefrom a pearl weighing more than half a 
saggio. The king desires to reserve all such to himself, and so the 
quantity he has is almost incredible."^ 

Later travelers give wonderful descriptions of this excessive passion 
for pearls. Literature is full of this appreciation, and of the part 
which these gems played in the afifairs of the Orientals. Who has not 
dwelt with delight upon those imperishable legends such as are em- 
bodied in the Arabian Nights, of the pearl voyages by Sindbad the 
Sailor, of the wonderful treasure chests, and of the superb necklaces 
adorning the beautiful black-eyed women ! 

The returning Crusaders in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and 
the development of the knightly orders, had much to do with spreading 
through Europe a fondness for pearls in personal decoration. Those 
who, like Chaucer's knight, had been with Peter, King of Cyprus, at 
the capture and plunder when "Alexandria was won," returned to their 
homes with riches of pearls and gold and precious stones. And learning 
much relative to decorative art from Moorish craftsmen, the jewelers 
of western Europe set these in designs not always crude and ineffective. 

Although they were well known and valued, pearls do not seem to 
have been much used in England before the twelfth century, as the 
Anglo-Saxons were not an especially art-loving people. The word it- 
self is of foreign derivation and occurs in a similar form in all modern 
languages, both Romance and Teutonic; perle, French and German; 
perla, Italian, Portuguese, Pi'ovengal, Spanish, and Swedish; paarl, 
Danish and Dutch. Its origin is doubtful. Some philologists consider 
it Teutonic and the diminutive of beere, a berry ; Claude de Saumaise 
derives it from pirula, the diminutive of pirum, a sphere; while Diez 
and many others refer it to pira or to the medieval Latin pinila, in 
allusion to the pear shape frequently assumed by the pearl. - 

'"The Book of Ser Marco Polo," London, In Tamil, the word for pearl \%mooithoo ; in 

i8;i. Vol. II, p. 275. Hindustani, it is mootic; in Cingalese, moo- 

2 Analogous to the uniform European word too; and in Malay, mutya or mootara. 

for this gem, is the extension of the Sanskrit (Ainslie, "Materia Indica," London, 1826, 

form, mtikta, from Persia to the Sulu Islands. Vol. I, pp. 292-297.) 


The word pearl seems to have come into general use in the English 
language about the fourteenth century. In Wyclif 's translation of the 
Scriptures (about 1360), he commonly used the word margarite or 
margaritis, whereas Tyndale's translation (1526) in similar places 
used the word pcrlc. Tyndale translated Matt. xiii. 46: "When he 
had founde one precious pearle"; Wyclif used "00 preciouse marga- 
rite." Also in Matt. vii. 6, Tyndale wrote, "Nether caste ye youre 
pearles before swyne" ; yet Wyclif used "margaritis," although twenty 
years later he expressed it "putten precious perils to hoggis." Lang- 
land's Piers Plowman (1362), XI, 9, wrote this: "Noli mittere Mar- 
geri perles Among hogges." The oldest English version of Mande- 
ville's Travels, written about 1400, contained the expression: "The fyn 
Perl congeles and wexes gret of the dew of hevene"; but in 1447, 
Bokenham's "Seyntys" stated: "A margerye perle aftyr the phylo- 
sophyr Growyth on a shelle of lytyl pryhs" ; and Knight de la Tour 
(about 1450) stated: "The sowle is the precious marguarite unto 

The word is given "perle" in the earliest manuscripts of those old 
epic poems of the fourteenth century, "Pearl" and "Cleanness," which 
have caused so much learned theological discussion and which testify 
to the great love and esteem in which the gem was held. The first 
stanza of "Pearl" we quote from Gollancz's rendition: 

Pearl ! fair enow for princes' pleasance, 

so deftly set in gold so pure, — 
from orient lands I durst avouch, 

ne'er saw I a gem its peer, — 
so round, so comely-shaped withal, 

so small, with sides so smooth, — 
where'er I judged of radiant gems, 

I placed my pearl supreme.^ 

The fourteenth-century manuscript in the British Museum gives 
this as follows : 

Perle plesaunte to prynces paye. 

To clanly clos in gold so clere, 
Oute of oryent I hardyly saye, 

Ne proved I never her precios pere, — 
So rounde, so reken in uche a rave, 

So smal, so smothe her sydez were, — 
Queresoever I jvigged gemmez gaye, 

I sette hyr sengeley in synglere. 

'Gollancz, "Pearl, an English Poem of the Fourteenth Century," London, 1891. 


And from a modern rendering of "Cleanness" we quote: 

The pearl is praised wherever gems are seen, 

though it be not the dearest by way of merchandise. 

Why is the pearl so prized, save for its purity, 
that wins praise for it above all white stones? 

It shineth so bright ; it is so round of shape ; 
without fault or stain; if it be truly a pearl. 

In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries throughout Europe pearls 
were very fashionable as personal ornaments, and were worn in enor- 
mous quantities; the dresses of men as well as of women were dec- 
orated and embroidered with them, and they were noted in nearly every 
account of a festive occasion, whether it were a marriage, a brilliant 
tourney, the consecration of a bishop, or the celebration of a victory in 

The faceting of crystal gems was not known at that time, and those 
dependent on artifice for their beauty were not much sought after. Al- 
though the diamond had been known from the eighth century, it was 
not generally treasured as an ornament, and not until long after the 
invention of cutting in regular facets — about 1450— did it attain its 
great popularity. 

In the Dark Ages, it was customary for princes and great nobles to 
carry their valuables about with them even on the battle-fields ; first, in 
order to have them always in possession, and second, on account of 
the mysterious power they attributed to precious stones. Since jewels 
constituted a large portion of their portable wealth, nobles and knights 
went into battle superbly arrayed. In this manner the treasures were 
easily lost and destroyed; consequently, relatively few of the personal 
ornaments of that period are preserved to the present time. 

Among the greatest lovers of pearls in the fourteenth and fifteenth 
centuries were the members of the ducal house of Burgundy, and 
especially Philip the Bold (1342-1404), Philip the Good (1396-1467), 
and Charles the Bold (1433-77), ^"d some of the gems which they 
owned are even now treasured in Austria, Spain, and Italy. When 
Duke Charles the Bold, in the year 1473, attended the Diet of Treves, 
accompanied by his five thousand splendidly equipped horsemen, he 
was attired in cloth of gold garnished with pearls, which were valued 
at 200,000 golden florins.^ We are told that "almost a sea of pearls" 
was on view at the marriage of George the Rich with Hedwig, the 
daughter of Casimir III of Poland, at Landshut, in 1475. Among 
the many ornaments was a pearl chaplet valued at 50,000 florins which 

' Sachs, "Kaiserchronik," Vol. IV, p. 261. 


Duke George wore on his hat, and also a clasp worth 6000 florins.^ 
Members of the related houses of Anjou and Valois also held great 
collections. Nor in this account should we omit some of the English 
sovereigns, including especially Richard H (1366-1400), one of the 
greatest dandies of his day. 

During the fifteenth century, enormous quantities of pearls were 
worn by persons of rank and fashion. A remarkable 1483 portrait of 
Margaret, wife of James HI of Scotland, which is now preserved at 
Hampton Court, shows her wearing such wonderful pearl ornaments 
that she might well be called Margaret from her decorations. As this 
queen was praised for her beauty, we fear the artist has scarcely done 
justice to her appearance; or possibly since that period tastes have 
changed as to what on a throne passes for beauty. Her head-dress is 
undoubtedly the most remarkable pearl decoration which we have seen 
of that century. 

The uxorious and sumptuous Henry VHI of England (1491-1547) 
spent much of the great wealth accumulated by his penurious father, 
Henry VH, in enriching the appearance of his semi-barbaric court. 
In this reign, the spoliation of the Catholic cathedrals and churches 
contributed many pearls to the royal treasury ; and onward from that 
time, they were prominently displayed among the ornaments of the 
women of rank in England. Most of the portraits of Henry's wives 
show great quantities of these gems; many of them with settings 
doubtless designed by artistic Hans Holbein the Younger (1497- 
1543) ; and during the succeeding reigns the women near the throne 
were commonly depicted with elaborate pearl decorations. 

The cold, unflattering portraits by Holbein of the court celebrities 
of that period, not only of the gracious women and of the dandified 
men, but of the clergy as well, show the prominence of pearls. Note 
his portrait of Jane Seymour, of Anne of Cleves, of Christina of Den- 
mark, and the pearl-incrusted miter of Archbishop Warham of 

An interesting story is told of Sir Thomas More, the learned chan- 
cellor of Henry VHI, showing his view of the great display of jewels 
which distinguished the period in which he lived : 

His Sonne John's wife often had requested her father-in-law, Sir Thomas, 
to buy her a billiment sett with pearles. He had often put her off with many 
pretty slights ; but at last, for her importunity, he provided her one. Instead 
of pearles, he caused white peaze to be sett, so that at his next coming home, 
his daughter-in-law demanded her jewel. "Ay, marry, daughter, I have not 
forgotten thee !" So out of his studie he sent for a box, and solemnlie deliv- 

1 Staudenraus, "Chronik der Stadt Landshut," 1832, Vol. I, p. 172. 


ered it to her. When she, with great joy, lookt for her bilHment, she found, 
far from her expectation, a biUiment of peaze; and so she almost wept for 
verie griefe.^ 

Meanwhile, in the yet unknown America, pearls were highly prized, 
and their magic charm had taken an irresistible hold on aborigines and 
on the more highly civilized inhabitants of Mexico and Peru. In 
Mexico the palaces of Montezuma were studded with pearls and emer- 
alds, and the Aztec kings possessed pearls of inestimable value. That 
they had been collected elsewhere for a long time is evidenced by the 
large quantities in the recently opened mounds of the Ohio Valley, 
which rank among the ancient works of man in America. As in the 
Old World, so in the New, they had been used as decoration for the 
gods and for the temples, as well as for men and women. 

The principal immediate effect of Columbus's discovery and of the 
commercial intercourse with the New World, was the great wealth of 
pearls which enriched the Spanish traders. The natives were found 
in possession of rich fisheries on the coast of Venezuela, and somewhat 
later on the Pacific coast of Panama and Mexico, whence Eldorado 
adventurers returned to Spain with such large collections that — using 
an old chronicler's expression — "they were to every man like chaff." 
For many years America was best known in Seville, Cadiz, and some 
other ports of Europe, as the land whence the pearls came. Until the 
development of the mines in Mexico and Peru, the value of the pearls 
exceeded that of all other exports combined. Humboldt states that till 
1530 these averaged in value more than- 800,000 piastres yearly.* And 
throughout the sixteenth century the American fisheries — prosecuted 
by the Spaniards with the help of native labor — furnished Europe with 
large quantities, the records for one year showing imports of "697 
pounds' weight" into Seville alone. 

For two centuries following the discovery of America, extravagance 
in personal decoration was almost unlimited at the European courts, 
and the pearls exceeded in quantity that of all other gems. Enormous 
numbers were worn by persons of rank and fortune. This is apparent, 
not only from the antiquarian records and the historical accounts, but 
also in the paintings and engravings of that time; portraits of the 
Hapsburgs, the Valois, the Medicis, the Borgias, the Tudors, and 
the Stuarts show great quantities of pearls, and relatively few other 

Probably the largest treasures were in possession of the Hapsburg 

ijones, "History and Mystery of Precious to the New Continent," London, 1822, Vol. 
Stones," London, 1880, p. 135. U, p. 273. 

2 Humboldt, "Personal Narrative of Travels 


family, which furnished so many sovereigns to the Holy Roman Em- 
pire, to Austria, and to Spain, and which, by descent through Maria 
Theresa, continued to rule the Holy Roman Empire until its abolition 
in 1806, and has since ruled Austria and Hungary. 

A number of superb pieces of jewelry owned centuries ago by mem- 
bers of this illustrious family are yet in existence; notably the buckle 
of Charles V, and especially the imperial crown of Austria, made in 
1602 by order of Rudolph H.^ 

Two great women of that period are noted for their passion for 
pearls, Catharine de' Medici (1519-89), and Elizabeth of England 
(1533-1603). It requires but a glance at almost any of their por- 
traits, wherein they are represented wearing elaborate pearl orna- 
ments, to see to what an extent they carried this fondness. And many 
other women were not far behind them, among whom were Mary 
Stuart, Marie de' Medici, and Henrietta Maria. And not only by the 
women, but by the men also, pearls were worn to what now seems an 
extravagant extent. Nearly all the portraits of Francis I (1494- 
1547), Henry II (1519-59), Charles IX (1550-74), and Henry III 
(1551-89) of France; of James I (i 566-1 625), and of Charles I 
(1600-49) of England, and likewise of other celebrities, show a great 
pear-shaped pearl in one ear. Many portraits also show pearls on the 
hats, cloaks, gloves, etc. 

When the Duke of Buckingham went to Paris in 1625, to bring over 
Henrietta Maria to be queen to Charles I, he had, according to an ac- 
count in the "Antiquarian Repertory," in addition to twenty-six other 
suits, "a rich suit of purple satin, embroidered all over with rich orient 
pearls, the cloak made after the Spanish mode, with all things suitable, 
the value whereof will be twenty thousand pounds, and this, it is 
thought, shall be for the wedding day at Paris." 

In the rich and prosperous cities of southern Europe, pearls were no 
less popular. From its share of the spoils of the Byzantine Empire, 
after its partition in 1204, pearls and other riches were plentiful in 
Venice, and they were increased by the rapidly developing trade with 
the Orient. In the rival maritime cities, Genoa and Pisa, the gem was 
equally popular; and likewise in Florence "the Beautiful." When 
Hercule d'Este sought Lucrezia Borgia (1480-1519) in marriage for 
his son, her father. Pope Alexander VI, plunging both hands in a box 
filled with pearls, said : "All these are for her ! I desire that in all Italy 
she shall be the princess with the most beautiful pearls and with the 
greatest number."^ 

Separated by three centuries of time and by the intervening simplic- 
ities of Puritanism and democracy, it is difficult for us to appreciate 

'See p. 473. 2 Yriarte, " Autour des Borgia," Paris, i8gi, pp. 136, 137. 


— ■ v»^-,^ ^ 




By Martin dr Mvtfns. 174:! 


the passion for pearls in Europe at that period, which may well be 
called the Pearl Age. 

The sumptuary laws which prevailed at different times in France, 
England, Germany, and other countries, did not overlook this extrav- 
agance; and an entire volume might be devoted to the efforts to curb 
the excessive use. In France they were probably most stringent dur- 
ing the reign of Philip IV (1285-1314), of Louis XI (1461-83), of 
Charles IX (1560-74), of Henry III (1574-89), and of Louis XIII 
( 1610-43). In Germany almost every city had its special restrictions. 
A sumptuary law of Ulm, in 1345, provided that no married woman or 
maiden, either among the patricians or the artisans, should wear pearls 
on her dresses; and another, in 141 1, restricted them to "one pearl 
chaplet," and this should not exceed twelve loth (half ounce) in 
weight. A Prankish sumptuary law of 1479 provided that ordinary 
nobles serving a knight at a tourney should not wear any pearl orna- 
ments, embroidered or otherwise, excepting one string around the cap 
or hat. The regulations decreed by the Diet of Worms, in 1495, set 
forth that the citizens who were not of noble birth, and nobles who 
were not knights, must withhold from the use of gold and pearls. A 
similar provision was enacted by the Diet of Freiburg in 1498, and 
likewise by the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, which permitted the wives 
of nobles four silk dresses, but without pearls. In the sumptuary law 
of Duke John George of Saxony, April 23, i6i2,.we read: "the nobility 
are not allowed to wear any dresses of gold or silver, or garnished with 
pearls ; neither shall the professors and doctors of the universities, nor 
their wives, wear any gold, silver or pearls for fringes, or any chains 
of pearls, or caps, neck-ornaments, shoes, slippers, shawls, pins, etc., 
with gold or silver or with pearls." Beadles, burgomasters, and those 
connected with the law-courts were forbidden to wear chains of pearls 
and ornaments of precious stones on their dresses, caps, etc., or slip- 
pers or chaplets with pearls. 

Probably in no place were these laws more stringent than in the art- 
loving republic of Venice from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century. 
This seems remarkable in view of the fact that this city was largely 
dependent for its wealth and prominence on commerce with the East, 
of which pearls constituted a prominent item. 

The earliest Venetian restriction that we have found regarding 
pearls was made in 1299; when, in a decree determining the maximum 
number of guests at a marriage ceremony and the extent of the bridal 
trousseau, the grand council of the republic provided that no one but 
the bride should wear pearl decorations, and she should be permitted 
only one girdle of them on her wedding dress. This enactment was 
modified in 1306, but numerous other restrictions were substituted, 


notably in 1334, 1340, 1360, 1497, and 1562. These .differed in many 
particulars : some forbade ornaments or trimmings of pearls, gold, or 
silver on the dresses of any women except a member of the Doge's 
family ; and other enactments required that, after a definite period of 
married life, no woman should be permitted to wear pearls of any kind. 
But an examination of the documents and of the paintings of that 
period shows that these decrees had little effect, and the luxury of the 
"Queen of the xA.driatic" in the use of pearls at the most brilliant epoch 
in her history is aptly reproduced in the portraits by Giovanni Bellini, 
Lorenzo Lotto, the great Titian, Tintoretto, Paul Veronese, and other 
artists of the highest rank. In the engraving by Hendrik Goltzius of 
a marriage at Venice in 1584, not one of the many women present 
seems to be without her necklace and earrings of pearls, and some of 
them have several necklaces.^ And the same appears true of the prin- 
cipal female figures in Jost Amman's noted engraving, "The Espousal 
of the Sea," executed in 1565." 

As preservation of the republic became more difficult with declining 
resources and with the continued growth of dazzling splendor, a re- 
solution in the Senate, dated July 8, 1599, set forth that "the use 
and price of pearls has become so excessive and increases to such an 
extent from day to day, that if some remedy is not provided, it will 
cause injury, disorders, and notable inconvenience to public and private 
well-being, as each one of this council in his wisdom can very easily 
appreciate." And then it was enacted: "That, without repealing the 
other regulations which absolutely prohibit the wearing of pearls, it 
shall be expressly enjoined that any woman, whether of noble birth or 
a simple citizen, or of any other condition, who shall reside in this our 
city for one year (except her Serenity the Dogaressa and her daugh- 
ters and her daughters-in-law who live in the palace), after the expira- 
tion of fifteen years from the day of her first marriage, shall lay aside 
the string of pearls around her neck and shall not wear or use, either 
upon her neck or upon any other part of her person, this string or any 
other kind of pearls or anything which imitates pearls, neither in this 
city nor in any other city or place within our dominion, under the irre- 
missible penalty of two hundred ducats." 

And yet ten years later, on May 5, 1609, another law enacted in the 
Senate stated: 

Although in the year 1599 this council decided with great wisdom that 
married women should be permitted to wear pearls for only fifteen years after 
their first marriage, nevertheless it is very evident that the desired end has 
not been attained, and the extravagance has continued up to the present time 

iSee Yriarte, "Venice," Paris, 1878, p. 2.^6. ^Ibid., pp. 252, 253. 




P R E S E 


Confegliodi Pregadi. 

> JS9. /</■ S-Lk^Hc, <^ i£oS.JMj!1^i>. 
In materia di Perle. 

and still continues with the gravest injury to private persons. Therefore, 
as it is necessary to remedy, by a new provision, not only this considerable 
incommodity, but also to prevent in the future the introduction into the city 
of a greater quantity of pearls than are found here at present, it is enacted, 
that married women as well as those who shall marry in the future (except 
the Serene Dogaressa and her daughters and her daughters-in-law living in 
the palace) of whatever grade and condition they may be, who have resided 
in this city for one year, cannot wear pearls of any kind except for ten years 
immediately following the day of their 
first marriage; and after that period 
they must lay aside these pearls which 
they are forbidden to wear on any part 
of their persons, at home or abroad, 
and as well in this as in the other cities, 
lands, and other places of our domin- 
ion, under the penalty of two hundred 
ducats. And if the husband of the of- 
fending wife is a noble, he shall be 
proclaimed in the greater council and 
declared a debtor to the office of the 
governors of the revenue in the sum of 
twenty-five ducats for each fine ; and if 
he is a citizen or of any other condi- 
tion, besides the penalty of two hun- 
dred ducats and the fine of twenty-five 
ducats above mentioned, he shall be 
banished for three years from Venice 
and the Duchy, and the same for each 
offence. And pearls or anything which 
imitates pearls, shall be forbidden to 
all other women, men and boys or girls 
of every age and condition at all times 
and in all places, under the same pen- 
alty of two hundred ducats. In the future no one shall in any manner bring 
pearls to this city as merchandise, under the penalty of their seizure and for- 
feiture. And the merchant shall be imprisoned for five consecutive years ; and 
if he flees, he shall be banished from the city and district of Venice and from 
all other cities, lands, and places of our dominion for eight consecutive years. 
, . . And all who at present have pearls to sell are required to deposit a list of 
them with the sumptuary office, so as to avoid all fraud which could be prac- 
ticed in this matter. 

Stampata per Antonio PJnellij 
Stampator Ducale. 

vtS.JMorid FormofitinCtlt ictMondtHom. 

A copy of the title-page of this enactment is presented above. 

The decrees and edicts were not confined to Venice, or to Italy, 
France, or Germany; they made their appearance quite generally 
throughout western and northern Europe and the interdictions of the 


civil authorities were strengthened by the voice of the bishops and 
other clergy, especially in the imperial cities of southern Germany. Yet- 
the united authority of church and state was ineffectual in stemming 
the tide of fashion and personal fancy, and whether or not pearls 
should be worn became one of the much discussed questions of that 

To the question, "Whether the statute and regulation of Bishop Tu- 
dertinus, who had excommunicated all women who wore pearls, was 
binding," Joannes Guidius replied that many denied that this was so, 
and made the subtle defense that "the women had not accepted it and 
all had worn pearls, and it was considered that such a law was binding 
only when it was accepted by those for whom it was intended."^ 

And as to the validity of the statutes requiring that women should 
not wear more than a definite number of pearls, he decided that "such 
a statute is valid and in itself good. And if the question is put whether 
every woman who infringes incurs the penalty, an answer may be gath- 
ered from the sayings of the doctors, who distinguish between married 
and unmarried women. They consider that an unmarried woman is 
obliged to obey the statute and regulation or to incur the penalty. But 
as to a married woman, if her husband approves, she should obey the 
statute; if, however, the husband objects, then the wife ought to wish 
to obey the statute, but in effect she should rather obey her husband, 
for she is most immediately and strongly bound to do this." " Aided 
by such ingenious opinions as these, the women continued to follow 
their own inclinations notwithstanding the opposition of church and 

Other fine distinctions were drawn by the lawyers of that day re- 
garding ownership of gems under certain conditions. For instance, it 
was decided that pearls given by a father to his unmarried daughter 
remained her property after marriage because "the}' are given for a 
reason, namely to induce a marriage" ; yet "pearls handed to a wife by 
her husband are not considered as her property, but must be given to 
his heirs, since it is supposed that they were given only for her adorn- 
ment. The same holds good as respects pearls handed to a daughter- 
in-law by her father-in-law." ' 

However, the greed of fashion, which law-makers and bishops could 
not arrest, was gradually satiated; and, influenced probably by the 
horrors of the Thirty Years' War, more simple taste prevailed in the 
latter part of the seventeenth century. 

In the meantime, improvements in cutting and polishing had greatly 
increased the beauty and popularit)' of diamonds and other crystal 

^Guidius, "De Mineral- ' Ibid., p. 73. ^ /did., pp. 75-77. 

ibus," Frankfort, 1627, p. 74/ 


gems, and this adversely affected the demand for pearls. Further- 
more, cleverly fashioned imitations manufactured at a low cost also 
served to decrease the relative rank and fashion of the sea-born gems. 
In the eighteenth century, pearls w^ere relatively scarce; the resources 
of the American seas were largely exhausted, likewise the Ceylon and 
Red Sea fisheries were not to be depended on, and practically the entire 
supply came from the Persian Gulf, with a few from European rivers 
and the waters of China. As a result, although they continued to be 
prized by connoisseurs, pearls were not so extensively sought after by 
the rank and file of jewel purchasers. 

It should be noted, however, that from the most ancient times, the 
princes of India and of Persia have had their pick and choice of the 
output from Ceylon and the Persian Gulf ; and the largest single col- 
lections of the Western world have never equaled the possessions of 
some of those rulers. Some Indian princes have loaded themselves 
with thousands of pearls, and individual ornaments have been valued 
not only by oriental, but by European experts, at several millions of 

The great diamond resources of Brazil were discovered in 1727, 
and after a few years these came on the market at the rate of 140,000 
carats annually. At that time ladies of rank did not esteem diamonds 
so highly as pearls. This distinction was accentuated by Lord Hervey 
in his account of the coronation, in 1727, of George II and his consort 
Caroline, who wore not only the great pearl necklace inherited from 
Queen Anne, but "had on her head and shoulders all the pearls she 
could borrow of the ladies of quality at one end of the town, and on 
her petticoat all the diamonds she could hire of the Jews and jewelers 
at the other ; so that the appearance and the truth of her finery was a 
mixture of magnificence and meanness not unlike the eclat of royalty 
in many other particulars, when it comes to be nicely considered and 
its source traced to what money hires or flattery lends." ^ In a por- 
trait of Charlotte (1744-1818), wife of George III, the pearls and 
diamonds appear equally popular. 

On the entry of the British into possession of Ceylon in 1796, the 
fisheries of that country were resumed with great success after thirty 
years of idleness, resulting in very large outputs for several seasons. 
But owing to exhaustion of the areas, they were soon reduced, and the 
yield became small and uncertain. 

About 1845, pearls came on the market from the Tuamotu Archi- 
pelago and other South Sea islands, and the industry was revived on 
the Mexican coast. The pearls from these localities are noted for 
their range of coloration, and particularly for the very dark shades, 

iCroker, "Lord Hervey's Memoirs," London, 1848, Vol. I, pp. 88, 89. 


black or greenish black being especially prominent. But the fashion, 
and thus, necessarily, the demand, had always been for white and yel- 
low pearls; consequently, these black ones were of little value in the 
markets until about ten years later, when they became fashionable in 
Europe largely through their popularity with Empress Eugenie of 
France, then at the height of her power. To this queen, pearls owe 
much of their high rank in fashion in the nineteenth century ; and on 
her head they were royal gems royally worn, as appears from Winter- 
halter's portrait of her, showing her magnificent necklace. 

The discovery of the resources on the Australian coast about 1865, 
and the development of the fishery there for mother-of-pearl, resulted 
in many large white pearls coming from that coast. The search was 
confined to the relatively shoal waters, until the introduction of diving- 
suits about 1880. The use of these facilitated a considerable extension 
of the fisheries not only on the Australian coast, but also in Mexico, 
the Malay Archipelago, several of the South Sea islands, and some 
minor localities. 

In America, few jewels were worn previous to the Civil War, owing 
to the absence of great wealth and to the simplicity of taste in per- 
sonal decorations. The rapid increase in wealth and luxury, on the 
termination of that war, resulted in a great demand for gems, and the 
most brilliant and showy ones were selected, especially diamonds. This 
demand was the more readily supplied by the discovery of the South 
African mines, with their great yield from 1870 to the present time. 
So popular did that gem become that many a young man invested his 
first earnings in a "brilliant," and an enormous diamond in the shirt- 
front became the caricatured emblem of a prosperous hotel clerk. 

But in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, in Europe, as well 
as in America and elsewhere where gems are worn, luxury found in 
pearls a refinement, associated with richness and beauty, exceeding 
that of diamonds and other crystal gems, and in the last few years they 
have taken the highest rank among jewels. This change in fashion 
and the increase in wealth among the people developed vastly greater 
demands and consequently very much higher prices. These have re- 
sulted in greatly extending the field of search, and during the last two 
or three decades many new territories have been brought into produc- 

By far the most important of these new regions is the Mississippi 
Valley in America, the pearl resources of which were made known 
about a score of years ago. As the exploitation developed, the gems 
from these streams added very largely to the supply, especially of 
the baroque or irregular pearls, which have increased greatly in 
fashion in the last ten years. 





Notwithstanding the popular idea that pearls are scarce owing to 
depletion of the fisheries, they are doubtless produced in greater 
quantities at present than ever before in the history of the world. 
True, they were more plentiful in Rome after the Persian conquest, 
and in Spain immediately following the exploitation of tropical Amer- 
ica ; but it is highly probable that in no equal period have the entire 
fisheries of the world yielded greater quantities than in the five years 
from 1903 to 1907 inclusive. Certain individual fisheries are now less 
productive than at the height of their prosperity; those in the Red Sea 
do not compare favorably with their condition in ancient times, the 
European resources are nearly exhausted, the supplies from the 
Venezuelan coast do not equal those obtained early in the sixteenth 
century, the yield from Mexico is not so extensive as twenty-five years 
ago, and the same is true of some other regions. On the other hand, 
the great fisheries of Persia and Ceylon are yet very prosperous, the 
Ceylon fishery of 1905 surpassing all records, and the number of minor 
pearling regions has largely increased. 

The present value of pearls— which has advanced enormously since 
1893 — is due to the extended markets and the increased wealth and 
fashion in Western countries, rather than to diminished fisheries. The 
oriental demand still consumes the bulk of the Persian and Indian 
output, and the vast increase in wealth among the middle classes in 
America, Europe, and elsewhere, has increased the demand tenfold 
over that of a century ago. While women no longer appear orna- 
mented from head to foot as in the sixteenth century, pearls are in the 
highest fashion, and the woman of rank and wealth usually prizes first 
among her jewels her necklace of pearls. 





Heaven-born and cradled in the deep blue sea, it is the purest 
of gems and the most precious. 


THE origin of pearls has been a fruitful subject of speculation 
and discussion among naturalists of all ages, and has pro- 
voked many curious explanations. Most of the early views — 
universally accepted during those centuries when tradition 
had more influence than observation and experiment — have no stand- 
ing among naturalists at the present time. And although much in- 
formation has been gained as to the conditions accompanying their 
growth, and many theories are entertained, each with some basis in 
observed fact, science does not yet speak with conclusive and unques- 
tioned authority as to the precise manner of their origin and develop- 

Owing to the chaste and subdued beauty of pearls, it is not strange 
that poets of mam'^ countries have founded their origin in tears— tears 
of angels, of water-nymphs, of the lovely and devoted. Sir Walter 
Scott in "The Bridal of Triermain" refers to — 

The pearls that long have slept, 
These were tears by Naiads wept. 

In one of his most lovely and consoling thoughts, Shakspere says : 

The liquid drops of tears that you have shed. 
Shall come again, transform'd to orient pearl, 
Advantaging their loan with interest 
Of ten times double gain of happiness. 

And we quote from Riickert's "Edelstein und Perlen": 

I was the Angel, who of old bowed down 

From Heaven to earth and shed that tear, O Pearl, 

From which thou wert first-fashioned in thy shell. 



To thee I gave that longing in thy shell, 
Which guided thee and caused thee to escape, 
O Pearl, from the bewitching sirens' song. 

In luster they so closely resemble the limpid, sparkling dewdrop as 
it first receives the sun's rays, that the ancients very naturally con- 
ceived that pearls are formed from drops of dew or rain. The usual 
legend is, that at certain seasons of the year, the pearl-oysters rise to 
the surface of the water in the morning, and there open their shells 
and imbibe the dewdrops ; these, aided by the breath of the air and the 
warmth of the sunlight, are, in the course of time, transformed into 
lustrous pearls; but if the air and the sunlight are not received in 
sufficient quantities, the pearls do not attain perfection and are faulty 
in form, color, and luster. However remarkable and even absurd this 
may seem at present, it appears to have been universally accepted for 
centttries by the most learned men of Europe as well as by primitive 
people who delight in the mystical and fantastic. This opinion was 
recorded in the Sanskrit books of the Brahmans and in other oriental 
literature. The classical and medieval writings of Europe contain 
numerous references to it ; and it is found even yet in the traditions 
and folk-lore of some peoples. 

In the first century a.d., Pliny wrote in his "Historia naturalis," ac- 
cording to Dr. Philemon Holland's quaint translation : 

The fruit of these shell fishes are the Pearles, better or worse, great or 
small, according to the qualitie and quantitie of the dew which they received. 
For if the dew were pure and cleare which went into them, then are the 
Pearles white, faire, and Orient; but if grosse and troubled, the Pearles 
likewise are dimme, foule, and duskish; pale they are, if the weather were 
close, darke and threatening raine in the time of their conception. Whereby 
(no doubt) it is apparent and plaine, that they participate more of the aire 
and sky, than of the water and the sea; for according as the morning is 
faire, so are they cleere: but otherwise, if it were misty and cloudy, they 
also will be thicke and muddy in colour. If they may have their full time 
and season to feed, the Pearles likewise will thrive and grow bigge: but if 
in the time it chance to lighten, then they close their shells together, and for 
want of nourishment are kept hungrie and fasting, and so the pearles keepe 
at a stay and prosper not accordingly. But if it thunder withall, then sud- 
denly they shut hard at once, and breed only those excrescences which be 
called Physemata, like unto bladders puft up and hooved with wind, no 
corporal substance at all : and these are the abortive & untimely fruits of these 
shell fishes.' 

Pliny's views were probably derived from the ancient authorities of 
his time, particularly from Megasthenes, Chares of Mytilene, and Isi- 

' "The Naturall Historic of C. Plinius Secundus," London, 1601, Book IX, ch. 35. 















■; # 



dorus of Charace ; and these curious fictions were incorporated by sub- 
sequent writers and influenced popular opinion for many centuries. 
With scarcely a single exception, every recorded theory from the first 
century b.c. to the fifteenth century evidences a belief in dew-formed 

This theory is referred to by Thomas Moore in his well-known lines : 

And precious the tear as that rain from the sky, 
Which turns into pearls as it falls in the sea. 

The Spanish-Hebrew traveler Benjamin of Tudela, in his "Ma- 
saoth" in Persia (from 11 60 to 11 73), wrote: "In these places pearls 
are found, made by the wonderful artifice of nature: for on the four 
and twentieth day of the month Nisan, a certain dew falleth into the 
waters, which being sucked in by the oysters, they immediately sink 
to the bottom of the sea ; afterwards, about the middle of the month 
Tisri, men descend to the bottom of the sea, and, by the help of cords, 
these men bringing up the oysters in great quantities from thence, 
open and take out of them the pearls."* 

From the "Bustan," one of the most popular works of Sadi, the 
Persian poet (1190-1291 a.d.), Davie quotes: 

From the cloud there descended a droplet of rain; 
'T was ashamed when it saw the expanse of the main, 
Saying : "Who may I be, where the sea has its run ? 
If the sea has existence, I, truly, have none!" 
Since in its own eyes the drop humble appeared. 
In its bosom, a shell with its life the drop reared; 
The sky brought the work with success to a close. 
And a famed royal pearl from the rain-drop arose. 
Because it was humble it excellence gained ; 
Patiently waiting till success was attained. 

Even the usually well-informed William Camden (1551-1623), in 
whose honor the Camden Historical Society of England was named, 
accepted the theory of dew-formed pearls. He stated that the river 
Conway in Wales "breeds a kind of shells, which being pregnated with 
dew, produce pearl." " Also, speaking of the Irt in county Cumber- 
land, England, he said: "In this brook, the shell-fish, eagerly sucking 
in the dew, conceive and bring forth pearls, or (to use the poet's word) 
shell berries (Baccas concheas)." ^ 

A recent letter from the American consul at Aden indicates that this 

"'Travels of Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela," ^"Camden Britannia," 2d edition, London, 

Gerrans's edition, London, 1783, p. 23. 1722, Vol. II, p. 801. 

'Ibid.. Vol. II, p. 1003. 


view is held even yet by the Arabs of that region. In giving their ex- 
planation for the present scarcity in the Red Sea, he states : "There is 
a belief among them that a pearl is formed from a drop of rain caught 
in the mouth of the pearl-oyster, which by some chemical process after 
a time turns into a pearl ; and as there has been very little rain in that 
region for several years past, there are few pearls." 

So firmly established throughout Europe was the belief in dew- 
formed pearls, that its non-acceptance by the native Indians of Amer- 
ica excited the commiseration of the Italian historian Peter Martyr, 
in his "De Orbe Novo," one of the very first books on America, pub- 
lished in 1517. He states: "But that they [pearls of Margarita Island 
on the present coast of Venezuela] become white by the clearnesse of 
the morning dewe, or waxe yelowe in troubled weather, or otherwise 
that they seeme to rejoice in fayre weather and dear ayre, or contrary- 
wise, to be as it were astonished and dymme in thunder and tempests, 
with such other, the perfect knowledge hereof is not to be looked for 
at the hands of these unlearned men, which handle the matter but 
grossly and enquire no further than occasion serveth."' Peter Mar- 
tyr v/as distinguished for his learning, was an instructor at the court 
of Spain at the height of its power, and came in contact with the most 
enlightened men of Europe, consequently it may be assumed that he 
reflected the best opinions of his time. 

It was not long before the aborigines of America were not alone in 
discrediting the views which had. prevailed in Europe for more than 
fifteen hundred years. That practical old sailor Sir Richard Hawkins 
concluded that this must be "some old philosopher's conceit, for it can 
not be made probable how the dew should come into the oyster." ^ A 
similar view is expressed by Urbain Chauveton in his edition of Giro- 
lamo Benzoni's "Historia del Mondo Nuovo," published at Geneva in 
1578. From his reference to pearl-oysters on the Venezuelan coast, 
we translate : 

Around the island of Cubagua and elsewhere on the eastern coast, are 
sandy places where the pearl-oysters grow. They produce their eggs in very 
large quantities and likewise pearls at the same time. But it is necessary to 
have patience to let them grow and mature to perfection. They are soft 
at the beginning Hke the roe of fish; and as the molkisk gradually grows, 
they grow also and slowly harden. Sometimes many are found in one shell, 
which are hard and small, like gravel. Persons who have seen them while 
fishing say that they are soft as long as they are in the sea, and that the 
hardness comes to them only when they are out of the water. Pliny says as 
much, speaking of the Orientals in Book IX, of his Natural History, ch. 35. 

' Richard Eden edition. London, 1577, loth ' Hawkins, "Voyage to the South Sea in 

ch. of 3rd Decade, fol. 148a. 1593." London, 1847, p. 133. 

Exterior view uf same 

X-ray photograph of shell, printed through exterior 
of shell and showing encysted pearls 


But as to that author and Albert the Great and other writers upon the genera- 
tion of pearls, who have said that the oysters conceive them by means of the 
dew which they suck in, and that according as the dew is clear or cloudy the 
pearls also are translucent or dark, etc., etc.,— all this is a little difficult to 
believe; for daily observation shows that all the pearls found in the same 
shell are not of the same excellence, nor of the same form, the same perfection 
of color, nor the same size, as they would or must be if they were conceived 
by the dew all at one time. Besides this, in many of the islands the Indians 
go fishing for them in ten or twelve fathoms depth, and in some cases they 
are so firmly attached to the rocks in the sea that they can be wrenched off 
only by main strength. Would it not be difficult for them to inhale the 
quintessence of the air there? It seems then that it is the germ and the 
most noble part of the eggs of the oyster which are converted into pearls 
rather than any other thing; and the diversities of size, color, and other 
qualities, proceed from the fact that some are more advanced than others, 
as we see eggs in the body of the hen.^ 

The old theory of dew-formed pearls was illustrated even as late as 
1684 on a medal struck in honor of Elena Piscopia of the Corraro 
family of Venice. This bore an oyster-shell open and receiving drops 
of dew, and underneath was engraved the motto "Rore divino" (By 
divine dew). Even yet one hears occasionally from out-of-the-way 
places— as in the instance reported by the American consul at Aden — 
of pearls formed from rain or dew, notwithstanding that there seems 
to exist absolutely no justification for it in scientific zoology. 

Probably the most popular theory entertained from the fifteenth to 
the seventeenth century was that pearls were formed from the eggs 
of the oyster. This was intimated by Chauveton in the quotation above 
given, and it was also referred to by many naturalists. 

In an interesting letter, dated Dec. i, 1673, and giving as his author- 
ity the testimony of an eye-witness, "Henricus Arnoldi, an ingenious 
and veracious Dane," Christopher Sandius wrote: "Pearl shells in 
Norway do breed in sweet waters; their shells are like mussels, but 
larger ; the fish is like an oyster, it produces clusters of eggs ; these, 
when ripe, are cast out and become like those that cast them ; but some- 
times it appears that one or two of these eggs stick fast to the side of 
the matrix, and are not voided with the rest. These are fed by the 
oyster against her will and they do grow, according to the length of 
time, into pearls of dififerent bigness." ^ This possibly hit the mark 
with greater accuracy than the observations of the "ingenious and 
veracious Dane" warranted, for he seems to have had quite a dififerent 
idea as to the manner in which the pearls are "fed by the oyster against 

' Benzoni, "Novas Novi Orbis Historiae," ' "Philosophical Transactions," 1674, Na 

Geneva, 1578, pp. 161-163. loi, p. 11. 


her will" from those generally entertained by naturalists at the present 

However, Oliver Goldsmith settled the matter by declaring briefly: 
"Whether pearls be a disease or an accident in the animal is scarce 
worth enquiry." * Thus it seems that notwithstanding all that had 
been written and the extended attention given to the subject, theory 
prevailed to the almost complete exclusion of practical investigation, 
with little intelligent advance over Topsy's " 'spect they just growed." 

Owing, doubtless, to the scarcity of pearl-bearing mollusks in their 
vicinities, naturalists of Europe were somewhat slow in giving atten- 
tion to the origin of pearls. This is further accounted for by the fact 
that the gems occur more frequently in old and diseased shells than 
in the choice specimens which have naturally attracted the notice of 

One of the first of the original observations made on this subject 
was that by Rondelet, who, in 1554, advanced the idea that pearls are 
diseased concretions occurring in the moUusca, similar to the morbid 
calculi in the mammalia.^ 

The first writer to intimate the similarity in structural material or 
substance between pearls and the interior of the shell in which they are 
formed, appears to have been Anselmus de Boot (circa 1600), who 
wrote that the pearls "are generated in the body of the creature of the 
same humour of which the shell is formed; . . . for whenever the 
little creature is ill and hath not strength enough to belch up or expel 
this humour which sticketh in the body, it becometh the rudiments of 
the pearl ; to which new humour, being added and assimilated into the 
same nature, begets a new skin, the continued addition of which gen- 
erates a pearl."* The Portuguese traveler, Pedro Teixeira (1608), 
stated: "I hold it for certain that pearls are born of and formed of the 
very matter of the shell and of nothing else. This is supported by the 
great resemblance of the pearl and the oyster-shell in substance and 
color. Further, whatever oyster contains pearls has the flesh unsound 
and almost rotten in the parts where the pearls are produced, and 
those oysters that have no pearls are sound and clean fleshed." * 

Somewhat more than one hundred years later, this theory was con- 
firmed by investigations made by the famous physicist Reaumur 
(1683-1757). Microscopic examination of cross sections of pearls 
show that they are built up of concentric laminae similar, except in 
curvature, to those forming the nacreous portion of the shell. In a 

^Goldsmith, "History of the Earth and '"Gemmarum et Lapidum Historia," Han- 
Animated Nature," 1774, Vol. VI, p. 54. ovias, 1609. 

^Rondelet, "Universs AquitiHum Histo- ''"The Travels of Pedro Teixeira," Hak- 

rias Pars Altera," Lugduni, 1554. luyt Society, p. 180. 


paper published by the French Academy of Science in 1717,^ Reaumur 
noted this condition, and suggested that pearls are misplaced pieces of 
organized shell, and are formed from a secretion which overflows from 
the shell-forming organ or from a ruptured vessel connected there- 
with, and that the rupture or overflow is ordinarily produced by the 
intrusion of some foreign or irritating substance. 

Sir Edwin Arnold calls attention to this theory in his beautiful lines : 

Know you, perchance, how that poor formless wretch — 
The Oyster — gems his shallow moonlit chalice? 

Where the shell irks him, or the sea-sand frets, 
He sheds this lovely lustre on his grief. 

In pursuance of this idea, we find, in 1761, the Swedish naturalist 
Linnseus, "the father of natural history," experimenting in the arti- 
ficial production of pearls by the introduction of foreign bodies in the 
shell, and meeting with some degree of success. His discovery was 
rated so highly that it has been announced by some writers as the rea- 
son why the great naturalist received the patent of nobility, which is 
generally supposed to have been the reward for his services to science. 

It seems that Linnaeus's discovery but verified the old saying that 
there is nothing new under the sun, for later it was announced^ that 
in China — where so many inventions have originated — this idea had 
been put to practical account for centuries preceding, and the crafty 
Chinaman had succeeded in producing not only small pearly objects, 
but even images of Buddha, with which to awe the disciples of that 
deified teacher. 

The method consisted in slightly opening or boring through the 
shell of the living mollusk and introducing against the soft body a 
small piece of nacre, molded metal, or other foreign matter. The irri- 
tation causes the formation of pearly layers about the foreign body, 
resulting, in the course of months or of years, in a pearl-like growth. 
While these have some value as objects of curiosity or of slight beauty, 
they are not choice pearls, nor for that matter were those produced by 

It will be observed that the theory of Reaumur, and also that of Lin- 
naeus, required the intrusion of some hard substance, such as a grain of 
sand, a particle of shell, etc., to constitute a nucleus of the pearl; and 
this is the accepted explanation at the present time as to the origin 
of many of the baroque or irregular pearls, and likewise the pearly 
"blisters" and excrescences attached to the shell. But not so as to the 

' "Memoires de I'Academie des Sciences," Schwed. Akademie der Wissenschaften," 
1717. pp. 177-194. Vol. XXXIV, p. 88, 1772. 

' Grill, in "Abhandlungen der Koniglichen 


choice or gem pearls, those beautiful symmetrical objects of great 
luster which are usually referred to in speaking of pearls. 

Examinations of many of these have failed, except in rare instances, 
to reveal a foreign nucleus of sand or similar inorganic substance. In 
searching many fresh-water mussels, Sir Everard Home frequently 
met with small pearls in the ovarium, and he further noticed that these, 
as well as oriental pearls, when split into halves, often showed a bril- 
liant cell in the center, about equal in size to the ova of the same mol- 
lusk. From these observations, in 1826 he deduced his "abortive ova" 
theory, and announced : 

A pearl is formed upon the external surface of an ovum, which, having 
been blighted, does not pass with the others into the oviduct, but remains at- 
tached to its pedicle in the ovarium, and in the following season receives a 
coat of nacre at the same time that the internal surface of the shell receives 
its annual supply. This conclusion is verified by some pearls being spherical, 
others having a pyramidal form, from the pedicle having received a coat of 
nacre as well as the ovum.^ 

Naturalists generally accepted these conclusions, that pearls orig- 
inate in pathological secretions formed, either as the result of the 
intrusion of hard substances, or by the encysting or covering of ova or 
other objects of internal origin ; and there was no important cleavage 
of opinion until the development of the parasitic theory, as a result of 
the researches of the Italian naturalist Filippi, and those following his 
line of investigations. This theory is not severely in conflict with 
those of Reaumur, Linnseus, Home, etc., but relates principally to the 
identity of the irritating or stimulating substance which forms the 
nucleus of the pearl. 

In examining a species of fresh-water mussel, the Anodonta cygnea, 
occurring in ponds near Turin, and especially the many small pearly 
formations therein, Filippi observed that these were associated with 
the presence of a trematode or parasitic worm, which he named Disto- 
muni duplicatum, and which appears to be closely allied to the parasite 
which causes the fatal "rot" or distemper in sheep. Under the micro- 
scope, the smallest and presumably the youngest of these pearls showed 
organic nuclei which appeared undoubtedly to be the remnants of the 
trematode. In Anodonta from other regions, which were not infested 
with the distoma, pearls were very rarely found by Filippi. In a 
paper,- published in 1852, containing a summary of his observations, 
he concluded that a leading, if not the principal, cause of pearl-forma- 

' "Philosophical Transactions," 1826, Pt. Ill, ' "Sull'origine delle Perle. II Cimento, 

pp. 338-341. revista di Scienze," Torino, 1852, Vol. I, 

pp. 429-439- 

Mexican pearl-oyster {Mitri^aritift-ra uiargiiriti/era Group of encysted pearls in shell nf Australian 

viazatlaiiica ) with adherent pearl pearl-oyster ( Margariiijera maxima ) 

American Museum of Natural History 

Mexican pearl-oyster {Maygaritifera inargaritifera 

niazatlanica) with encysted fish 

Aiiiericau Museum of Natural History 

Group of encysted pearls 
( Oriental) 

Reverse of same group, show- 
ing outline of the indi- 
\idiial pearls 


tion in those mussels was the parasite above noted ; and in later papers ^ 
he included such other forms as Atax ypsilophorus within the list of 
parasitic agencies which might excite the pearl-forming secretions, 
comparing their action to that of the formation of plant-galls. 

The discovery of the parasitic origin of pearls was extended to 
the pearl-oysters and to other parasites by Ki^ichenmeister ^ in 1856, by 
Mobius^ in 1857, and by several other investigators. Prominent 
among these were E. F. Kelaart and his assistant Humbert, who, in 
1859 ■* disclosed the important relation which the presence of vermean 
parasites bears to the origin of pearls in the Ceylon oysters. These 
naturalists found "in addition to the Filaria and Cercaria, three other 
parasitical worms infesting the viscera and other parts of the pearl- 
oyster. We both agree that these worms play an important part in 
the formation of pearls." Dr. Kelaart likewise found eggs from the 
ovarium of the oyster coated with nacre and forming pearls, and also 
suggested that the silicious internal skeletons of microscopic diatoms 
might possibly permeate the mantle and become the nuclei of pearls. 
Unfortunately, Dr. Kelaart's investigations were terminated by his 
death a few months thereafter. 

In 1871, Garner ascribed the occurrence of pearls in the common 
English mussel (Mytihis cdiilis) to the presence of distomid larvse.^ 
Giard," and other French zoologists, made similar discoveries in the 
case of Donax and some other bivalves. In 1901, Raphael Dubois con- 
firmed the observations of Garner, associating the production of 
pearls in the edible mussels on the French coasts with the presence of 
larvae of a parasite, to which he gave the name of Distomum inargari- 
tarum, and boldly announced: "La plus belle perle n'est done, en defi- 
nitive, que le brillant sarcophage d'un ver." ^ 

Prof. H. L. Jameson, in 1902, disclosed the relation which exists be- 
tween pearls in English mussels (Mytilus) and the larvae of Distomum 
somatericc.^ The life history of this trematode, as revealed by Dr. 
Jameson, is especially interesting from a biological standpoint, since it 
is entertained by three hosts at different times : the first host is a mem- 
ber of the duck family; the second is the Tapes clam {Tapes decussa- 
tus), or perhaps the common cockle (Cardium edule), which incloses 

* "Memorie della Reale Academia delle * "Report on the Natural History of the 

Scienze di Torino," 1855, Vol. XV, pp. 331- Pearl Oyster of Ceylon," Trincomali, 1859. 
358; 1B57, Vol. XVI, pp. 419-442, and 1859, ""Journal of the Linnean Society," Vol. 

Vol. XVIII, pp. 201-232. XI, pp. 426-428. 

' Miiller's "Archiv f iir Anatomie," 1856, ° "Societe de Biologic, Seance du 29 de- 

pp. 269-281. cembre, 1903." 

' "Die echten Perlen." Hamburg, 1858. Dr. ' "Comptes Rendus de I'Academie des 

Mobius died in Berlin, on April 26, 1908. Sciences." Vol. 133, pp. 603-60S, Oct. 14, 1901. 
He was born at Eilenburg, in Saxony, in ""Proceedings of the Zoological Society of 

1825. London," Vol. I, pp. 140-166. 


the first larval stage, and the third is the edible mussel, in which the 
second larval stage of the parasite stimulates the formation of pearls. 
At the Brighton Aquarium and the Fish Hatchery at Kiel, Dr. Jame- 
son claims to have succeeded in artificially inoculating perfectly 
healthy mussels with these parasites by associating them with infested 
mollusks, and thereby producing small pearls. 

From Dr. Jameson's interesting paper we abridge the following ac- 
count of the manner in which the pearls are developed. The trematode 
enters Mytilus cdulis as a tailless cercaria, and at first may of tenbe found 
between the mantle and the shell. The larvae, after a while, enter the 
connective tissue of the mantle, where they come to rest, assuming a 
spherical form, visible to the naked eye as little yellowish spots about 
one half millimeter in diameter. At first the worm occupies only a space 
lined by connective-tissue fibrils, but soon the tissues of the host give 
rise to an epithelial layer, which lines the space and ultimately becomes 
the pearl-sac. If the trematode larva completes its maximum possible 
term of life, it dies, and the tissues of the body break down to form a 
structureless mass which retains the form of the parasite, owing to the 
rigid cuticle. In this mass arise one or more centers of calcification, 
and the precipitation of carbonate of lime goes on until the whole larva 
is converted into a nodule with calcospheritic structure. The granular 
matter surrounding the worm, if present, also undergoes calcification. 
The epithelium of the sac then begins to shed a cuticle of conchiolin, 
and from this point the growth of the pearl probably takes place on 
the same lines and at the same rate as the thickening of the shell.* 

Fully as remarkable as the observations of Dr. Jameson are the 
results claimed by Professor Dubois in experimenting with a species of 
pearl-oyster (M. vulgaris) from the Gulf of Gabes on the coast of 
Tunis, where they are almost devoid of pearls, a thousand or more 
shells yielding on an average only one pearl. Conveying these to the 
coast of France in 1903, he there associated them with a species of 
trematode-infested mussel (Mytilus gallo-provincialis), and after a 
short period they became so infested that every three oysters yielded 
an average of two pearls.^ This claim has not been without criticism ; 
but who ever knew scientists to agree? 

In the pearl-oyster of the Gambier Islands {M. margaritifera cn- 
mingi), Dr. L. G. Seurat found that the origin of pearls was due 
to irritation caused by the embryo of a worm of the genus Tyloccpha- 
Iwn, the life of which is completed in the eagle-ray, a fish which feeds 
on the pearl-oyster.* 

' "Proceedings of the Zoological Society of ' Seurat, "Observation sur I'evolution de 

London," 1902, pp. 148-150. I'Huitre perliere des Tuamotu at des Gam- 

' "Coniptes Rendus de I'Academie des Scien- bier," 1904. 
ces," Paris, 1903, Vol. CXXXVII, pp. 611-613. 


In 1903, Prof. W. A. Herdman, who, at the instance of the colonial 
government, and with the assistance of Mr. James Hornell, examined 
the pearl-oyster resources of Ceylon, announced: "We have found, as 
Kelaart did, that in the Ceylon pearl-oyster there are several different 
kinds of worms commonly occurring as parasites, and we shall, I think, 
be able to show that Cestodes, Trematodes, and Nematodes may all be 
concerned in pearl-formation. Unlike the case of the European mus- 
sels, however, we find that in Ceylon the most important cause is a 
larval Cestode of the Tetrarhynchus form."^ 

In his investigation of the Placuna oyster in 1905, Mr. James Hor- 
nell found that the origin of pearls was due to minute larva of the 
same stage and species as that which causes the pearls in the Gulf of 
Manar oyster.^ 

The spherical larvae of this tapeworm sometimes occur in great 
abundance, and there is evidence of forty having been found in a single 
pearl-oyster. Mr. Hornell states that the living worm does not induce 
pearl-formation, this occurring only when death overtakes it while in 
certain parts of the oyster. As a consequence, pearls are more nu- 
merous in oysters which have been long infected, where the worms are 
older and more liable to die. This parasitic worm has been traced from 
the pearl-oyster to the trigger-fishes, which eat the pearl-oysters, and 
thence into certain large fish-eating rays, where it becomes sexually 
mature and produces embryos which enter the pearl-oyster and begin 
a new cycle of life-phases. 

It seems, therefore, that the latest conclusions of science appear en- 
tirely favorable to the parasitic theory as explaining at least one, and 
probably the most important, of the causes for the formation of pearls ; 
and that some truth exists in the statement that the most beautiful 
pearl is only the brilliant sarcophagus of a worm. This morphological 
change is not peculiar to mollusks, for in most animal bodies a cyst is 
formed about in-wandering larvae. Fortunately for lovers of the 
beautiful, in the pearl-oysters the character of the cyst-wall follows 
that of the interior lining of the shell, and not only simulates, but far 
surpasses it in luster. 

While the theory that pearls are caused by the intrusion of some 
unusual substance has the evidence of actual demonstration in many 
instances, and is unquestionably true to a large extent, yet microscopic 
examination of some pearls suggests the theory that a foreign sub- 
stance is not always essential to their formation, and that they may 
originate in calcareous concretions of minute size, termed "calcosphe- 

'"Pearl Oyster Fisheries of the Gulf of ccnta Pearl Fishery of Lake Tampalaka- 
Manaar," London, 1903, Vol. L P- n- mam," Colombo, 1906. 

' Hornell, "Report on the Placuna pla- 


rules." As regards their origin, Professor Herdman classifies pearls 
into three sorts: (i) "Ampullar pearls," which are not formed within 
closed sacs of the shell-secreting epithelium like the others, but lie in 
pockets or ampullae of the epidermis. The nuclei may be sand-grains 
or any other foreign particles introduced through breaking or perfora- 
tion of the shell. (2) "Muscle pearls," which are analogous to gall- 
stones, formed around calcospherules at or near the insertion of the 
muscles. And (3) "Cyst pearls," in which concentric layers of nacre 
are deposited on cysts containing parasitic worms in the connective tis- 
sue of the mantle and within the soft tissues of the body.^ 

Even a particle of earth, clay, or mud may form the nucleus of a 
pearl. This was illustrated a few years ago in a fine button-shaped 
pearl, which was accidentally broken under normal usage and was 
found to consist of a hard lump of white clay surrounded by a 
relatively thin coating of nacre. More remarkable yet are the cases in 
which a minute fish, a crayfish, or the frustule of a diatom has formed 
the nucleus. 

Several instances have been described by Woodward, Gunther, Put- 
nam, Stearns, and others, where small fish have penetrated between 
the mantle and the shell of the mollusk, and the latter has resented the 
intrusion by covering the intruder with a pearly coating. In two or 
three instances the secretion occurred in so short a time that the 
fish suffered no appreciable decomposition, and its species is readily 
identified by observation through the nacreous layer. Among the re- 
markable specimens of this nature which have come under our obser- 
vation are two very curious shells received in March, 1907, from the 
Mexican fisheries. One of these specimens shows an encysted fish, so 
quickly covered and so perfectly preserved that even the scales and 
small bones are in evidence ; indeed, one can almost detect the gloss on 
the scales of the fish; and in the other— with a remarkable comet-like 
appearance — a piece of ribbed seaweed is apparently the object 

From the foregoing, it appears that the pearl is not a product of 
health associated with undisturbed conditions, but results from a 
derangement in the normal state of the mollusk. Unable to resist, to 
rid itself of the opposing evil, it exercises the powers given to it by a 
beneficent Creator and converts the pain into perfection, the grief 
into glory. Nature has many instances of the humble and lowly raised 
to high degree, but none more strikingly beautiful than this. One of 
the lowest of earth's creatures, suffering a misfortune, furnishes a 
wonderful lesson upon the uses of pain and adversity by converting 
its affliction into a precious gem symbolical of all that is pure and 

'"Pearl Oyster Fisheries of the Gulf of Manaar," London, 1903, Vol. I, p. 10. 


beautiful. As written by a forgotten poet: "Forasmuch as the pearl 
is a product of life, which from an inward trouble and from a fault 
produces purity and perfection, it is preferred; for in nothing does 
God so much delight as in tenderness and lustre born of trouble and 
repentance." As the great Persian poet Hafiz says: 

Learn from yon orient shell to love thy foe, 

And store with pearls the wound that brings thee woe. 





"This maskellez perle that boght is dere. 
The joueler gef fore alle hys gold, 
Is lyke the reme of hevenes clere" ; 
So sayde the fader of folde and flode, 
"For hit is wermlez, dene and clere, 

And endelez rounde and blythe of mode, 
And commune to all that ryghtwys were." 

Fourteenth-century mss. of "Pearl," 
IN THE British Museum. 

AS Kadir Munshi says, "pearls have no pedigree" ; their beauty 
/\ is not to be traced to their origin, but exists wholly in the 

/ \ excellence of the surroundings in which they develop. 
JL Jl. The pearl-bearing moUusks are luxurious creatures, and 
for the purpose of protecting their delicate bodies they cover the in- 
terior of their shells with a smooth lustrous material, dyed with rain- 
bow hues, and possessing a beautiful but subdued opalescence. No 
matter how foul, how coral-covered, or overgrown with sponges or 
seaweeds the exterior may be, all is clean and beautiful within. This 
material is nacre or mother-of-pearl. It consists ordinarily of an 
accumulation of extremely thin semi-transparent films or laminae of a 
granular organic substance called conchiolin, with the interstices 
filled with calcareous matter. The nacre decreases in thickness from 
the hinge toward the lip of the shell, and terminates a short distance 
from the extreme edge. 

Next to the nacre is the middle layer or the shell proper. In species of 
Margaritifera, this stratum is commonly formed of layers of calcare- 
ous prisms arranged vertically to the shell surface. External to this 
middle or prismatic layer is the epidermis or periostracum, the rough 
outer coating of varying shades, usually yellow or brown. Where the 
waves are rough, and the bottom hard and rocky, this covering is thick 
and heavy, to afford greater protection; but where the waters are 
smooth and gentle, and the bottom free from rocks. Nature — never 
working in vain — furnishes only thin sides and slight defense. As is 
the case with the nacre, the prismatic layer and the periostracum de- 



crease in thickness from the hinge to the edge, and the inside Hp of the 
shell shows the gradual union of the three superimposed layers. The 
two outer layers are formed by the thick edge of the mantle, the re- 
maining portion — or nearly the entire surface — of this organ secretes 
the nacral layer. 

Not only is the interior of the shell made lustrous and beautiful, but 
this tendency is exerted toward all objects that come in contact with 
the soft body of the mollusk, either by intrusion simply within the 
shell, or deeply within the organs and tissues of the animal itself. All 
foreign bodies — such as small parasites, diatoms, minute pebbles, etc., 
— irritate the tender tissues of the mollusk, and stimulate the pearly 
formation which in course of time covers them. At first the nacreous 
covering is very thin ; but with added layer after layer the thickness is 
enhanced, and the size of the object increases as long as it remains 
undisturbed and the mollusk is in healthful growth. 

Chemically considered, aside from the nucleus, the structure of 
pearls is identical in composition with that of the nacre of the shell in 
which they are formed. Analyses have shown that those from the 
fresh-water mussels of England and Scotland, and from the pearl- 
oysters of Australia and of Ceylon, have nearly identical composition 
in the proportion of about 5.94 per cent, of organic matter, 2.34 of 
water, and 91.72 per cent, of carbonate of lime.^ The specific gravity 
ranges from nearly 2 to about 2.75, increasing with the deposit of the 
nacreous coatings. The following summary by Von Hessling^ shows 
the results of certain determinations of specific gravity: 











at moderate temperature 

at 14° Reaumur 

4 fine pearls, weighing 2.396 gms. 

24 pearls, weighing 6.221 gms. 

63 brown pearls from Mazatlan, weighing 4.849 gms. 

Bavarian pearls, 3/jT carats, medium quality 

" "3^ carats, finer quality 

" " i}i carats, very fine 

" " gray, with some hister 

" " brown, ranking between good & black 

" " poor black pearls, impure 

The distinctive characteristic, the great beauty of a true pearl, is its 
luster or orient, which is a subdued iridescence, rather than the 
glittering brilliance of the diamond; and unless the shelly growth be 
lustrous it does not rank as a gem pearl, no matter how perfect its 

'Harley, "Proceedings of the Royal So- 
ciety," Vol 

"Proceedings of the 
XLIII, p. 461. 

'"Die Perlenmuschein," Leipzig, i8S9, pp. 
294. 295. 

Cross section of an irregular pearl, magnified 3o diameters 


Cross sections of pearls, magnified ^o diameters 

Thin section of mother-of-pearl, magnified, showing Structure of conch pearl produced by fracturing, 

sponge borings which traversed the pearl shell magnified 80 diameters 


form or beautiful its color. This luster is due to the structural ar- 
rangement of the surface as well as to the quality of the material. The 
nacreous material forming true pearls, and likewise mother-of-pearl, 
is commonly deposited in irregular tenuous layers, very thin and very 
small in area compared with the surface of the pearl. These laminae 
overlap one another, the surfaces are microscopically crumpled and 
corrugated, and the edges form serrated outlines. The greater the 
angle which the laminae form with the surface, the closer will be these 
serrated outlines, and where the plane of the exterior lamina is parallel 
with the plane of the surface the lines are not present. This arrange- 
ment causes the waves of light to be reflected from different levels on 
the surface, just as in a soap bubble, and the minute prisms split the 
rays up into their colored constituents, producing the chromatic or iri- 
descent effect. 

The cause is wholly mechanical, and an impression of the surface 
made in very fine wax shows a similar iridescence. Also, if a piece 
of mother-of-pearl be immersed in acid until the surface lime or shelly 
matter is dissolved, the pellucid membrane shows the iridescence until 
it is so compressed that the corrugations are reduced. About two 
score years ago an Englishman invented steel buttons with similar 
minute corrugations producing pearly effect, but the manufacture was 
unprofitable, owing, principally, to their liability to tarnish. 

In the shells of some mollusks — as the edible oysters (Ostrea) or 
the giant clam (Tridacna), — there is almost a total absence of the 
crumpled corrugated laminae, and, consequently, there is little luster. 
In others the nacre is of better quality, resulting in superior orient, 
and it probably reaches its highest degree of perfection in the pearl- 
oyster ( Margaritifera ) . 

As the curvature of the surface of pearls is greater, and the minute 
striae are more numerous, than in ordinary mother-of-pearl, it follows 
that the iridescence is likewise greater. 

Superior nacre is more or less translucent, depending on its quality; 
and to the iridescence of the outer laminae is added that of many in- 
terior ones, so that the luster is vastly increased. The position of the 
pearl within the shell may greatly affect the quality of the material 
and, consequently, the orient. The choicest are commonly found 
within the soft parts of the animal, and those of poorer quality are at 
the edges of the mantle, or within the fibers of the adductor muscle of 

The structure of pearls may be studied by examining thin cross sec- 
tions under the microscope, or by transmitted polarized light. It ap- 
pears that ordinarily a pearl is made up of many independent laminae 
superimposed one upon another "like the layers of an onion," or, 


rather, resembling the leaves near the upper part of a well formed cab- 
bage. When subjected to sufficient heat, the laminae separate from 
each other, as do shells of edible oysters and similar mollusks under like 
conditions. When broken by a hammer, a pearl may exhibit this lami- 
nated formation. If not split directly through the center, the central 
section may retain the spherical form; and as this commonly remains 
attached to one of the parts, its concave impression appears in the other 
portion of the broken pearl. The outer laminae of many pearls may be 
removed with a fair prospect of finding a good subjacent surface, and 
this may be continued until the size is greatly reduced. These laminae 
are not always similar in color or luster. 

However, not all pearls are laminated in this manner. Instead of 
superimposed layers, some of them exhibit a crystalline form, com- 
posed of beautiful prismatic crystals radiating from the center to the 
circumference. In at least one oriental pearl examined, these crystals 
were in well defined arcs, and were further separated into concentric 
rings of different degrees of thickness, depth of color, and distance 
apart. Another specimen — a Scotch pearl — combined in separate 
layers both the laminated form and the crystalline structure. 

Dr. Harley points out that some crystalline pearls apparently orig- 
inate in mere coalescences of mineral particles, rather than in well de- 
fined nuclei.^ Microscopic sections of crystalline pearls convey the 
idea that the prisms branch and interlace with one another, and also 
that in some instances they are of fusiform shape. However, these ap- 
pearances seem to be due simply to the cross sections having cut the 
prisms at different angles. 

Pearls showing these types were exhibited at a meeting of the 
Royal Society of London, June 8, 1887. That exhibit also contained 
a section of a west Australian pearl of curiously complex crystalline 
formation; instead of one central starting-point, it had more than a 
dozen scattered about, from which the crystalline prisms radiated in all 

Since the three superimposed layers of the shell are secreted by 
separate parts of the mantle, vis., the nacre by the general surface, the 
prismatic layer by the inner edge, and the epidermis by the outer edge, 
it follows that if a pearl in course of formation is moved from one of 
these distinctive portions of the palial organ to another, the nature of 
its laminae changes. Thus, if a pearl formed on the broad surface of 
the mantle is moved in some way to the inner edge of that organ, it 
may be covered with a prismatic layer; if then moved to the outer 
edge it may receive a lamina of epidermis, and then by changing again 
to the broad surface of the mantle it receives further coats of nacre. 

^ Harley, "Proceedings of the Royal Society of London," Vol. XLV, p. 612. 

Pearls from common clam ( J'cuus uicrcennria) ut eastern coast of America 

Pearl " nuggets" from the Mississippi Valley 

Wing pearls from the Mississippi Valley 

I-)o;,'-tuuth jK-arls fmni tin: Mississif)pi \'alley 


The structure of pearls from univalve mollusks, such as the conch, 
the abalone, etc., as well as those from some bivalves, as the Pinna, 
for instance, differs from that of the true pearls formed in species 
of Margaritifera. Instead of the alternate layers of conchiolin and of 
carbonate of lime, many of these have an alveolar structure. When 
greatly magnified, the surface of a Pinna pearl appears to be formed of 
very small polygones, which, as decalcification shows, are the bases of 
small pyramids radiating from the nucleus. The walls of these pyra- 
mids are formed of conchiolin, and they are filled with carbonate of 
lime of a prismatic crystalline structure. This is simply a modification 
of the parallel laminae in the Margaritifera pearls, for, as Dubois 
points out, in some sections we can see portions where the alveolar 
formation has proceeded for a time coincidentally with the lamellar 

Pearls are aft'ected by acids and fetid gases, and may be calcined 
on exposure to heat. Their solubility in vinegar was referred to by 
the Roman architect Vitruvius ("De Architectura," L. viii..c. 3) and 
also by Pausanias, a Greek geographer in the second century ("Hella- 
dos Periegesis," L. viii, c. 18) ; but it seems that there could be little 
foundation for Pliny's well-known anecdote in which Cleopatra is 
credited with dissolving a magnificent pearl in vinegar and drinking it 
— "the ransom of a kingdom at a draught" — to the health of her lover 
Antony.' It is no more easy to dissolve a pearl in vinegar than it is to 
dissolve a pearl button — for the composition is similar, and one may 
easily experiment for himself as to the difficulty in doing this. Not 
only does it take many days to dissolve in cold vinegar the mineral 
elements of a pearl of fair size, but even with boiling vinegar it re- 
quires several hours to extract the mineral matter from one four or 
five grains in weight, the acid penetrating to the interior very slowly. 
And in neither case can the pearl be made to disappear, for even after 
the carbonate of lime has dissolved, the organic matrix of animal mat- 
ter — which is insoluble in vinegar— retains almost the identical shape, 
size, and appearance as before. If the pearl is first pulverized, it be- 
comes readily soluble in vinegar, and might be thus drunk as a lover's 
potion, but it would scarcely prove a bonne bonchc. 

Pearls assume an almost infinite variety of forms, due largely to 
the shapes of the nuclei, and also to their positions within the mollusk. 
The most usual — and, fortunately, also the most valuable — is the 
spherical, resulting from a very minute or a round body as a nucleus 
and the uniform addition of nacre on all sides. Of course, spherical 
pearls can result only where they are quite free from other hard sub- 

'"Historia Naturalis," Lid. IX, c. 35. This is also referred to by Macrobius in Saturnal- 

iorum conviviorum Lid. II, c. 13. 


stances; consequently they originate only in the soft parts of the mol- 
lusk and not by the fixation of some nucleus to the interior surface of 
the shell. 

The perfectly spherical pearls range in weight from a small fraction 
of a grain to three hundred grains or more, but it is very, very rare 
that one of choice luster weighs more than one hundred grains. The 
largest of which we have any specific information was that among the 
French crown jewels as early as the time of Napoleon, an egg-shaped 
pearl, weighing 337 grains. The largest pearl known to Pliny in the 
first century a.d. weighed "half a Roman ounce and one scruple over," 
or 2343/2 grains Troy. These very large ones, weighing in excess of 
one hundred grains, are called "paragons." The small pearls— weigh- 
ing less than half a grain each — are known as "seed-pearls." The 
very small ones, weighing less than ¥25 of a grain, are called "dust- 
pearls." These are too small to be of economic value as ornaments. 

Slight departures from the perfect sphere, result in egg shapes, pear 
shapes, drop shapes, pendeloque, button shapes, etc. Some of these are 
valued quite as highly at the present time as the spherical pearls, and 
many of the most highly prized pearls in the world are of other than 
spherical form. Indeed, pearls of this kind are found of larger size 
than the perfectly round pearls. The egg-shaped pearl. ^ called "la 
Regente," — one of the French crown jewels sold in May, 1887 — 
weighed, as stated above, 337 grains. The great pear pearl described by 
Tavernier— "the largest ever discovered"— weighed about 500 grains. 
A button pearl received from Panama in 1906 weighed 216 grains. 

Wider departures from the spherical form result in cylindrical, 
conical, top-shaped, etc. Some pearls present the appearance of hav- 
ing been turned in a lathe with intricate tooling. Remarkable ex- 
amples of these "turned pearls" have been found, competing in their 
circular perfection with the best work of a jeweler's lathe. 

Many standard varieties of non-spherical, but normally shaped 
pearls, are recognized by the fishermen and the jewelers. For in- 
stance, in the nomenclature of the American fishermen, houton, or but- 
ton pearls are divided into "haystacks" and "turtle-backs," according 
to the height of the projection. Also, certain imperfections result in 
distinguishing names : "bird's-eye" refers to a pearl having a little im- 
perfection on the best surface; "ring-arounds" have a dark or dis- 
colored ring about them; and "strawberries" have numerous minute 
projections on the surface. 

During its growth, a spherical pearl may come in contact with a 
foreign body, such as grit or a vegetable film, and the additional nacral 
layers envelop the adjacent matter until it is entirely concealed within 

^Now in the French crown brooch in the possession of the Princess Youssoupoff of Russia. 



the pearl, its position being recognized only by the excrescence on one 
side, and, with continued increase in size, even this may be almost 

Sometimes double, triple, or multiple pearls are formed; each of 
these may have a separate nucleus and grow independently for a time 
until they adjoin each other ; continuing to grow, they become so united 
as to form a connected mass. The "Southern Cross" is a remarkable 
example of this. It appears to consist of seven nearly spherical pearls 
attached to one another in a straight line, and one projecting from each 
side of the second in the row, thus forming a Roman cross.^ 

Afewyearsago,near Sharks Bay, on the coast of western Australia, 
a cluster was found containing about 150 pearls closely compacted. 
This cluster measured about one and a half inches in length, three 
quarters of an inch in breadth, and half an inch in thickness. 

When a growing pearl is very near to the nacreous lining of the 
shell, the pressure between the two hard substances results in a rupture 
of the pearl-forming sac and the epithelial layer of the shell, and the 
pearl comes in actual contact with the nacre. The pearl gradually 
becomes attached to the shell, and the under portion is prevented from 
growing further; the upper or exposed surface receives other lay- 
ers, resulting in the formation of a boiiton. As the shell around the 
pearl continues to grow, it gradually closes about, and almost wholly 
conceals the pearl. Since it is constantly wasting away on the exterior 
surface as it grows on the interior, it follows that in time the shell 
passes the pearl quite through to the outside, where it rapidly decays. 
Thus the oyster virtually forces the annoying intruder directly 
through the wall of its house instead of by way of the open door, and 
magically closes the breach with its marvelous masonry. 

These embedded pearls are generally faulty and of diminished 
luster, but in the aggregate, large quantities of imperfect ones, and 
especially half and quarter pearls, are secured in this manner. Some- 
times—particularly in the Australian fisheries— large pearls are thus 
found, weighing twenty, forty, sixty, and even eighty grains; and 
when the faulty outside layers of nacre are removed, a subjacent sur- 
face of fine luster may possibly be revealed. In bivalves, these ad- 
herent pearls are commonly in the deep or lower valve, except in those 
unusual cases where the mollusks have been lying in a reverse position. 
At the fisheries, the surfaces of the shells are carefully inspected for 
evidence of pearly nodules, and these are broken open in search for 
encysted objects. Cutters of mother-of-pearl occasionally find em- 
bedded pearls of this kind which have escaped the vigilant eyes of the 

iSee p. 465. 


We read of an instance in an important paper treating of the jewel- 
ing trade of Birmingham: "A few years since [the paper was written 
in 1866] a small lot of shells was brought to Birmingham, which either 
from ignorance or mistake had not been cleared of the pearls at the 
fishery. A considerable number were found and sold, and one espe- 
cially was sold by the man who had bought the shell for working in-to 
buttons, for £40. The purchaser, we believe, resold the same for a 
profit of £160; and we have heard that it was afterward held in Paris 
for sale at £800." 

A choice gem which was found in New York, in October, 1905, in 
an Australian shell, sold finally for $1200. 

The intrusion and continued presence of grains of sand or similar 
material between the mantle and the shell causes the formation of 
nacre over the foreign body, resulting in a chicot (blister pearl), or 
possibly a quarter or a half-pearl. The growth of a chicot sometimes 
results from the mollusk covering a choice pearl which has become 
loosened from the soft tissues and adheres to the shell, as above cited. 
Hence, it is sometimes desirable to break a chicot to secure its more 
valuable inclosure. In the account of his interesting pearling experi- 
ences on the Australian coast, Henry Taunton states: "During the 
first season's shelling at Roebuck Bay, we came across an old worm- 
eaten shell containing a large blister, which was removed in the usual 
manner by punching a ring of minute holes around its base; a slight 
tap was then sufficient to detach it. For many weeks it was un- 
touched, no one caring to risk opening it, for if filled with black ooze, 
which is frequently the case, it would be of little value. At last, baffled 
in his attempt to solve the problem, and emboldened by an overdose of 
'square face,' the skipper gave it a smart blow with a hammer, which 
cracked it open, and out rolled a huge pearl, nearly perfect, and weigh- 
ing eighty grains. A few specks and discolorations were removed by 
a skilful 'pearl-faker,' and it was sold in London for £1500."^ 

Blister pearls are also caused by the defensive or protective action 
of the mollusk in resisting the intrusion of some animal, as a boring 
sponge or a burrowing worm, which has begun to penetrate the outer 
layers of the shell. This stimulation causes the mollusk to pile nacre- 
ous material upon the spot, thus making a substantial mound closely 
resembling a segment of a large pearl. This walling-out of intruders 
is not the result of intelligent forethought or of instinct, analogous to 
the repairing of a damaged web by a spider, or the retunneling of a 
collapsed gallery by ants; it is a pathological rather than an intelligent 

When the nucleus of a pearl is large and very irregular, it necessarily 

' Taunton, "Australind," London, 1903, p. 224. 

From the Upper Mississippi Valley 


follows that the deposited nacre roughly assumes the irregular out- 
line of the inclosed object. This is strikingly shown in pearls covering 
a minute fish, a crayfish, or a small crab. Several specimens have been 
found in which the species could be identified by examination through 
the nacreous coating. 

In the American Unios there is a strong tendency to produce 
elongated pearls near the hinge of the shell, which are consequently 
known as "hinge pearls." The occurrence and form of these suggest 
that their origin may not be due to nuclei, but that they result from an 
excess of carbonate of lime in the water, and that the animal stores a 
surplus of nacre in this convenient form. There are several standard 
forms of these hinge pearls. Many are elongated or dog-toothed, 
some are hammer-shaped, others resemble the wings of birds, the 
petals of flowers, the bodies of fish, and various other objects. A large 
percentage of the pearls found in Unios of the Mississippi Valley are 
of these types. 

Some irregular pearls or baroques are very large, weighing an ounce 
or more. A well-known example is the Hope pearl, described on page 
463, which weighs three ounces. These monster pearls sometimes as- 
sume odd shapes, such as clasped hands, the body of a man, lion, or 
other animal, etc. 

Although baroques may have a pearly luster, they are not highly 
prized unless unusually attractive, and they have little permanent 
value, apart from their estimation in the eyes of admirers of the 
curious and unique. They are used largely in I'art nouveau, and in 
forming odd and fanciful objects of jewelry, the designer taking ad- 
vantage of the resemblance which they bear to common objects of 
every-day life, and by additions of gold and other ornaments complet- 
ing the form which nature had merely suggested. 

Some remarkable examples of baroque mountings have been pro- 
duced, and a few are to be found in most of the large pearl collections. 
In a single case in the Imperial Treasury at Vienna are baroques 
forming the principal parts or figures of a horse, stag, lamb, tortoise, 
lizard, cock, dragon, butterfly, gondola, hippopotamus, female bust, 
and three mermaids. Other well-known collections are those of the 
royal family of Saxony in the Griine Gewolbe at Dresden ; those in the 
Palace of Rosenberg at Copenhagen; in the Waddesden (Rothschild) 
collection of the British Museum ; among the jewels in the Louvre in 
Paris; with the treasures of the Basilica of St. Mark in Venice; and 
in the museum of the University of Moscow. 

A remarkable pearl-like ornament more common in Asia than in the 
Occident, is the coqite de pcrle, which is an oval section of the globose 
whorl of the Indian nautilus. The exterior or convex surface is highly 


lustrous, but the material is very thin. It is commonly provided with 
a suitable filling or backing of putty or cement to impart solidity, and 
is used like a blister pearl. Sometimes two perfectly matched coques 
de pcrle are filled and cemented together, giving the appearance of an 
abnormally large oblong or nearly spherical pearl. 

The color of pearls has no connection with the luster. In general 
it is the same as that of the shell in which they are formed. Black 
pearls are found in the black shells of Mexico, and pink pearls in the 
pink-hued Strombus of the Bahamas. Ceylon pearls are seldom of any 
other color than white, and Sharks Bays are almost invariably quite 
yellow or straw-colored, while those of Venezuela are commonly 
yellowish tinged. But from other localities, pearls simulate every tint 
of the rainbow, as well as white and black. The most common, as 
well as the most desirable ordinarily, is white, or rather, silvery or 
moonlight glint, — "la gran Margherita," as Dante calls it; but yellow, 
pink, and black are numerous. They may also be piebald — a portion 
white and the rest pink or brown or black. Some years ago there was 
on the market a large bean-shaped pearl of great luster, one half of 
which was white and the other quite black, the dividing-line being 
sharply defined in the plane of the greatest circumference. The pearls 
from Mexico, the South: Sea islands, and the American rivers are 
especially noted for their great variety of coloration, covering every 
known tint and shade, and requiring such a master as Theophile Gau- 
tier to do justice to them. 

Many theories have been advanced to explain the coloration of 
pearls. When the old idea of dew formation prevailed, it was con- 
sidered that white pearls were formed in fair weather, and the dark 
ones when the weather was cloudy. It was further considered that the 
color was influenced by the depth of the water in which they grew: 
that in deep water they were white, but where it was so shallow that 
the sunlight easily penetrated, the pearls were more likely to be dark 
in color. Tavernier curiously explained that the black pearls of 
Panama and Mexico owed their color to the black mud in which the 
pearl-oysters of those localities lived, and that Persian Gulf pearls 
were more inclined to yellow than those of Ceylon, owing to the 
greater putrefaction of the flesh before they were removed therefrom.^ 
Two centuries ago the color of a pearl was attributed to that of the 
central nucleus, and it was concluded that if the nucleus was dark, the 
pearl would be of a similar hue.^ This theory has also been upset, for 
pearls are found white on the exterior and quite dark within, and also 
with these conditions reversed. 

' "Tavernier's Travels," London, 1889, 'See "Report of the Royal Society," Oct. 

Vol. II, p. 115. See p. 97. 13. 1688. 



The color of a pearl is determined by that of the conchiolin, as 
appears from its remaining unchanged after decalcification. While 
generally it is the same as that of the mother-of-pearl at the corre- 
sponding point of the shell in which it is formed, there are many ex- 
ceptions to this, and the reasons for the varying tints and colors are 
probably to be found in the changes in position of the pearl, the in- 
gredients of the water, the health of the mollusk, accidents of various 
kinds, etc. These factors will be referred to later in discussing the 
pearls from different mollusks and regions ; but in general it is no 
more easy to explain the colors of pearls than it is to say why one rose 
is white and another is yellow. 

Medieval writers had much to say regarding unripe or immature 
pearls, likening them to eggs in the body of a hen, which follow a uni- 
form rate of growth ; and this idea is not entirely absent even in con- 
temporaneous writings. However, it is an interesting fact that the 
humble mollusks, like the five wise virgins with prepared lamps, keep 
their gems perfect in beauty and luster at all times. It matters not 
whether the pearl be removed when it is only the size of a pin-head or 
not until it reaches that of a marble, it is at all times a complete, a ripe, 
a perfect pearl, and the largest surpasses the smallest only in the char- 
acteristics and properties which are incidental to size. Imparting per- 
fection and completion every day, every moment, the mollusk utilizes 
the added time simply in enlarging its beautiful work. 

Although art has made wonderful progress in that direction, the 
pearl, like truth, is not easily imitated. There is as much difference 
between the ubiquitous imitations and the perfect gem as there is be- 
tween a chromolithograph and a silvery Corot, or between the effects 
of cosmetics and the freshness of youth. While to the unskilled, or 
under superficial inspection, the false has some of the properties of the 
genuine, it is only necessary to place them side by side to make the 
difference apparent. However clever the imitation may be in color, in 
form, and in density, it always lacks in richness, in sweetness, and in 
blended iridescence. 



Rich honesty dwells like a miser, sir, in a poor house, 
as your pearl in your foul oyster. 

As You Like It, Act V, sc. 4. 

IN geographic range, the sources of pearls are widely distributed, 
each one of the six continents yielding its quota; but the places 
where profitable fisheries are prosecuted are restricted in area. 
First in point of value, and possibly of antiquity also, are the 
fisheries of the Persian Gulf, giving employment ordinarily to thirty 
thousand or more divers. The yield in the likewise ancient fish- 
eries of the Gulf of Manaar is uncertain, but sometimes remarkably 
large. The Red Sea resources are now of slight importance compared 
with their extent in the time of the Ptolemies. Other Asiatic fisheries 
are in the Gulf of Aden, about Mergui Archipelago, on the coast of 
China, Japan, Korea, and Siam, and also in the rivers of China, Man- 
churia, and Siberia. 

Aside from those produced in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, 
the pearl fisheries of Africa are of small extent. Some reefs exist on 
the lower coast of the German East African territory and also in Por- 
tuguese East Africa, but they have not been thoroughly exploited. 

In most of the inshore waters of Australasia pearls may be secured; 
the fisheries are most extensive on the northern coast of Australia, in 
the Sulu Archipelago, and about the Dutch East Indies. Tuamotu 
Archipelago, Gambler, Fiji, and Penrhyn are prominent in the South 
Pacific Ocean. 

In the seas of Europe few pearls have been found, but the rivers 
have yielded many ; and although the resources have been greatly im- 
paired, many beautiful gems are yet found there. 

South America contributes the important reefs on the coast of 

Venezuela— the land of unrest and revolutions, whose fisheries were 

first exploited by Columbus. Other South American countries in 

which pearls are collected are Panama, Ecuador, Peru, etc. In 

5 65 


North America, pearls are found in the pearl-oyster of the Gulf of 
California, the abalone of the Pacific coast, the queen conch of the 
Gulf of Mexico, and in the Unios of most of the rivers, especially those 
of the Mississippi Valley. 

Since pearly concretions partake of the characteristics of the shell 
within which they are formed, it follows that practically all species of 
mollusks whose shells have a well-developed nacreous lining yield 
pearls to a greater or less extent. But the number of these species is 
relatively small. They belong chiefly to the Margaritifercc, or pearl- 
oyster family of the sea, and to the Unionidcc, or family of fresh-water 
mussels. Pearls occur also in some univalves, but not so abundantly 
as in bivalves of the families mentioned. Broadly stated, we may hope 
to find pearls within any mollusk whose shell possesses a nacreous sur- 
face; and it is useless to search for them in shells whose interior is dull 
and opaque, such as the edible oyster for instance. 

The great bulk of the pearls on the market, and likewise those of the 
highest quality, are from the Margaritifercc, which are widely dis- 
tributed about tropical waters. Although these mollusks are spoken of 
as pearl-oysters, they are not related in any way to the edible oysters 
(Ostrea) of America and Europe.^ The flesh is fat and glutinous, 
and so rank in flavor as to be almost unfit for food, although eaten at 
times by the poorer fishermen in lieu of better fare. The origin of the 
name is doubtless due to the fact that in the somewhat circular form 
of the shell they resemble oysters rather than the elongated mussels of 
Europe, to which they are more nearly related in anatomy. Also in 
that — like their namesakes — they are monomyarian, having only one 
adductor muscle. 

The two valves or sides of the pearl-oyster shell are nearly similar in 
shape and almost equal in size ; whereas in the edible oysters one valve 
is thin and somewhat flat, while the other is thicker, larger, and highly 
convex. In the latter, also, the hinge, or umbo, is an angular beak ; but 
in the pearl-oysters the umbo is prolonged by so-called ears or wings 
into a straight line the length of which is nearly equal to the breadth 
of the shell. 

The byssus, or bunch of fibers, by which pearl-oysters attach them- 
selves to the bottom indicates their relationship to the mussels. The 
possession of a small foot and somewhat extended migratory powers 

' Neither is there any special significance fresh-water lakes are quite distinct from 

in the popular terms "clams," "mussels," etc., the edible ones of brackish waters, and the 

as applied to the pearl-bearing species of Pinna oyster and the giant clam (Tridacna) 

the rivers. The "clams," or Unios of the have little resemblance to the mollusks with 

Mississippi Valley, resemble neither the long which these terminal names are commonly 

clams (Mya) nor the round clams (Venus) associated, 
of the Atlantic coast ; the mussels of the 


—at least in the first years of growth— also distinguish them from 
the sedentary edible oysters. But from an economic point of view, 
the principal difference is the possession of a thick, nacreous, interior 
lining in the shells of pearl-oysters, which is wholly lacking in the 
edible species. Like their namesakes, the pearl-oysters are exceed- 
ingly fertile, a single specimen numbering its annual increase by mil- 

Commercially considered, the pearl-oysters are roughly divisible 
into two groups, (i) those fished exclusively for the pearls which 
they contain, and (2) those whose shells are so thick as to give them 
sufficient value to warrant their capture independently of the yield of 
pearls. The best examples of the first group are the pearl-oysters of 
Ceylon and of Venezuela, and to a less extent those of the Persian 
Gulf, the coast of Japan, and of Sharks Bay, on the Australian coast. 
Of the second group, the pearl-oysters of Torres Straits and of the 
Malay Archipelago are the most prominent members. Between these 
two groups are the many species and varieties whose shells and pearls 
are more evenly divided with respect to value, including those of Mex- 
ico, Panama, the Red Sea, the South Sea islands, etc. 

Some conchologists recognize a large number of species of Margari- 
tifercc, while other authorities consider many of these as local varia- 
tions of the same species. There is much difference in the size, color, 
and markings of the shells in different localities, owing to varying 
geographical and physical conditions. The distinction of species and 
the nomenclature herein adopted are those of Dr. H. L. Jameson, who 
has recently revised and rearranged the collection of shells belonging 
to this family in the British Museum of Natural History,* and to 
whom we are indebted for descriptive notes relative to several of the 

The greatest pearl-producer in the family of pearl-oysters is the 
Margaritifera vulgaris of the Gulf of Manaar and the Persian Gulf, 
and to a much less extent of the Red Sea. It occurs in various other 
inshore waters of the Indian Ocean, and about the Malay Archipelago 
and the coast of Australia and New Guinea, although it is not the prin- 
cipal pearl-oyster of those waters. An interesting account of its 
immigration into the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal was 
given by Vassel in 1896.- 

This species is quite small, averaging two and a half inches in 
diameter in Ceylon waters, and somewhat more in the Persian Gulf, 

'Jameson, "On the identity and distribu- "Vassel, "Sur la Pintadine du Golfe de 

tion of the mother-of-pearl oysters ; with a Gabes, Comptes Rendus Assoc. Fran9. ," 
revision of the subgenus Margaritifera." 1896, pp. 458-466. 
Proceedings of the Zoological Society of 
London, Vol. L, 1901, pp. 372-394- 


whence large quantities of the shell are exported under the name of 
"Lingah shell." The Ceylon variety has the nacreous lining almost 
uniformly white over the entire surface, only the lip having a slightly 
pinkish ground color. The exterior is marked by seven or eight red- 
dish brown radial bands on a pale yellow ground. In addition to its 
greater size, the Persian variety is darker, and the lip of the shell has 
a reddish tinge. 

For centuries the Margaritifera vulgaris has sustained the great 
pearl fisheries of Ceylon, India, and Persia, and at present yields the 
bulk of pearls on the market, especially the seed-pearls and also those 
of medium size. It produces relatively few large ones, rarely exceed- 
ing twelve grains in weight. These pearls are commonly silvery 
white, and for their size command the highest prices, because of their 
beautiful form and superior luster. Excepting the Venezuelan species, 
this is the only pearl-oyster which at present supports extensive fish- 
eries exclusively for pearls ; in the fisheries for all other species the 
value of the shells furnishes considerable revenue, and in some local- 
ities this represents several times as much as the income from the 

Ranking next to Margaritifera vulgaris in extent of pearl-produc- 
tion is the Margaritifera margaritifera, which is widely distributed 
about the tropical inshore waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans. It 
is very much larger than the Lingah oyster, good specimens measur- 
ing seven or eight inches in diameter, and the nacreous interior is 
usually of a darker color. In addition to its yield of pearls, the shell of 
this species is of value in the mother-of-pearl trade, and contributes 
largely to the economic results of the fisheries. Indeed, in several 
regions the shell is of more value than the pearls, which represent only 
an incidental yield. As Jameson notes, the color and markings of the 
shell, though extremely variable, generally suffice to distinguish this 
species. The ground color of the exterior ranges through various 
shades from yellowish brown to very dark brown. Its characteristic 
markings consist of from ten to eighteen radial rows of white and 
yellow spots, running from the umbo, or hinge, to the margin. 

Several varieties of Margaritifera margaritifera are recognized. 
The type species occurs along the north coast of Australia, from Bris- 
bane on the east to Sharks Bay on the west ; on the New Guinea coast ; 
at Formosa ; and about many of the islands of the Pacific. The well- 
known "black-lip shell" of Australian waters is of this species; it 
shows a greenish black on the margin of the nacre. The yield of this is 
very small compared with that of the large pearl-oyster of Australia. 

The Margaritifera margaritifera occurs on the eastern coast of 
Arabia in two varieties, which differ somewhat from the type species. 


{Margaritifera matgaritifera niazatlattica) 
From Costa Rica 


These have been designated by Jameson as M. margaritifcra persica 
and M. margaritifcra erythrcccnsis. These are much larger than the 
Lingah shell of the Persian Gulf, but are smaller than the Australian 
species. The percentage of pearls in them is less than in the Lingah 
species, but from a commercial point of view this is to some extent 
offset by the greater value of the shell. The M. in. persica is more nu- 
merous in the gulf than the M. m. erythrcccnsis, and large quantities of 
the shell are marketed in Europe. Formerly the shipments were made 
principally by way of Bombay, hence the shell is known in the mother- 
of-pearl trade as "Bombay shell." The exterior is of a light grayish 
or greenish brown color, with yellowish white radial bands. The 
nacre has a slightly roseate tint, and the margin is greenish yellow. 
The pearls found herein are more yellowish in color and attain a larger 
size than those from the Lingah oyster. 

The M. m. erytlirccensis occurs also in the Red Sea and along the 
shores of the Arabian Sea. Among mother-of-pearl dealers it is 
known as "Egyptian shell" or "Alexandria shell," owing to the fact 
that prior to the opening of the Suez Canal shipments were commonly 
made by way of Alexandria. The color of the nacre is darker than 
that of its related variety in the Persian Gulf. In the trade, three 
grades of this shell are recognized, classed according to the shade of 
color. The lightest comes from Massowah and near the southern end 
of the Red Sea, and the darkest from farther north, in the vicinity of 
Jiddah and Suakim. 

The islands of the southern Pacific, and of eastern Polynesia espe- 
cially, yield another variety of M. margaritifcra, to which the name 
M. m. cumingi has been given. The nacre is of a dark metallic green, 
and in the mother-of-pearl trade the shell is designated as "black- 
edged." It attains a large size, only slightly smaller than the large 
Australian species ; many individual specimens measure ten inches in 
diameter, and weigh six or seven pounds for the two valves. Belong- 
ing to this variety are those oysters whose shells are known in the 
markets of Europe and America as "Tahiti," "Gambler," and "Auck- 
land" shells, the name designating the port of shipment. 

Yet another subspecies, the M. m. niasatlanica, occurs on the coasts 
of Panama and Mexico, and especially in the Gulf of California. This 
is likewise green-edged, and the exterior color is yellow or light brown. 
This shell has been marketed in quantities since 1850, and is known in 
the mother-of-pearl trade as "Panama shell." It is smaller than the 
Australian species, specimens rarely exceeding eight inches in diam- 
eter. It yields a large percentage of the black pearls that have been so 
fashionable in the last fifty years. 

Since 1870, the largest pearls have been found mainly in a very 


large species of pearl-oyster, Margaritifera maxima, obtained off the 
north and west coasts of Australia, among the Sulu Islands, and else- 
where in the Malay Archipelago. In the fisheries for this species, the 
mother-of-pearl is the principal object sought, and the pearls are ob- 
tained incidentally. It is the largest of all the members of this family, 
reaching in exceptional cases twelve or thirteen inches in diameter, 
and weighing upward of twelve pounds ; while the Ceylon oyster rarely 
exceeds four ounces in weight. So marked is this difference, that the 
Australian species is often designated the "mother-of-pearl oyster," 
and the Ceylon species the "pearl-oyster." Jameson notes that it 
differs from the Margaritifera margaritifera, its nearest competitor 
in size, in its much longer hinge, its shape, its lesser convexity, and in 
its color and markings. As described by him, the color ranges from 
pale yellowish brown to deep brown, with traces of radial markings of 
dark brown, green, or red in the umbonal area. In its marginal region, 
the shell is marked by a series of circumferential lines about one third 
of a millimeter apart. 

Several geographical varieties of this species are recognized in the 
mother-of-pearl trade, differing principally in the coloring of the in- 
terior surface. The chief commercial varieties are "Sydney" or 
"Queensland," "Port Darwin," "West Australian," "New Guinea," 
"Manila," "Macassar," and "Mergui." The nacre of those from the 
Australian coast is almost uniformly silvery white. That of the 
"Manila shell" is characterized by a broad golden border surrounding 
the silvery white nacre. The "Macassar shell" lacks the golden border 
of the "Manila shell," and is similar in its uniform whiteness to the 
"Sydney shell," but its iridescence is much greater. 

The Margaritifera carchariiim, from Sharks Bay, on the coast of 
Australia, yields yellow pearls and small quantities of mother-of-pearl. 
This species is small — three or four inches in diameter. The color is 
grayish or greenish yellow, with several somewhat indistinct radial 
bands of brownish green. The nacre has a yellowish green tint, with 
a margin of pale yellow, with brown markings. 

In the West Indies and on the Atlantic coast of tropical America, 
especially the coast of Venezuela, occurs the Margaritifera radiata. 
This species is quite small, and seems to be closely allied to the Ceylon 
oyster. Like the latter, the nacreous interior is rich and brilliant, but 
owing to its small size, the shell is wholly valueless as mother-of-pearl. 
The principal and almost the only fishery for this species is on the 
Venezuelan coast, in the vicinity of Margarita Island, the islands of 
Cubagua, and Coche. 

The coast of Japan yields the Margaritifera martensi, which occurs 
among the numerous islands in the southern part of the empire, but 


does not extend beyond 40° north latitude. This species is Hkewise 
small, and closely resembles the pearl-oyster of Ceylon, from which 
it differs principally in coloration. As noted by Jameson, brown and 
white predominate in the exterior coloring, and the interior of the lip 
is marbled with yellow ocher and chocolate brown, instead of pink, as 
in the Ceylon shell. 

There are numerous other species of pearl-oysters, but they are of 
slight economic importance, and do not support fisheries of value. 

As only a small percentage of the individual mollusks contain 
pearls, it follows that vast quantities are destroyed without any re- 
turn whatever, and handling them merely adds to the expense of the 
industry, as well as reduces the resources of the reefs. This could be 
obviated if it were possible, without opening them, to determine the 
individual mollusks containing pearls. 

Among the several methods proposed for this purpose, especially 
interesting is the use of X-rays, which was suggested by Raphael 
Dubois of Lyons, France, in 1901.' The shells of some pearl-oysters — 
those of Ceylon and of Venezuela for instance — are relatively thin, 
and it was thought that by the means of the rays the presence of 
pearls could be ascertained, and non-pearl-bearers could be saved from 
opening, and be returned to the reefs without injury. Although the 
calcareous shell partly interrupts the radiations, it is not difficult to 
recognize the presence of large pearls. 

The theory has never been found practical in application, owing 
largely to the rough and irregular exterior of the shell and the small 
size of the pearls. The presence of the larger pearls may be ascer- 
tained by this method ; but it is exceedingly probable that a very large 
percentage of the small ones, and especially the seed-pearls, would be 
overlooked. Furthermore, if in their sixth year oysters contain no 
pearls, the probability of appearance therein later is very small, and 
little benefit would result from their return to the water. As to saving 
the trouble of opening the non-pearl-bearing mollusks, labor in the 
pearling regions is usually inexpensive, and this cost is far more than 
offset by the reasonable certainty of securing practically all the small 
as well as the large pearls by the present method of operation. Owing 
to the greater thickness and the economic value of the large pearl- 
oysters— as those of Australia or of Mexico, for instance— the appli- 
cation of X-rays to them is obviously impractical. However, when 
pearl-oyster culture becomes a highly developed industry, with per- 
sonal ownership in those mollusks returned to the water, some method 
such as this might be of great value. 

Pearls are yielded by various species of Uniouidcc or Naiades occur- 

iSee" Comptes Rendusde 1' Academic des Sciences," Paris, 1904, Vol. CXXXVIII, pp. 301, 302. 


ring in the rivers of America, Scotland, Saxony, Bavaria, Norway, 
Sweden, Russia, France, China, etc. These mollusks exist exckisively 
in the fresh-water streams, lakes, and ponds, and quickly die when 
submerged in salt water. The Unionidcc are of particular interest in 
America, as it is here that this group is most abundant, and nearly 
every stream east of the Rocky Mountains contains more or less of 
them. The Mississippi basin abounds in Unios, or "clams," as they 
are known to the fishermen of that region, and furnishes about 400 of 
the 1000 recognized species of this important family. 

The Unios are most abundant in clear, running water, where the 
bottom is gravelly or sandy. The interiors of the shells are iridescent, 
and vary greatly in tint, exhibiting many delicate shades of color from 
silvery white to straw color, pink, purple, brown, etc. 

About five hundred species of American fresh-water mussels have 
been recognized by conchologists. Many of these differ from one 
another so very slightly that they are scarcely distinguishable from an 
examination of the shells themselves, or even from the descriptions, 
and a detailed index to the complete list is of little economic impor- 
tance. The professional fishermen and the shell-buyers take the trouble 
to name only the species with which they deal, which includes only 
about twenty-five species, all of which are margaritiferous, though 
some to a greater extent than others. In the pearling regions a popular 
nomenclature exists, the names given by the fishermen having refer- 
ence to the shape, color, etc. 

The niggerhead (Quadrnla cbena) is the most numerous in the Mis- 
sissippi, and it is extensively used in button manufacture. The thick 
shell of this species is almost round, with a black outer surface and a 
pearly white interior. At maturity it averages about four inches in 
diameter and four ounces in weight. Owing to its uniform whiteness 
and the flatness of its surface, it is well adapted to button manu- 
facture, and for this purpose more than twenty thousand tons are taken 
in the Mississippi Valley every year. When the fishery originated, the 
niggerhead was very abundant in some places, and especially between 
La Crosse and Burlington. From a single bed near New Boston, 
Illinois, measuring about 200 acres in area, 7500 tons, or about 70,- 
000,000 individual shells, were removed in three years. In 1897, a bed 
of 320 acres near Muscatine furnished 500 tons, or about 4,750,000 
shells. This species occasionally yields valuable pearls. 

Two species of Unios, Quadnila undulafa and Q. plicata, are known 
among the fishermen as "three-ridges." The former is also known as 
the "blue-point" from the fact that the sharp edge is usually tinged 
faint blue on the inside. Although not the best for button manufac- 
ture, the shells yield the greatest number of pearls. 



o ^ 
<t 2; 

3- O 








^ n 

s •< 



A species somewhat similar to the niggerhead is the bullhead (Pleu- 
robcma cesopiis). This shell is thick and opaque, the nacre is not so 
iridescent as that of the niggerhead, nor does it yield pearls of such 
good quality. These two species are not evenly distributed over the 
bottom of the streams, but occur in great patches or beds, sometimes 
several feet in thickness and covering many hundreds of acres. Some 
of the beds are several miles in length, and they may be separated by 
twenty or thirty miles in which the mollusks are so scarce that profit- 
able fishing can not be made; but usually the reefs are smaller and 
more closely situated. 

The sand shells {Lampsilis)—oi which there are several species- 
do not occur in large beds, but are scattered over the sandy beaches 
and sloping mud-banks. In shape they are narrow and long, adults 
measuring five or six inches in length. Owing to the small waste in 
cutting, due to uniformity in thickness, these shells are sold to button 
manufacturers for more than the niggerhead, which in turn is more 
valuable than the bullhead. 

The buckhorn (Tritigoma verrucosa) is very long and narrow; on 
the dark brown exterior it is rough, as is the horn from which it takes 
its name, while the interior shows a beautiful display of colors. This 
is not found in beds, but lies scattered among other species. It sells at 
a relatively high price — usually in excess of $20 oer ton — for button 

Another species is the butterfly (Plagiola sccuris), which is very 
prettily marked on the outside with faintly colored dotted stripes of 
varying length. Over a background of dark yellow run black stripes 
to the outer edge of the shell, with dark dots between the stripes. The 
shell is small and thick, and like the sand shell and the buckhorn, is 
found in small quantities. Owing to the beauty and permanency of 
its luster, this shell is in demand for button manvifacture, and its 
pearls are often very beautiful. 

Other well-known species are the pancake {Lampsilis alatus), 
the maple-leaf (Quadrnla zvardi), and hackle-back (Syinpliynota coni- 
planata). On the Atlantic seaboard, the principal species in which 
pearls have been found are Unio complanata; the Alasmodon arciiata, 
which has hinge teeth, and a species of Anodon. Pearls from the 
Unio conplaiiata are usually smaller but more lustrous than those 
from either of the other species. 

Among the many fresh-water mussels are found some remarkable 
conditions of animal life. Probably the most curious is the parasitic 
stage of certain species. When hatched from the egg, each one of 
these is provided with hooks or spines, by means of which it attaches 
itself to the gills or fins of a swimming fish and becomes embedded 


therein. After confinement in this cyst for a period of two months 
or more, the small mollusk works its way out and falls to the bottom 
of the river or pond, where its development continues along lines more 
conventional to molluscan life. 

In most of the species of Unios the sexes are separate; but it has 
been determined that in some the individuals are provided with both 
sets of sexual organs. It is claimed by some naturalists that certain 
species may change from one sex to another ; yet this does not seem to 
have been positively established. 

Not the least interesting of the habits of the Unios is the manner in 
which they "walk," bushels of them changing their habitation in a few 
hours. The shell opens slightly and the muscular tongue-like "foot" 
is thrust out, and by pressure of this on the bottom, the mollusk is pro- 
pelled in a jerky, jumpy movement with more speed than one would 
suppose possible for the apparently inert creature. 

The number of eggs produced by an individual in one season ranges 
from a few hundred in some species to many millions in others, as in 
the Qiiadrnla Jicros, for instance. Most of the fresh-water mol- 
lusks are of slow growth, reaching maturity in six or eight years, and 
it is believed that if undisturbed they live to be from fifteen to fifty 
years old; indeed, some writers credit them with attaining an age of 
one hundred years. 

While outwardly there is no positive indication of the existence of 
pearls, they are relatively scarce in young mollusks, and likewise in 
those having a normal, healthy appearance, with smooth exterior free 
from blemishes, and they are found generally in the older, irregular, 
and deformed shells, which bear excrescences and the marks of having 
parasites. However, some of the choicest pearls have come from 
shells relatively yovmg and apparently in perfect condition. 

It has been pointed out that with the fresh-water Unios there are 
three indications on which the fishermen to some extent rely for deter- 
mining the presence of pearls from the outward aspects of the shell. 
There are, first, the thread or elevated ridge extending from the vertex 
to the edge; second, the kidney-shape of the shell, and third, the con- 
tortion of both valves toward the middle plane of the mollusk. 

A single mollusk may contain several small pearls, — more than one 
hundred have been found, — but in such cases usually none has com- 
mercial value. Ordinarily only one is found in the examination of 
very many shells. Of these objects it may be truthfully said that 
"many are found, but few are chosen," few that are of first quality or 
are worthy of a fine necklace. In many instances, several pounds of 
cheap pearls would be gladly exchanged for a choice gem weighing an 
equal number of grains. 


On the Atlantic seaboard of America, the Anodontas, or "mussels," 
as they are known locally, are more numerous than the Unios. They 
prefer the still waters of the ponds and lakes, rather than the swift 
currents of the streams. The shell is much thinner than that of the 
Unios, and it is usually not so brilliant in color and iridescence; con- 
sequently the pearly concretions obtained from them are less lustrous. 

The rivers of Europe, and of Asia also, contain numbers of pearl- 
bearing mussels. In many localities the yield of pearls has at times at- 
tracted attention and produced much profit, though probably never 
equaling the present extent of the Mississippi River finds. The prin- 
cipal pearl-bearer of Europe is the Unio margaritifcra, the shell of 
which has been of some local importance in the manufacture of pearl 
buttons. In Great Britain it is known as the pearl-mussel; in France 
as the moule or huitre perliere; in Germany as perlenmuschel; in Bel- 
gium as paarl mossel dc rivieren; in Denmark as pcrle-skiael; in Swe- 
den as pcrhmissla; in Russia as sclioiifscliuschuaja rakavina, and in 
Finland as simpsuckan cuosi. The Unio margaritifera likewise exists 
in Siberia, and possibly elsewhere in Asia. Other species of Unio exist 
there and in Mongolia, Manchuria, etc., as, for instance, U. mongoli- 
cus, U. dahuricus, etc. A leading species in eastern China, the Dipsas 
plicatus, has long been extensively employed in the artificial produc- 
tion of pearly objects or culture-pearls.' Unio pearls show less 
uniformity of tints than those derived from the pearl-oysters. They 
present an extended series of shades, corresponding to those on the 
interior of the shells, from almost perfect white through various 
tints of cream, pink, yellow, bright red, blue, green, russet, and brown. 
The metallic shades are numerous, especially the steels and the coppers. 

Most of the members of the Mytilidcc family, which includes the 
marine mussels, are of slight luster ; and the pearly concretions found in 
them are of the grade known as "druggists' pearls," so-called because, 
formerly, they were used in a powdered form in astringent and other 
medicines. However, some of these mussels on the European coast yield 
pearls that are fairly lustrous. The white and the pink are most numer- 
ous, but purple, red, bronze, and yellow are by no means uncommon. 

A few pearls are also obtained from the sea-wings or wing-shells 
(Pinna), the silkworms of the sea, found in the Red Sea, the Mediter- 
ranean Sea, the Indian Ocean, the southern coast of America, and 
elsewhere. These shells are narrow at the umbo, or hinge, long, and 
fan-shaped; they are generally brittle, and present a horn-like appear- 
ance. The interior is commonly of a silvery reddish or orange-colored 
hue, and this tint is imparted to the pearls. The most characteristic 
feature of the Pinna is the thick rope of silky fibers, from four to ten, 

•See p. 288. 


and sometimes twenty or more inches in length, constituting the bys- 
sus, a remarkable provision by means of which it anchors itself to the 
bottom and thus outrides the storm. Formerly the byssus was gath- 
ered in Sicily, washed in soap and water, dried, corded, and fabricated 
into gloves and similar articles of a fine texture. The finished gar- 
ments were of a beautiful golden brown color, resembling the bur- 
nished gold on the backs of some splendid flies or beetles. 

The yield of Pinna pearls is very small. A few are obtained from 
the Mediterranean, especially on the Adriatic coast. These are usually 
rose-tinted or reddish in color, but of diminished orient, and inferior 
in size. Pinna pearls are also reported from the Isle of Pines and 
from New Caledonia, where they are commonly very dark, almost 
black in color. 

The window-glass shell (Placuna placenta), the z'itre chinoise of 
some writers, yields a few small, irregularly shaped pearls of a dull 
leaden color. It occurs in the inshore waters of the Indian and the 
southwestern Pacific oceans; fisheries are prosecuted in Tablegram 
Lake, near Trincomali, on the northeast coast of Ceylon ; on the coast 
of Borneo, especially at Pados Bay, and to a less extent in some other 
localities. This mollusk is quite distinct from the true pearl-oyster, 
and in adult life is devoid of the byssus, living on the muddy bottom 
of the shallow waters. The shell is almost circular, the right valve 
is quite flat, and the left only slightly convex. It is remarkable for 
its transparency, especially in the first year of growth, when the 
beating of the heart of the mollusk is visible through it. Reach- 
ing maturity in about two years, the shell becomes white and translu- 
cent, resembling pressed isinglass somewhat in its texture. It then 
measures about six or seven inches in length, and nearly the same in 
width. The outside is rough ; the interior is glazed over and has a sub- 
dued pearly luster. It is so thin and transparent that with a strong 
light very coarse print can be read through it. It is commonly used 
in the East Indies as a substitute for glass in windows, admitting a soft 
mellow light into the room. For this purpose it is usually cut into 
small rectangular or diamond-shaped pieces, about five or six square 
inches in area, and these are inserted into sash frames. It forms a 
good economical substitute for glass, not only in windows of native 
residences, but also in lanterns and the like. 

The giant clam (Tridacna gigas) of tropical waters yields a few 
large opal-white symmetrical pearls, with faint luster and of little 
value. The transversely oval shell of the Tridacna, with its great 
squamous ribs, is probably the largest and heaviest in existence, single 
pairs weighing upward of 500 pounds. It is found in tropical seas, 
and especially in the Indian Ocean. It is much used for ornament, 


( Sirotnbtts gigas) 

Of Florida and the West Indies 





particularly for fountain-basins, and for betiitiers, or holy-water fonts. 
A beautiful pair used as benii'ers in the Church of St. Sulpice in Paris 
is said to have been a gift of the Republic of Venice to Francis I. 
There seems to be no established fishery for this mollusk, and the 
pearls very rarely come on the market. About four years ago in New- 
York City an effort was made to market one weighing about 200 
grains. The owner represented that it was a "cocoanut pearl," and 
offered to sell it for $2000 ; whereas its actual value was probably not 
over $10 or $20, and that only for a museum collection. 

Pearls of slight luster also occur in the quahog, or hard clam 
{Venus mercenaria) , of the Atlantic coast of the United States. Al- 
though these are rare, they are generally of good form, and some 
weigh upward of eighty grains each. They are commonly of dark 
color, purplish, ordinarily, but they may be white, pale lilac, brown, 
and even purplish black, or black. The white ones — which so nearly 
resemble ivory buttons as readily to pass for them at a casual glance — 
are of little value ; but fine dark ones have retailed at from $10 to $100 
each. There is little demand for them, for unless the color is very good, 
they possess slight beauty, lacking the orient peculiar to choice pearls. 
Pearls have also been reported from the edible clam of the Pacific 
coast of America. 

Shelly concretions are found in the edible oyster of America (Ostrea 
virginica), as well as in that of Europe (O. edulis) ; but these are com- 
monly objects of personal interest or of local curiosity, rather than of 
artistic or commercial value, as they are lacking in luster and irides- 
cence. Most of them are dull or opal-white, some are purple, and a 
few are white on one side and purple on the other. As many as fifty 
of these formations have been found in a single oyster. Sometimes 
they are of odd- appearance, suggesting the human eye or face, and 
recently one was found which bore a striking resemblance to a human 
skull. Notwithstanding many news items to the contrary, it is doubt- 
ful whether the choicest pearl from an edible oyster would sell for as 
high as $20 on its own merits; professional shuckers have opened 
thousands of bushels of oysters without finding one which would sell 
for ten cents. 

Among univalves, the most prominent pearl-producer is probably 
the common conch or great conch {Strombus gigas) of the West 
Indies and the Florida coast, which secretes beautiful pink pearls of 
considerable value. This is one of the largest of the univalve shells, 
some individuals measuring twelve inches in length, and weighing 
five or six pounds. The graceful curves and the delicate tints of lovely 
pink color make it exceedingly attractive. The conch abounds in the 
waters of the West Indies, especially in the Bahamas, where many 


thousands are annually taken for the shell, which forms quite an 
article of commerce. The flesh is esteemed as food and is also used 
for bait; and it is particularly in preparing for these purposes that the 
pearls are found, as no established fisheries exist for the pearls alone. 

The ear-shells or abalones (Haliotidae) found on the coasts of Cali- 
fornia, Japan, New Zealand, and other localities in the Pacific, secrete 
pearly concretions, sometimes with fine luster, but usually of small 
value. These shells resemble in general outline the form of the 
human ear. Distinguishing characteristics are the flatly-spiral bowl- 
like shape, and the regular series of holes in the back near the distal 
margin, for the admission of water to the respiratory organs. The 
holes are on the left side and paraflel with the columellar lip, and 
those nearest the apex close up as the shell increases in size. The 
shells are rough externally, but beautifully nacreous within. In 
variety and intensity of coloring, the nacre is superior to that of the 
pearl-oysters, but it is not so harmonious, and it does not form so thick 
and flat a layer. 

Abalone pearls are especially interesting on account of their bril- 
liant and unusual colors. Green predominates, but blue and yellow 
also occur. Although commonly very small, some of the well-formed 
ones exceed seventy-five grains in weight, and those of irregular 
shape may be very much larger. The ear-shells also produce many 
irregular pearly masses. Although these are without an established 
commercial value, their beautiful greenish or bluish tints adapt them 
for artistic jeweled objects, such as the body of a fly or of a beetle. 

Similar concretions are found in species of turbos and turbinella, 
especially the Indian chank (Turbinella rapa), which yields pink and 
pale red pearls. The pearly nautilus (Nautilus pompilius) yields a 
few yellowish pearls, especially those taken in Australian waters ; but 
from the paper nautilus— "the sea-born sailor of his shell canoe" — 
no pearls are obtained, owing to the non-lustrous nature of the 

In bygone days, especially in Asia, and also to some extent in 
Europe, pearls were credited as coming from many non-molluscan 
sources. The Rabbis had the idea that they came also from fish, as 
noted in the story of a tailor who was rewarded by finding a pearl in 
one which he bought (Gen. R. xi. 5). The Raganighantu of Nara- 
hari, a Kashmir physician of about 1240 a.d., reported them as com- 
ing from bamboos, cocoanuts, heads of elephants, bears, serpents, 
whales, fish, etc. ;^ although it conceded that these were deficient in 
luster, which is recognized as the characteristic feature of pearls. 
We understand, therefore, that this use of the word signifies only 

iGarbe, "Die Indischen Mineralien," Leipzig, 1882. 


hard concretions of a spherical form. In the apology for his book, 
prison-bound Bunyan wrote : 

A pearl may in a toad's head dwell, 
And may be found in an oyster shell. 

The crystal gems — the diamonds, rubies, etc. — are practically un- 
limited in their longevity, existing thousands of years unchanged in 
condition. Except those which have been discovered by man, the earth 
contains about as many as it ever did, and it is not unreasonable to 
suppose that in course of time a considerable percentage of the total 
will be discovered. But in the seas as well as in the rivers, the lon- 
gevity of pearls is greatly restricted, and 

Full many a gem of purest ray serene 

The dark, unfathomed caves of ocean bear ^ 

to run their course of existence and decay unseen and unknown. 
Perishable while in the seas, almost as cereals and fruits on land, the 
harvest must be gathered with promptness or it is wasted. And it 
seems probable that only a small percentage of the beautiful gems 
produced in the waters have gladdened the sight of man. 

With considerable hesitancy we have attempted to estimate the 
number of persons employed in the pearl fisheries of the world, and 
the aggregate local value of their catch. For two or three regions, 
this is not a matter of great difficulty. For instance, the divers em- 
ployed in the Ceylon fishery are numbered each season, and the auction 
sales of their catch furnish a reasonably satisfactory basis for deter- 
mining the value of the output. Likewise in Australia, Venezuela, 
and some minor localities, the fishermen are numbered ; but the reports 
are less satisfactory as to the value of the pearls. In the Persian Gulf, 
the Red Sea, the Gulf of California, and the islands of the Pacific, 
where pearl-diving is a profession and a regular source of livelihood, 
the number of employees is fairly constant. But in the rivers and ponds 
of America, as well as of Europe and of Asia, where neither experi- 
ence nor costly equipment is required for the industry, and pearls to 
the value of very many thousands of dollars are obtained by men, 
women, and even children, on pleasure bent, as well as in the widely 
fluctuating professional fisheries, the problem is far more difficult. 

Contending with these many difficulties, we venture to present the 
following estimate of the number of persons employed in the pearl 
fisheries of the world, and the value of the output in 1906. 

1 Gray's Elegy. 





Local Values. 

Local Values. 


Persian Gulf 




Ceylon ^ 








Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, etc.^ 




China, Japan, Siberia 

, etc. 




Europe : 




British Isles 



Continent of Europe 








Islands of the Pacific: 

South Sea islands 




Australian coast ^ 




Malay Archipelago 





America : 



United States rivers 
























Grand total 




Our returns do not represent the annual output of pearls in the 
values best known to gem buyers. The difference in price between 
pearls in the fisherman's hands in the Persian Gulf or at the Pacific 
islands, and that for which they are exchanged over the counters in 
New York or Paris, is nearly as great as the difference in value of 
wool on the sheep's back and of the same material woven into fashion- 
able fabrics. For each dollar received by the fisherman, the retail 
buyer probably pays three ; and it is not unreasonable to suppose that 
the pearls herein represented probably sold ultimately for an aggregate 
of $24,420,000. 

This summary falls far short in giving a correct idea of the im- 
portance of the pearl fisheries in furnishing a livelihood to humanity; 
for it takes no consideration of that great body of men who contribute 
incidentally to the prosecution of the fisheries, such as shell-openers, 

1 In 1905, the Ceylon pearl yield approxi- 
mated $2,000,000 in value. 

" Including African coast. 
^ Including Sharks Bay. 


pearl-washers, watchmen, cooks, laborers, etc. In the Ceylon pearl 
fishery of 1906, for instance, our estimate shows 18,500 fishermen; 
but there were 40,000 persons engaged at the pearl camp alone, and 
many others were given employment in boat-building, supplying pro- 
visions, selling the pearls, etc., and this does not include the wives and 
children depending on the industry for sustenance. Indeed, it seems 
not unreasonable to estimate that instead of only the 18,500 fishermen, 
85,000 persons were in a large measure dependent for their livelihood 
on the Ceylon fishery in 1906. 

Estimated on the same basis, we have a total of 500,000 persons de- 
pending largely on the pearl fisheries of the world for their support. 
Thus we see that pearl buyers and pearl wearers not only gratify a 
commendable admiration for the beautiful, but contribute largely to 
the economic balance whereby one class of humanity either sustains or 
is dependent upon another, even though these classes be so widely 
separated as the crown of Russia from the half-starved diver of the 
tropical seas. How strange is the providence of God, who, bj' grant- 
ing the pearl to the poor Arab, the Tamil of India, the South Sea 
Islander, and the forgotten Selang of Mergui, makes the greatest and 
wealthiest in the world contribute to their support. 








Dear as the wet diver to the eyes 
Of his pale wife, who waits and weeps on shore, 
By sands of Bahrein in the Persian Gulf ; 
Plunging all day in the blue waves ; at night, 
Having made up his toll of precious pearls, 
Rejoins her in their hut upon the shore. 

Sir Edwin Arnold. 

THE pearl fisheries of the Persian Gulf are the most famous 
and valuable in the world, and have been prosecuted for more 
than two thousand years. A translation by tliat eminent 
Assyriologist, Jules Oppert, of a cuneiform inscription on a 
broken obelisk, erected presumably by a king of Nineveh, seems to in- 
dicate a very early origin for these fisheries.* Professor Oppert's 
translation is: 

In the sea of the changeable winds (i.e., the Persian Gulf), 

his merchants fished for pearls ; 

In the sea where the North Star culminates, 

they fished for yellow amber. 

The earliest writing of Europeans on the East refer to these fish- 
eries. An account of them was given by the Greek writer Megas- 
thenes, who accompanied Seleucus Nicator, the Macedonian general, 
in his Asiatic conquests, about 307 B.C. Shortly afterward they were 
noted by the Greek historian, Isidorus of Charace, in his account of 
the Parthian Empire. Extracts from Nearchus preserved by Arrian 
also mentioji them. Ptolemy speaks of the pearl fisheries which ex- 
isted from time immemorial at Tylos, the Roman name for the present 
Island of Bahrein. These resources were well known in the days of 
Phny. In his "Historia Naturalis," Book IX, ch. 35, he says: "But 
the most perfect and exquisite [pearls] of all others be they that are 
gotten about Arabia, within the Persian Gulf." ^ Pliny states also 

' Oppert, " L 'Ambre jaune chez les Assyriens." 2 Holland's edition of_'i6oi, p. 254. 



(Book VI, ch. 25) that Catifa (El Katiff), on the Arabian coast op- 
posite Bahrein, was the center of an important fishery. 

In the ninth century these fisheries were noted by Massoudi, one of 
the earliest Arabian geographers.^ In the latter part of the twelfth 
century they were visited and described by the Spanish-Hebrew trav- 
eler, Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela.^ The Arabian traveler, Ibn Batuta, 
wrote of them about 1336.^ In 1508 they were noted in the account 
of Lodovico Barthema's expedition to the Island of Ormus. Accord- 
ing to him : 

At three days' journey from this island they fished the largest pearls 
which are found in the world ; and whoever wishes to know about it, behold ! 
There are certain fishermen who go there in small boats and cast into the 
water two large stones attached to ropes, one at the bow, the other at the stern 
of each boat to stay it in place. Then one of the fishermen hangs a sack from 
his neck, attaches a large stone to his feet, and descends to the bottom — about 
fifteen paces under water, where he remains as long as he can, searching for 
oysters which bear pearls, and puts as many as he finds into his sack. When 
he can remain no longer, he casts off the stone attached to his feet, and ascends 
by one of the ropes fastened to the boat. There are so many connected with 
the business that you will often see 300 of these little boats which come from 
many countries.'* 

Shortly following the visit of Barthema, the Portuguese under 
Albuquerque took possession of the principal ports of the Persian 
Gulf, and they imposed heavy taxes on the pearl fishery throughout 
the century of their retention. While under their jurisdiction, the 
fisheries were visited and described by J. H. van Linschoten in 1596, 
who wrote : 

The principall and the best that are found in all the Orientall Countries, and 
the right Orientall pearles, are between Ormus and Bassora in the straights, or 
Sinus Persicus, in the places called Bareyn, Catiffa, Jul far, Camaron, and 
other places in the said Sinus Persicus, from whence they are brought into 
Ormus. The king of Portingale hath also his factor in Bareyn, that stayeth 
there onlie for the fishing of pearles. There is great trafficke used with them, 
as well in Ormus as in Goa.' 

This was the Ormus where the treasures of the Orient were gath- 
ered in abundance, the half-way house between the East and the West, 
making it one of the greatest emporia of the world. So renowned 
was its wealth and commerce that it was a saying among the Portu- 

' Reinaud, "Memoire sur I'lnde," Paris, ^" The Travels of Lodovico di Barthema, 

1849. 1503 to 1508," London, 1863, p. 95. 

^"Travels of Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela," ^"Discours of Voyages into ye Easte and 

London, 1783. West Indies," London, 1598, folio, ch. 84. 

3 Lee, "Ibn Batuta," 1829, p. 65. 

Cargo boat in pearl fishery of the Persian Gulf 

Huts of mats and palm leaves, the homes of the pearl fishermen at Menamah, Hahrein Kl.iri'K, I'rT-^ian liiilf 


guese, were the whole world a golden ring, Ormus would be the 
jeweled signet. It was built on an island, supported a population of 
40,000 persons, and was particularly well situated as a distributing 
point for the pearls, which enriched the argosies of Portugal, and 
contributed so largely to 

the wealth of Ormus and of Ind, 
Or where the gorgeous East with richest hand 
Show'rs on her kings barbaric pearl and gold, 

which Milton celebrates in "Paradise Lost." This wonderful Ormus, 
in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries one of the wealthiest places 
in the world, is now only a fishing village of less than a hundred 

It was at Ormus, nearly a century later, in 1670, that the shrewd 
old jewel merchant, Tavernier, whose acquaintance with gems 
doubtless equaled that of any man of his time, saw what he called 
"the most beautiful pearl in the world" ; not so much for its size, for 
it weighed only 48^ grains, nor for its regularity in form, but because 
of its most wonderful luster.* 

In describing the fisheries, which had been retaken by the Persians 
in 1622, Tavernier wrote in 1670, according to Ball's translation: 

There is a pearl lishery round the island of Bahren, in the Persian Gulf. 
It belongs to the King of Persia, and there is a good fortress there, where a 
garrison of 300 men is kept. . . . When the Portuguese held Hormuz 
[Ormus] and Muscat, each boat which went to fish was obliged to take out a 
license from them, which cost fifteen abassis [$5.45], and many brigantines 
were maintained there, to sink those who were unwilling to take out licenses. 
But since the Arabs have retaken Muscat, and the Portuguese are no longer 
supreme in the Gulf, every man who fishes pays to the King of Persia only 
five abassis, whether his fishing is successful or not. The merchant also pays 
the king something small for every 1,000 oysters. The second pearl-fishery is 
opposite Bahren, on the coast of Arabia-Felix, close to the town of El Katif, 
which, with all the neighboring country, belongs to an Arab prince.^ 

During the century following Tavernier's time, the fisheries were 
vigorously prosecuted, owing to the impoverished condition of the 
reefs in India and America, and to the large demand for pearls, not 
only by the Oriental courts, but by the wealth and fashion of Europe. 
Except for the last four years, when the Ceylon fishery was very pro- 
ductive, throughout the eighteenth century the Persian Gulf was al- 
most the only important source of supply for pearls. For several years 
following the reopening of the Ceylon fishery in 1796, that region 

' See p. 457, for Tavernier's description of 2 Tavernier, "Travels in India," London, 

this gem. i88g, Vol. II, p. 108. 


diverted some of the attention which the Persian waters had been re- 
ceiving, but it was not long before these regained their ascendancy. 

In 1838, Lieutenant J. R. Wellsted, an officer in the British India 
service, reported that the fisheries of the gulf employed 4300 boats, 
manned by somewhat more than 30,000 men.^ Of these boats, 3500 
were from the Island of Bahrein, 100 from the Persian coast, and the 
remaining 700 from the Pirate Coast situated between Bahrein and 
the entrance to the Gulf of Oman. Lieutenant Wellsted estimated the 
value of the pearls secured annually as approximately £400,000, which 
is somewhat less than the average value of the output in recent years. 

Twenty-seven years later, according to Sir Lewis Pelly," who was 
in the Indian service from 185 1 to 1877, there were 1500 boats at 
Bahrein, and the annual return from the whole fishery was £400,000, 
the same as previously reported by Wellsted. In 1879, the value of the 
output was estimated at £600,000 by the British Resident, Colonel 
Ross, and at £800,000 by Captain L. E. Durand, of the British Protec- 
torate of the Persian Gulf. Owing to the increased market value, the 
average output in the last five years has amounted to approximately 
four million dollars annually. This refers to the local value only, 
which is greatly increased by the time the pearls leave the markets in 
Bombay and Bagdad. 

The Persian Gulf is nearly 600 miles long, with an average width of 
somewhat more than 100 miles. The Strait of Ormus — thirty to 
sixty miles wide — connects it with the Gulf of Oman, which opens 
directly into the Arabian Sea. The depth of water rarely exceeds 
thirty fathoms. Oyster-reefs are well distributed throughout the 
gulf, and are in greatest abundance on the Arab side between the 24th 
and 27th degrees of north latitude and the 50th and 54th degrees of 
east longitude, at a distance of from a few hundred yards to sixty 
miles from the shore, and especially in the vicinity of the Bahrein 
Islands. The oysters are scattered over level areas of coral rock and 
sand, with depths ranging from two to eighteen fathoms.^ The divers 
rarely descend in deeper water than twelve fathoms, notwithstanding 
that valuable pearls are apparently obtainable at greater depths. 

Although the British Protectorate extends over the Persian Gulf, 
insuring the peaceful prosecution of the fisheries and the settlement 
of intertribal contentions by the government resident, the fisheries are 
under the regulations of the maritime Arab sheiks. The restrictions 
imposed by these, however, are principally with a view to collecting a 
revenue from each boat employed. The total amount realized thereby 

1 Wellsted, "Travels in Arabia," London, ^ Schlagintweit, "Nachrichtsblatt der 

1838, Vol. I, ch. 17, pp. 264,265. deutschen Gesellschaft," Frankfurt-am-Main, 

2 In report to the Government of Bombay, 1883, pp. 153-156. 
dated December 15, 1865. 












is unknown, but there is good reason for supposing that it is con- 

The fisheries are carried on during the greater part of every year, 
presenting a strong contrast to the Ceylon fishery, which is prosecuted 
usually less than forty days, and in only about one year in three on an 
average. This is especially remarkable when it is considered that no 
particular care is taken of the Persian reefs and, except for certain 
tribal restrictions, the fishermen may work whenever and wherever 
they choose. Owing to the extended area over which the fishing is 
prosecuted and the existence of undisturbed breeding-oysters in the 
deeper waters, the reefs are not readily exhausted, notwithstanding 
the tens of millions of mollusks annually removed therefrom. 

The fisheries are at their height from June to September, when nearly 
every person on the coast is interested in some capacity, if not in fish- 
ing, at least in furnishing supplies, cleaning shells, buying pearls, etc. 
In April and May the water on the deep banks is so cold that the fisher- 
men confine their efforts to the more shallow areas. During the winter 
months, the cold weather and the northwesterly gales interfere with 
the work, except such as is prosecuted in the smaller bays and 

The pearling operations are financed mostly by Indian bnnnias, or 
traders, principally from Bombay, who furnish capital for equipment, 
supplies of food, etc., and who purchase the pearls in gross lots. These 
men bear very hard on the fishermen, furnishing the supplies and buy- 
ing the pearls almost at their own prices; and the poor divers who ex- 
plore the depths and secure the pearls derive from their exertions 
little more than the crudest necessaries of life, and are usually in debt 
to the traders. 

The actual fishing operations are carried on mainly by the maritime 
tribes of Hasa and Oman, including those on the Pirate Coast. The 
inhabitants of the Bahrein Islands and the adjacent shores have been 
devoted to pearling from time immemorial; but the Wahabis of the 
Pirate Coast — the Ichthyophagi of Ptolemy's time— have more re- 
cently, under the persuasive influence of British gunboats and mag- 
azine-rifles, substituted pearling for their two-century inherited life 
of fanatical piracy. Referring to these people in his quaint sketches 
of Persia eighty years ago. Sir John Malcolm wrote: "Their occupa- 
tion is piracy, and their delight murder, and to make it worse they give 
you the most pious reasons for every villainy they commit. They 
abide by the letter of the sacred volume, rejecting all commentaries and 
traditions. If you are their captive and offer all to save your life, they 
say, "No! It is written in the Koran that it is not lawful to plunder 
the living; but we are not prohibited from stripping the dead.' So 


saying they knock you on the head."^ Most of the Wahabi pearlers 
congregate in the mat-hut settlements of Dobai, Abu Thubi, and Ras- 
el-Kheima, located at the mouths of creeks which form fairly good 
harbors for the small boats. The Batina coast also furnishes some 
pearl fishermen, these coming principally from Fujaira, Shenas, Sohar, 
Suaik, and Sib. 

The headquarters for the pearling fleet are at Bahrein Island, the 
largest of the insular group bearing the same name, the islets of 
Moharrek, Sitrah, and Nissan completing the group. This is the early 
home of Chaldean civilization, and one of the traditional sources of 
the Phenicians, and whence came that fish-god who — according to the 
Babylonian myth — bore the ark over the deluge. This island, the center 
of the greatest pearl fishery in the world, is half-way down on the 
southern side of the Persian Gulf, and twenty miles from the main- 
land of "Araby the blest." It is about twenty-eight miles in length, 
and ten in width at the widest part. The population approximates 
60,000, all Moslems, except about 100 Banyan traders from Sindh, 
India. The northern half of the island is described as of great beauty, 
being a garden of pomegranate, lemon, citron, and quince-trees, and 
especially the magnificent date-palms, with numerous springs furnish- 
ing an abundance of excellent fresh water. The principal settle- 
ment, Manama, with about 10,000 inhabitants, is poorly built, 
the houses consisting mostly of huts of mats and palm-leaves ; yet it 
presents a better appearance than any other settlement along this 

The one great industry, and the center of all interest throughout 
this region, is the pearl fishery. The present conditions are precisely 
as Palgrave wrote in 1863 : "It is from the sea, not from the land, that 
the natives subsist; and it is also mainly on the sea that they dwell, 
passing amid its waters the one half of the year in search of pearls, 
the other half in fishery or trade. Hence their real homes are the 
countless boats which stud the placid pool, or stand drawn up in long 
black lines on the shore, while little care is taken to ornament their 
land houses, the abodes of their wives and children at most, and the 
unsightly strong boxes of their treasures. 'We are all, from the high- 
est to the lowest, slaves of one master — Pearl,' said Mohammed bin 
Thanee to me one evening; nor was the expression out of place. All 
thought, all conversation, all employment, turns on that one subject; 
everything else is merely by-game, and below even secondary con- 
sideration." ^ 

According to recent returns, the Persian Gulf fisheries employ about 

1 Malcolm, "Sketches of Persia," London, 2" personal Narrative of Journey through 

1827, p. 27. Arabia," London, 1865, p. 100. 










3500 boats/ large and small, of which 1200 of the best are owned 
at Bahrein, 700 on the coast of El Hassa from El Katar to Kuweit, 
and the remaining 1600 are from various parts of the gulf, and espe- 
cially from the Pirate Coast east of El Katar. They measure from one 
to fifty tons. The smaller ones, with three to fifteen men each, work 
near the shores; the larger, carrying fifteen to thirty men, fish over 
the whole gulf, remaining out for weeks at a time. These craft are 
very picturesque with their artistic rigs and spoon-shaped sails, and 
when the fishery is at its height the scene is one of rare interest. The 
boats from Bahrein are of excellent construction made by native work- 
men using local materials, with home-woven sailcloth and rigging of 
twisted date-fiber. Each of the larger ones usually evidences a linger- 
ing trace of Semitic influence in its kiibait, or figurehead, covered with 
skin of the sheep or goat sacrificed in the launching ceremonies.^ The 
boats from El Hassa and the Pirate Coast are usually smaller and less 
substantial than those from Bahrein, the fishermen from the latter 
place far surpassing those of the mainland in civilization and in- 
dustrial wealth. 

The fleet is manned by approximately 35,000 fishermen. In addi- 
tion to the nakhoda, or captain, who is often the owner of the boat, the 
crew consists of gJioas or divers, who are mainly Arabs and Sedees, 
and sebs, or rope-tenders, who are usually Bedouins or Persians and 
attend the divers and perform other duties. Many Hindus from India, 
and flat-nosed, sable-hued Negroes from the east coast of Africa find 
employment here. On each of the larger boats is a general utility 
man, known as cl miisnlly, literally the "prayer-man," who, in addition 
to various other duties, relieves those scbs who stop to pray. 

Among the fishermen are all types and classes to be met with in this 
part of the world, with the usual contingent of the lame, the halt, and 
the blind. There are a number of fishermen who have been maimed 
and mutilated by shark bites. A surprisingly large number of men 
who have become totally blind engage in diving, and they usually do 
fairly well where the oysters are abundant on the reefs. And one or 
two unfortunate divers are reported who continue the work even 
though handicapped by the loss both of a leg and of eyesight, this 
interfering less with their diving than with their movements on land. 

The fishery in this region owes absolutely nothing to modern civil- 
ization in the method of securing the pearls from the depth of the sea ; 
it is carried on to-day practically as it was six hundred years ago, and 
probably has been without important variation for two thousand years. 

1 Lord Curzon reports 4500 boats, and some ing fleet of Bahrein we are indebted to the 

other authorities state 5000, but this probably kindness of Dr. S. M. Zwemer, who has 

includes a number of tenders. spent many years at the Bahrein Islands as a 

^ For this and some other data on the pearl- missionary. 



Aside from a loin-cloth, the diver is devoid of clothing except that 
rarely, early in the season when polypi abound, he is enveloped in a 
cotton overall as a protection. Over each finger and thumb he wears a 
shield or stall (khubaaf, or finger-hat), about two inches long, inade of 
flexible leather, to protect the fingers from the sharp shells and coral- 
growths. As each fisherman usually wears out at least two sets of 
these shields each season, it will be seen that a very large quantity of 
them is required to supply the entire fleet. 

The divers use stones on which they descend feet foremost. Al- 
though this is less spectacular than the method of diving practised by 
the natives of the South Sea islands, it enables the fisherman to reach 
the bottom more speedily and with far less effort. The diving-stones 
range in weight from thirty to fifty pounds each, depending largely on 
the depth of water and the weight of the fisherman. They are some- 
what oval in shape, and have one end perforated to admit a rope. Im- 
mediately above the attachment is formed a loop, resembling a stirrup, 
to receive the diver's foot. When prepared for the day's work, each 
stone is suspended by a stout rope over outriggers projecting from 
the side of the boat, and by a slip-knot is temporarily held four and 
a half or five feet below the surface of the water. A very stout diver 
may have a stone affixed to his waist to overcome his greater buoy- 
ancy. Usually two divers use one stone together and descend alter- 
nately. Each one has an attendant in the boat who assists him in 
ascending, and looks after the ropes, baskets of shells, etc. 

In preparing for descent, the fisherman takes hold of the rope from 
which the diving-stone is suspended, puts one foot in the loop just 
above the stone and places the other foot in the rim of a net basket, 
eighteen inches wide, made of coir rope. When ready, he signals his 
attendant, inhales several good breaths, closes his nostrils with a 
fitaam or nostril-clasp of flexible horn attached to a cord around his 
neck, raises his body somewhat above the surface to give force to the 
descent, releases the slip-knot retaining the stone, and sinks rapidly 
to the bottom. Immediately disengaging his foot from the stone, he 
throws himself in a stooping position on the ground and collects as 
many oysters as possible during the fifty seconds or more in which he 
is able to remain under water. When near his limit of endurance, he 
hastily gives a signal jerk to the rope attached to the basket, and the 
watchful attendant hauls him up as speedily as possible, the diver 
frequently quickening the ascent by hand over hand movement up the 
rope. When near the surface, he lets go of the rope and with his arms 
close to his body pops above the surface pufiing and blowing. The 
contents of the net bag are emptied into a large basket by the atten- 
dant, and the dead shells and other refuse are separated from the live 


oysters and thrown back into the sea, the diver having worked too 
rapidly at the bottom to discriminate closely as to what he gathered. 

In the meantime, the stone has been drawn up and suspended by the 
slip-knot in its customary position and the diving partner is resting at 
the surface preparatory to descending. Thus, diving alternately at 
intervals of five or six minutes, each fisherman descends thirty or forty 
times in an ordinary day's work. The number of oysters gathered at 
each descent depends on such conditions as their abundance, the depth 
and clearness of the water, etc. It ranges from none to fifty or more, 
but ordinarily ten or twelve is a good average. As the men commonly 
work on shares, the shells brought up by each diver or by each pair of 
divers are kept separate. 

The best type of Arab divers are very careful of themselves, drying 
the body thoroughly with towels on coming out of the water, taking 
intervals of rest during the day's work; and even while in the water 
between dives they may enjoy the luxury of a cheroot or pipe, or pos- 
sibly a cigarette may pass from mouth to mouth of several men. 

When pursuing their work, the divers are abstemious. After de- 
votions at sunrise and a light breakfast of perhaps dates or rice and 
coffee, they begin fishing. About noon they knock off for coffee, 
prayers, and an hour's siesta, and then resume work for several hours. 
When the day's work is over and they have faced Meccaward with the 
customary prayers, they rest and eat a substantial meal, commonly of 
dates and fish roasted over a charcoal fire. 

In equal depths the Arab fishermen remain under water longer 
than those of India who resort to the Ceylon fishery, but this is partly 
counterbalanced by the latter descending somewhat more frequently. 
When preparing for a lengthy dive, the fisherman imbibes large quan- 
tities of air, opening his mouth and inhaling large volumes. 

The length of time a diver remains submerged in the average depth 
of seven or eight fathoms rarely exceeds sixty seconds, although some 
may remain seventy, eighty, and even ninety seconds on special occa- 
sion. A fully substantiated instance is reported from Manaar of an 
Arab diver having remained 109 seconds in seven fathoms of water. 
This occurred April 13, 1887, and was witnessed and reported^ by Cap- 
tain James Donnan, the inspector of the fishery. Wellsted reports^ a 
diving contest in the Persian Gulf in which only one man, of the 
hundreds who competed, remained down no seconds; the depth, how- 
ever, is not noted. 

There are numerous reports of much longer stays than these; in- 

1 " Reports by the Superintendent of the ^Wellsted, "Travels in Arabia," London, 

Fishery and the Inspector of the Pearl 1838, Vol. I, p. 266. 
Banks," Colombo, 1887. 


deed, a study of the published evidence bearing upon the subject fur- 
nishes surprising results. Ribeiro wrote, in 1685, that a diver could 
remain below while two credos were repeated : "II s'y tient I'espace de 
deux credo." '^ In his interesting account of the Ceylon fishery, Per- 
cival stated that the usual length of time for divers to remain under 
water "does not much exceed two minutes, yet there are instances 
known of divers who could remain four or even five minutes, which 
was the case with a Caffre boy the last year I visited the fishery. The 
longest instance ever known was of a diver who came from Anjango 
in 1797, and who absolutely remained under water full six min- 
utes."^ Le Beck says, that in 1797, he saw a diver from Karikal 
remain down for the space of seven minutes.* The merchant 
traveler, Jean Chardin, reported in 171 1 that the divers remain 
up to seven and a half minutes under water: "Les plongcurs qui 
pechent les perles sont qiielqtiefois jiisqua demi-qiiart-d'heure sous 

In 1667, the Royal Society of London addressed an inquiry on this 
subject to Sir Philiberto Vernatti, the British Resident at Batavia in 
the East Indies. Vernatti's reply gave certain details regarding the 
Ceylon fishery, but did not touch upon the length of diving because, 
as he stated, he could not "meet with any one that can satisfy me, and 
being unsatisfied myself, I cannot nor will obtrude anything upon you 
which may hereafter prove fabulous; but shall still serve you with 
truth."* Two years later, and presumably after investigation, Ver- 
natti reported: "The greatest length of time that pearl-divers in these 
parts can continue under water is about a quarter of an hour ; and that 
by no other means than custom ; for pearl-diving lasts not above six 
weeks, and the divers stay a great while longer at the end of the 
season than at the beginning."" 

The anatomist Diemerbroeck relates '^ the case of a pearl diver who, 
under his own observation, remained half an hour at a time under 
water while pursuing his work; and this was seriously adopted without 
comment by John Mason Goode in his "Study of Medicine."^ Ibn 
Batuta, "the Doctor of Tangier," wrote about 1336 that "some remain 
down an hour, others two hours, others less."* A still earlier writer, 

i"Histoire de 1' Isle de Ceylon," Amster- « Philosophical Transactions for 1669, No. 

dam, 1701, ch. 22, p. 169. 43. P- 863. 

2 "An Account of the Island of Ceylon," 'Diemerbroeck, "Anatome Corporis Hu- 
London, 1803, ch. 3, p. 91. mani," Ultrajecti, 1672. 

3 "Asiatic Researches," London, 1798, Vol. >* Sixth American Edition, New York, 1835, 
V, p. 402. Vol. I, p. 239. 

* Chardin, "Voyages en Perse," Paris, 181 1, » j^einaud, "Fragments Arabes," Paris, 
Vol. Ill, p. 363. 1845, p. 126. Lee, "Ibn Batuta," London, 

* Sprat, "History of the Royal Society," 1829, p. 65. 
London, 1667, p. 169. 

Pholngrapli, L'ndcrwood Sc I'lult^rwovd, N. V 

Wearing the Kajar crown 


Jouchanan ibn Masouiah,^ in his book on stones, states that "the diver, 
when he dives, places upon his nose a masfdsa lest water should enter 
into him, and breathes through the fissure, and remains under water 
for half an hour." According to Sebaldus Rau^ this masfdsa was an 
article resembling a hood or cap, which the diver placed over his nose. 
It was made of some impervious material and had a projection so long 
that it reached to the surface of the water. The same writer believes 
that this object was alluded to by Aristotle ("De part, animal.," Lib. 
II, c. 16), where he likens the trunk of the elephant to the instrument 
used by certain divers for aiding their respiration, so that they could 
remain longer in the water and draw in air from above the surface.* 
And here we cease pursuit of further records, lest our faith in recorded 
testimony be too severely tested.* 

A superficial inspection of the above evidence, from the one or two 
hours noted by Ibn Batuta about the year 1336, to the half an hour of 
Diemerbroeck in 1672, the quarter of an hour of Vernatti in 1669, the 
seven and one half minutes of Chardin in 171 1, the six minutes of 
Percival in 1803, to the no seconds of the present time, seems to in- 
dicate very clearly a gradual but somewhat remarkable decrease in 
the ability of the Asiatic divers, and that the pearl fishermen of the 
present day are very dififerent creatures from their ancestors. And 
especially is this so when it is considered that the above records are 
not isolated reports selected for the particular purpose of show- 
ing a decrease in the length of diving; on the contrary they are 
authoritative and representative publications of their respective 
periods. We do not recall having seen in any report issued pre- 
vious to 1675, an intimation that the limit of time was less than ten 

However, a careful consideration of the subject leads to the belief 
that there has been no serious decrease in the length of time that the 
Arab and Indian divers remain under water, and that either the 
writers were misinformed or that the individual cases reported were 
extremely exceptional. Ibn Batuta's instance of one to two hours 

1 A Christian physician who lived in the time whole hour, and some more or less, accord- 

of the Khalif Wat'hek Billa, about 842 A.D. ing to expertness." ("Natural Historia de 

^"Specimen Arabicum," Traiecti ad Rhe- las Indias," Toledo, 1526.) About 1588, the 

nuni, 1784, p. 64. Jesuit priest Jose de Acosta wrote: "I did 

^ Ibid., p. 6$. see them make their fishing, the which is 

* Writers describing the early pearl fish- done with great charge and labor of the poor 

eries on the American coast, and especially slaves, which dive 6, 7, yea 12 fathoms into 

at Cubagua on the present coast of Venezuela, the sea. . . ; but yet the labor and toil is 

also reported very lengthy stays. In 1526, greatest in holding their breath, sometimes a 

Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes quarter, yea, half an hour together under 

wrote: "The thing that causeth men most water." (Acosta, "Natural and Moral His- 

to marvel is to consider how many of them tory of the Indies," Hakluyt Society, 1880, 

can remain at the bottom for the space of one p. 227.) 


could easily be caused by a mistake in copying Arabic manuscript, or 
in the translation. The case related by Diemerbroeck in which a pearl 
diver remained submerged half an hour, is more perplexing, especially 
as the physician reports that this was done under his own observation. 
The numerous reports of five or six minutes may have been based on a 
very exceptional case. 

These statements are viewed as highly incredible by men who have 
spent scores of years at the fisheries. A man may remain submerged 
for several minutes, but the conditions are vastly different from the 
activities of pearl-gathering at a depth of ten fathoms, where the 
pressure of the water is nearly thirty pounds to the square inch, and 
the slightest exercise is fatiguing. Unless the time is taken by a 
watch, it is easy to overestimate the stay ; the seconds pass very slowly 
when one is waiting momentarily for the appearance of the diver's 
head above the water, and certainly to the nearly exhausted fisherman 
with straining chest and palpitating heart, the last few seconds must 
seem extremely long indeed. An instance is noted in which an Arab 
diver remained submerged seventy-one seconds, and on his reappear- 
ance, naively inquired if he had not been down ten minutes. It seems 
doubtful whether the no seconds herein noted has been greatly ex- 
ceeded, in recent years at least, by Arab or Indian divers, who do not 
appear to equal the semi-amphibious natives of the South Sea islands 
in their exploits. 

One of the most curious features of the pearling industry is the 
manner in which the fishermen secure supplies of drinking water. In 
the vicinity of Bahrein, numerous fresh-water springs exist at the 
bottom of the gulf in depths of two or three fathoms, and the fisher- 
men dive into the depth of the salt water down to where the fresh 
water is springing forth and there fill a skin or other suitable recep- 
tacle which they bring to the surface. By running a pipe down near 
the bottom in the vicinity of one of these springs, an abundance of 
fresh water may be pumped into the boat. 

Three species — or at least three varieties — of pearl-bearing oysters 
are obtained in the Persian Gulf. These are known locally as mahar, 
sudaifee, and zinni. Of these, the mahar or Lingah oyster, which 
corresponds to the Ceylon pearl-oyster, yields the greatest quantity of 
pearls, and those of the finest quality. It measures three or three and 
a half inches in diameter, and is found in deeper water than the others. 
The sndaifce and the ainni, which are larger, yield pearls in much 
smaller quantities than the mahar. 

On large boats, which remain out for two or three weeks at a time, 
the oysters are left on deck overnight, and the following morning they 
are opened by means of a curved knife (miflaket) , four or five inches 


in length. The smaller boats working near shore convey the catch to 
the land for the opening and searching for pearls. 

The Persian Gulf pearls are commonly not so white as those from 
Ceylon, but they are found of larger size, and it is believed in Asia 
that they retain their luster for a greater length of time. Many of 
the Persian Gulf pearls, especially those from sndaifee and sinni 
shells, have a distinctly yellow color. Tavernier made a curious ex- 
planation of this. He stated : 

As for the pearls tending to yellow, the color is due to the fact that the 
fishermen sell the oysters in heaps, and the merchants awaiting sometimes up 
to 14 or 15 days till the shells open of themselves, in order to extract the 
pearls, some of these oysters lose their water during this time, decay, and 
become putrid, and the pearls become yellow by contact. This is so true that 
in all oysters which have retained their water, the pearls are always white. 
They are allowed to open of themselves, because if they are opened by force, 
as we open our oysters in the shell, the pearls may be damaged and broken. 
The oysters of the Manar Strait open of themselves, 5 or 6 days sooner than 
those of the Gulf of Persia, because the heat is much greater at Manar, which 
is at the tenth degree of North latitude, while the island of Bahrein is at about 
the twenty-seventh. And consequently among the pearls which come from 
Manar there are few yellow ones found.^ 

Tavernier was more familiar with the pearls themselves than with 
the methods of the fishery. The yellow color is not due to contact 
with the putrefactive flesh, and is independent of the manner of open- 
ing. In fact, if putrefaction caused the yellow color, this shade 
would be far more prevalent in the Manaar or Ceylon pearls than in 
those from Bahrein, for practically all of the Ceylon oysters are per- 
mitted to putrefy, whereas only a portion of those in the Persian Gulf 
are opened in this manner. Furthermore, notwithstanding that it is 
nearer the equator, the heat at Manaar during the pearling season is not 
to be compared with that at Bahrein when the season is at its height, 
for the Persian Gulf during July and August is notorious as one of 
the hottest places on the globe. 

While the great bulk of the pearls are either white or yellowish, 
these fisheries yield a few pink, bluish, gray, and occasionally even 
black pearls. These unusual colors are not especially prized. A curi- 
ous and remarkably detailed story has gone the rounds in which the 
qualities of Persian and Ceylon pearls are compared, to the disparage- 
ment of the latter, and during the last hundred years few accounts 
have been published of this fishery without recording it. We notice 
it first in Morier's "Journey through Persia in 1808 and 1809,"' but 

1 Tavernier, "Travels in India," Ball edition, Vol. II, pp. 114, 115. ^Lq^Jq^^ jgj2^ p_ ^._ 


possibly it antedated that report. The statement is that the pearls of 
Ceylon peel off, while those of Persia are as "firm as the rock on which 
they grow" ; and though they lose in color and luster one per cent, an- 
nually for fifty years, they still lose less than those of Ceylon, and at 
the expiration of the fifty years they cease to diminish in appearance. 

The pearl output in the Persian Gulf at the present time appears 
from the official returns to exceed four million dollars annually at local 
valuation. The exports in 1903 were reported at £827,447, ^^^ ^^ 
1904, £1,077,241. It is generally understood that all of the pearls are 
not entered in the official figures, and the valuations in the markets of 
Asia and Europe are greatly in excess of these amounts. The profits 
of the fishery are divided among a great number of persons. A large 
percentage goes to the shrewd bunnias from India, who finance the 
fishery operations, and who, by all sorts of tricks connected with ad- 
vances of supplies, valuation of the catch, etc., manage to make a very 
good thing out of the business. It is nothing unusual for the valua- 
tion of a lot of pearls to double and even treble after leaving the hands 
of the fishermen. 

While many of the gulf pearls — and especially of the small seed- 
pearls — go to Bagdad, the great bulk of them are sold to represen- 
tatives of Hindu and Arab merchants of Bombay for shipment to that 
city, which to the Bahrein fisherman is the heart of the outside world. 
Few of the pearls go directly into Arabia or Persia, as the certain sale 
in the larger Bombay market is preferable to a sometimes higher but 
less regular price in other markets. Indeed, pearls may usually be 
purchased at a less cost in India than a stranger would be obliged to 
pay at Bahrein. The Bombay merchants "sow the earth with Orient 
pearl," dealing direct with London, Paris and Berlin, and with the 
oriental jewelers. Most of the yellow pearls find oriental purchasers, 
with whose dark complexions they harmonize better than the silvery 
white ones. They are also more popular because of a belief existing 
throughout the East that they are less likely to lose their luster with 
the lapse of years. 

The shell of the pearl-oysters is not used locally, but large quantities 
are exported to Europe for manufacture. Although it is the smallest 
and cheapest produced in the gulf, yet, owing to the enormous quan- 
tity taken for their pearls, the shell of the mahar (Margaritifera vul- 
garis) constitiites the bulk of the exports. Formerly most of the 
shipments were made from the harbor of Lingah, hence it is known in 
the markets of Europe as "Lingah shell." But in the last three or four 
years, much of it has been transported to Europe via Bander Abbas 
and Bushire. A German firm at Bahrein is extensively employed in 
exporting this shell, and several Indian merchants are also engaged in 


the trade. The total exports in 1906 amounted to 3262 tons, valued at 
$26,408 according to the port returns, but worth about $135,000 in 
Europe. Very large quantities are received in London, and over 
2500 tons have been offered at auction in a single year. This shell is 
very small, averaging about three inches in diameter and about one 
and a half ounces in weight. It is the cheapest of all mother-of-pearL 
The best quality sells in London for ten to twenty shillings per hun- 
dredweight, but the ordinary grade is worth usually less than nine 
shillings, and sometimes as low as three shillings per hundredweight. 
America formerly imported it, but few lots have been received since 
the exploitation of the Mississippi shell about fifteen years ago. 

The shell of the larger species of pearl-oysters in the Persian Gulf 
is worth considerably more than the "Lingah shell," selling in Europe 
for £12 to £60 per ton, yet manufacturers consider it as furnishing 
only poor qualities of mother-of-pearl. Several hundred tons are ex- 
ported annually. It measures six or seven inches in diameter and is 
used principally in making cheap grades of buttons. 


Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow ; 

He who would search for pearls must dive below. 

Dryden, All for Love, Prologue. 

Second in extent to those of Persia only, are the intermittent and un- 
certain pearl fisheries of the Gulf of Manaar. This is an arm of the 
Indian Ocean, from 65 to 150 miles in width, separating the island of 
Ceylon from the southernmost part of India. The pearl-oyster banks 
— known locally as paars — are situated off the northwest coast of 
Ceylon and also in the vicinity of Tuticorin on the Madras coast of the 
mainland. The Ceylon fisheries are under the control of the colonial 
government of the British Empire, and those of the mainland are 
monopolized by the Madras government. Notwithstanding the fact 
that they are outside of the three-mile limit established as the bound 
of national jurisdiction, exclusive privileges are exercised over these 
fisheries by the respective governments,^ and poaching vessels are 
liable to seizure and punishment. 

Though possibly not so ancient as those of Persia, the Ceylon pearl 
fisheries are of great antiquity. References to them occur in Cingalese 

1 See infra., p. 125. 


records dating from 550 b.c. Pliny, Ptolemy, Strabo, and other an- 
cient writers speak of their importance. 

The "Periplus of the Erythraean" — written about the end of the 
second century a.d. — refers to these fisheries, and states that, owing 
to the dangers involved, it was customary to employ convicts therein. 
In the days of the "Arabian Nights," under the name "Serendib," this 
was the scene of the pearling adventures of Sindbad the Sailor, and 
the reputation of the valuable pearl resources is reflected in those 
wonderful tales. 

The first extensive description we have of the Gulf of Manaar fish- 
eries was given by the Venetian traveler, Marco Polo, who visited the 
region about 1294. He wrote : 

The pearl-fishers take their vessels, great and small, and proceed into the 
gulf where they stop from the beginning of April till the middle of May. 
They go first to a place called Bettelar, and then go 60 miles into the Gulf. 
Here they cast anchor and shift from their large vessels into small boats. 
You must know that the many merchants who go divide into various com- 
panies, and each of these must engage a number of men on wages, hiring them 
for April and half of May. Of all the produce they have first to pay the king, 
as his royalty, the tenth part. And they must also pay those men who charm 
the great fishes to prevent them from injuring the divers whilst engaged in 
seeking pearls under water, one-twentieth of all that they take. These fish- 
charmers are termined Abraiaman;. and their charm holds good for that day 
only, for at night they dissolve the charm so that the fishes can work mischief 
at their will. These Abraiaman know also how to charm beasts and birds and 
every living thing. When the men have got into the small boats they jump 
into the water and dive to the bottom, which may be at a depth of from 4 to 
12 fathoms, and there they remain as long as they are able. And there they 
find the shells that contain the pearls, and those they put into a net bag tied 
round the waist, and mount up to the surface with them, and then dive anew. 
When they can't hold their breath any longer they come up again, and after 
a little down they go once more, and so they go on all day. These shells are 
in fashion like oysters or sea-hoods. And in these shells are found pearls, 
great and small, of every kind, sticking in the flesh of the shell-fish. In this 
manner pearls are fished in great quantities, for thence in fact come the 
pearls which are spread all over the world. And I can tell you the King of 
that State hath a very great receipt and treasure from his dues upon those 

That quaint old missionary bishop, Friar Jordanus, in his "Mira- 
bilia Descripta, or the Wonders of the East" {circa 1330), reports that 
"more than 8000 boats" were sometimes employed for three months 
continually in these fisheries, which were then prosecuted under the 

i"The Book of Ser Marco Polo," London, 1871, Vol. II, pp. 267, 268. 



jurisdiction of the Cingalese kings of Kandy, and that the quantity of 
pearls taken was "astounding and almost incredible."* 

This number of boats seems entirely too large, especially in view of 
the fact that Jordanus secured his information at second hand ; but it 
leaves the impression that the fisheries of that period were of great 

When the Portuguese, attracted by the wealth of its resources, ob- 
tained control of this region about 1510, they exacted from the local 
rulers an annual tribute in pearls and spices. Later they conducted 
the fisheries on their own account, permitting the native fishermen to 
retain one fourth of the catch as compensation for their work, and 
dividing the remainder into three equal portions, for the king, the 
church, and the soldiers, respectively. 

Linschoten, who visited India about 1590, leaves this interesting 
account of the fishery at that time : 

"There are also other fishings for pearle, as between the Hand of Seylon, 
and the Cape de Comoriin, where great numbers are yearlie found, for that the 
King of Portingale hath a captaine there with soldiers that looketh unto it; 
they have yearhe at the least above 3 or 4 thousand duckers [divers], yt 
live onlie by fishing for pearles, and so maintaine themselves." He describes 
the methods of fishing, which appear to be similar to those of the present time, 
ana adds : "When they have made an end of the day's fishing, all the fishers 
with the captaine, soldiers, laborers and watchmen for the king, goe together, 
and taking all the pearls [pearl-oysters] that are caught that day they divide 
them into certaine heaps, that is, one part for the king, another part for the 
captaine and soldiers, the third part for the Jesuits, because they have their 
Cloyster in that place, and brought the countrie first into the Christian faith, 
and the last part for the Fishers, which is done with Justice and Equalitie. 
This fishing is done in the Summer tyme, and there passeth not any yeare but 
that divers Fishers are drowned by the Cape de Comoriin (which is called the 
King's fishing) and manie devoured by fishes, so that when the fishing is done 
there is great and pitiful noyse and cry of women and children heard. Yet the 
next yeare they must do the same work againe, for that they have no other 
means to live, as also for that they are partlie compelled thereunto by the 
Portingales, but most part because of the gaine."^ 

The best description we have seen of the Ceylon fisheries at the time 
of the Portuguese occupation, is that of Caesar Frederick, a Venetian 
trader, who referred to the period from 1563 to 1581. Frederick re- 
ported, according to Hickocke's translation in the Hakluyt edition: 

1 Jordanus, " Mirabilia Descripta," Hakluyt Linschoten to the East Indies," Hakluyt So- 
Society, 1863, p. 28. ciety, 1884, Vol. H, pp. 133-135. 

- " The Voyage ol John Huyghen van 


The sea that lieth between the coast which descendeth from Cao Comori, 
to the lowe land of Chilao, and from Island Zeilan, they call the fishing of 
Pearles, which fishing they make every yeare, beginning in March or April, 
and it lasteth fiftie dayes, but they doe not fishe every yeere in one place, but 
one yeere in one place, and another yeere in another place of the same sea. 
When the time of this fishing draweth neere, they send very good Divers, that 
goe to discover where the greatest heapes of Oisters bee under water, and 
right agaynst that place where greatest store of Oisters bee, there they make 
or plant a village with houses and a Bazaro, which standeth as long as the 
fishing time lasteth, and it is furnished with all things necessarie, and nowe 
and then it is neere unto places that are inhabited, and other times farre off, 
according to the place where they fishe. The fishermen are all Christians of 
the countrey, and who so will may goe to fishing, paying a certain dutie to the 
king of Portugall, and to the Churches of the Friers of Saint Paule, which 
are in that coast. All the while that they are fishing, there are three or foure 
Fustes armed to defend the Fishermen from Rovers. It was my chance to 
bee there one time in my passage, and I saw the order that they used in 
fishing, which is this. There are three or foure Barkes that make consort 
together, which are like to our litle Pilot boates, and a little lesse, there goe 
seven or eight men in a boate : and I have scene in a morning a great number 
of them goe out, and anker in fifteene or eighteene fadome of water, which is 
the ordinarie depth of all that coast. When they are at anker, they cast a rope 
into the sea, and at the end of the rope, they make fast a great stone, and then 
there is readie a man that hath his nose and his eares well stopped, and an- 
nointed with oyle, and a basket about his necke, or under his left arme, then he 
goeth downe by the rope to the bottome of the Sea, and as fast as he can hee 
filleth the basket, and when it is full, he shaketh the rope, and his fellows that 
are in the Barke hale him up with the basket : and in such wise they go one by 
one untill they have laden their barke with oysters, and at evening they come 
to the village, and then every company maketh their mountaine or heape of 
oysters one distant from another, in such wise that you shall see a great long 
rowe of mountaines or heapes of oysters, and they are not touched until such 
time as the fishing bee ended, and at the ende of the fishing every companie 
sitteth round about their mountaine or heape of oysters, and fall to opening of 
them, which they may easilie doe because they bee dead, drie and brittle : and 
if every oyster had pearles in them, it would be a very good purchase, but 
there are very many that have no pearles in them : when the fishing is ended, 
then they see whether it bee a good gathering or a badde: there are certaine 
expert in the pearles whom they call Chitini, which set and make the price of 
pearles according to their carracts [carats or weight], beautie, and goodnesse, 
making foure sorts of them. The first sort bee the round pearles, and they 
bee called Aia of Portugale, because the Portugales doe buy them. The second 
sorte which are not round, are called Aia of Bengala. The third sort which 
are not so good as the second, they call Aia of Canara, that is to say, the 
kingdome of Bezeneger. The fourth and last sort, which are the least and 
worst sort, are called Aia of Cambaia. Thus the price being set, there are 


merchants of every countrey which are readie with their money in their handes, 
so that in a fewe dayes all is brought up at the prises set according to the 
goodnesse and caracts of the pearles.^ 

,A remarkable instance of the immutability of custom in the Orient 
is found in the fact that, except in a few minor particulars, Frederick's 
accotmt, written more than three centuries ago, could serve as a 
description of the methods of the fisheries in recent years. The in- 
dustry was then very extensive, as appears from an account shortly 
afterward (about 1608) by Pedro Teixeira, who reported^ that from 
400 to 500 boats were employed, and from 50,000 to 60,000 persons 
resorted to the fishery. 

In 1658, possession of Ceylon and India passed from the Portu- 
guese to the Dutch, who for a time continued the pearl fisheries after 
the manner practised by their predecessors ; but owing to contentions 
as to the details of management, they soon resorted to leasing them 
each year to the highest bidder, or to several bidders, for a definite 
money payment. The successful bidders prosecuted the industry in 
the same manner as the government had previously done, employing 
the same native fishermen and compensating them with one fourth of 
the oysters secured. Under the Dutch rule the fisheries were very un- 
profitable, and particularly so during the last seventy years of their 
authority. There was practically no fishing from 1732 to 1746, and 
there was also a suspension — but not entirely from lack of oysters or 
of pearls — from 1768 until the territory passed into the control of 
the British in 1796. 

The colonial government of the British Empire continued the Dutch 
policy of leasing, only restricting the limits of territory and season for 
fishing. Many objections were found to this method. It was difficult 
to regulate the business properly, and there were no reliable means of 
determining its proceeds and conditions. At length in 1835, the gov- 
ernment began to operate the fishery on its own account, as the Portu- 
guese had done two hundred years before, allowing the fishermen one 
fourth of the oysters taken by them and selling the remaining three 
fourths for the benefit of the treasury. In this way the full value of 
the resources was realized without mystery, deception, or concealment, 
and the plan worked satisfactorily for all concerned. 

Owing, presumably, to the long period in which they had lain un- 
disturbed, the Ceylon oyster reefs were in excellent condition at the 
beginning of British rule. In 1796 the government derived a revenue 

i"Hakluyt's Voyages," Vol. V, Glasgow, intervals, which, risingtothesurface, smoothed 

1904, pp. 395-397. Benjamin Frankhn states the waters. This might be a suggestion to 

that the Mediterranean divers, finding the modern marine and fresh-water pearl fishers, 

light below obscured by the surface waves, -"The Travels of Pedro Teixeira," Hakluyt 

used to let a little oil out of their mouths at Society, 1902, pp. 174-181. 


of Rs. 1, 100,000 therefrom, and in 1797 the revenue was Rs. 1,400,000; 
these two years were by far the most productive during the first cen- 
tury of British occupation. 

Several very interesting reports on the industry were prepared 
about that time. Especially to be noted among these were the ac- 
counts by Henry J. LeBeck in 1798;' by Robert Percival in 1803;^ 
and by James Cordiner in 1807,^ to which reference is made for de- 
tailed accounts of the fisheries of that period. 

The Ceylon fishery was prosecuted about every other year from 
1799 to 1809, '^"d the annual returns ranged from £15,022 in 1801 to 
£84,257 in 1808. From 1810 to 1813, inclusive, there was a blank so 
far as receipts were concerned. In 1814 the fishery was very good, 
bringing in a revenue of £105,187. With the exception of very slight 
returns in 181 5, 181 6, and 1820, no oysters were then obtained until 
1828. Excepting 1832 and 1834, the industry was prosecuted each 
year from 1828 to 1837, the revenue to the government averaging 
about £30,000 annuall3^ Then came a long blank of seventeen years, 
for there was no fishing from 1838 to 1854, and likewise from 1864 to 
1873. Indeed, so depleted had the beds throughout the Gulf of Manaar 
become in 1866, that serious consideration was given to the possibilities 
of securing seed oysters from the Persian Gulf for restocking the 
reefs ; but fortunately this was rendered unnecessary by the discovery 
soon afterward of a few oysters on several reefs on both the Ceylon 
and the Malabar coasts. 

From 1855 to 1863, and also from 1874 to 1881, the returns were 
only ordinary, the highest being £51,017 in 1863, and £59,868 in 1881, 
— the best year since 1814; and during these two periods fishing was 
entirely omitted in nearly one half the seasons. There were five lean 
years from 1882 to 1886, and the 1887 fishery was only fair, with a 
yield of £39,609. But the returns for 1888 were large, amounting to 
£80,424; and those for 1891 were even greater, being £96,370, repre- 
senting a yield of 44,311,441 oysters. No oysters were caught 
from 1892 to 1902, inclusive. In 1903, the fishery was profitable, 
yielding 41,180,137 oysters, and the share of the government 
amounted to £55,303; and in 1904 the yield was almost the same, 
being 41,039,085 oysters and a revenue of £71,050 to the govern- 

In 1905 occurred the greatest fishery in the modern history of 
Ceylon. The season extended from February 20 until April 21, giving 
forty-seven working days, exclusive of Sundays and five days of bad 

1 "Asiatic Researches," London, 1798, pp. s « Description of Ceylon," 1807, Vol. II, 

393, et seq. pp. 36-78. 

2"The Island of Ceylon," 1803, ch. 3. 


weather, the longest period in over half a century.^ The boats em- 
ployed numbered 318, with 4991 divers and 4894 attendant nianduks. 
The yield of oysters exceeded all records, amounting to 81,580,716 in 
number, or nearly twice as many as in any previous year within the 
period of British occupation. The prices at which these sold ranged 
from Rs.24 to Rs.124 per thousand, with an average of Rs.48.89 for 
the entire season. The government received Rs. 2, 5 10,727 as its share 
of the revenue, which was twice as much as in any previous year since 
the British have been in control, and doubtless the largest received by 
any government in the history of the industry. The oysters falling to 
the share of the divers must have sold for at least Rs. 1,255,363 (since 
1881 the divers have received one third of the catch as their com- 
pensation, instead of one fourth). The profits of the merchants, who 
purchased and opened the government oysters as well as those of the 
divers, doubtless amounted to fully as much, making a total of 
Rs.5,02 1,453, oi" nearly $2,000,000 as a low estimate of the local value 
of the pearls secured at Ceylon in 1905. 

Owing to the great success in 1905, an enormous number of persons 
flocked to the camp at the beginning of the season in 1906. Employ- 
ment was given to 473 boats, the largest number on record, and over 
S600 divers were engaged, with an equal number of attendants. 
Owing to unfavorable weather and the great quantity of oysters re- 
moved in 1905, the catch in 1906 was less than in that record year, 
amounting to 67,150,641 in number, from the sale of which Rs. 1,376,- 
746 was realized. The prices covered a wide range. For the large 
Cheval oysters, even Rs.276, Rs.291, and Rs.309 per 1000 were 
received. The inferior, stunted oysters from the IMuttuvaratu paar 
ranged from Rs.20 to Rs.41 per 1000, and even at these prices many 
buyers sustained losses. On the other hand considerable money was 
made by the buyers of those from Cheval, in which some very large 
and beautiful pearls were found. 

The results of the 1907 fishery were surprisingly good, excellent 
prices being obtained. The proceeds from the sale of two thirds of 
the 21,000,000 oysters amounted to Rs. 1,040,000, or just under $350,- 
000. The fishery lasted thirty-six working days. Only 173 boats were 
used, as it was considered that a fleet of this size is fully as large as 
can be employed advantageously to the greatest satisfaction of all in- 

According to the compilations of the colonial secretary's office, the 
gross revenue to the government from 1796 to 1907, inclusive, 

1 In 1881, the number of days was the same days, in 1904 there were 33, in 1903 there 
— 47, the season extending from March 4 to were 36, and in 1906 there were 36 days of 
April 27. In 1891 there were 40 working actual fishing. 


amounted to £2,098,830. If to this be added the fishermen's share 
and the merchants' compensation, we have a total of about £4,200,000 
or $21,000,000 as the local value of the pearls produced in Ceylon dur- 
ing the period of British occupation. The value of these in the mar- 
kets of Asia and Europe was undoubtedly very much greater. 

In many respects the Ceylon pearl fisheries are the most interesting 
in the world. Owing to their ready accessibility and thorough organ- 
ization, they are far better known than any others. Reliable data 
exist as to the number of oysters taken during each season since 1854, 
and it is possible to estimate roughly the pearls obtained therefrom. 
Throughout the 112 years of British occupation, and previously to 
some extent under the successive rule of the Cingalese kings, of the 
Portuguese, and of the Dutch, for centuries, the reefs were annually 
examined by official inspectors, and fishing was permitted only in those 
years when they appeared in satisfactory condition. 

A noticeable feature of these fisheries is their uncertainty, a pros- 
perous season being followed by an absence of fishing sometimes ex- 
tending over ten years or more. This is not of recent development. 
Over eight hundred years ago a total cessation of yield for a consider- 
able period was recorded^ by Albyrouni, who served under Mahmud 
of Ghazni. He stated that, in the eleventh century, the oysters which 
formerly existed in the Gulf of Serendib (Ceylon) disappeared simul- 
taneously with the appearance of a fishery at Sofala in the country of 
the Zends, where previously the existence of pearls had been un- 
known; hence it was conjectured that the pearl-oysters of Serendib 
had migrated to Sofala. 

In the 249 years since Ceylon passed from the dominion of the Por- 
tuguese in 1658, there have been only sixty-nine years in which the 
pearl fisheries were prosecuted. During the last century there were 
only thirty-six regularly authorized fisheries. Enormous quantities 
of oysters have appeared on the reefs, giving rise to hopes of great 
results, only to end in disappointment, owing to their complete disap- 
pearance. In the fall of 1887, for instance, examination of one of the 
reefs revealed an enormous quantity of oysters, covering an area five 
miles in length by one and a half miles in width, with "600 to 700 
oysters to the square yard" in places. It was estimated by the inspec- 
tion officials that there were 164,000,000 oysters, which exceeded the 
total number taken in the preceding sixty years, and which should 
have yielded several million dollars' worth of pearls in the following 
season, according to the usual returns. But some months later not an 
oyster was to be found on this large reef, the great host presumably 
having been destroyed by action of the sea. Numerous reasons are 

1 See Reinaud's "Fragments Arabes," Paris, 1845, p. 125. 


assigned for the failure of promising reefs. Those most frequently 
heard are that the currents sweep the oysters away, that they are de- 
voured by predaceous enemies, that they are covered by the shifting 
bottom, or that they voluntarily move to new grounds. 

The oysters are found in well-known and permanently located 
banks or paars in the upper end of the Gulf of Manaar, in the wide shal- 
low plateau off the northwest end of the island and directly south of 
Adams Bridge. The hard calcrete bottom is formed mostly of sand 
combined with organic remains in a compact mass and with more or 
less coral and shell deposits. The density of the water, as determined 
by Professor Herdman (to whose important and valuable report* we 
are indebted for much information), is fairly constant at 1.023, ^^'^ 
the temperature has a normal range of from 82° to 86° F. during the 
greater part of the year. The charts and records refer to about 
twenty paars, but most of these have never yielded extensively, either 
to the English or to the Dutch. In the aggregate, they cover an area 
fifty miles in length and twenty miles in width. Most of them are from 
five to twenty miles from the shore, and at a depth of five to ten fath- 
oms. The principal paars are Cheval, Madaragam, Periya, Muttuva- 
ratu, Karativu, Vankalai, Chilaw, and Condatchy. Only three have 
afiforded profitable fisheries in recent years, i. e.: Cheval, Madaragam 
and Muttuvaratu. 

The other paars are of practically no economic value at the present 
time. They become populated with tens of millions of oysters, which 
mysteriously disappear before they are old enough for gathering. Es- 
pecially is this true of the Periya paar, which is about fifteen miles 
from the shore, and runs eleven miles north and south, varying from 
one to two miles in width. Frequently this is found covered with 
young oysters, which almost invariably disappear before the next in- 
spection, owing, probably, to their being covered by the shifting bot- 
tom caused by the southwest monsoon. The natives call this the 
"Mother paar," under the impression that these oysters migrate to the 
other paars. 

The Ceylon government has given very careful attention to all mat- 
ters affecting the prosperity of the pearl resources. It has maintained 
a "Pearl Fishery Establishment," consisting of a superintendent, an in- 
spector and numerous divers, attendants, and sailors. The inspector 
examines the paars, determines when and to what extent they should 
be fished, and directs the operations. The superintendent conducts 
the work on shore, divides and sells the oysters, etc. The expense of 
this establishment has approximated $40,000 per annum when there 
has been a fishery, and about $22,500 without fishery expenses. 

1 ".Pearl Oyster Fisheries of the Gulf of Manaar," s vols., London, 1903-1906. 


It has been decided by naturalists that Ceylon oysters less than four 
years old produce very few marketable pearls ; in the fifth, and again 
in the sixth year the value of the yield doubles, and in the seventh it is 
supposed to increase fourfold. Beyond that age there appears to be 
little increase, and there is the risk of the oysters dying, and of the 
pearls deteriorating or becoming lost. Eight years seems to be the 
natural limit of life. While experience has shown that the most profi- 
table period ^or taking the pearl-oysters is when they are from five 
to seven years old, the mollusks are liable to disappear, especially after 
the fifth year, and the danger of waiting too long is as great as that of 
beginning too early. The fishing on any particular bank is deter- 
mined by various circumstances and conditions, and is permitted only 
after careful examination. 

The dififerent beds are inspected from time to time, and no fishing 
is permitted until the condition of the pearl-oysters on the particular 
reef thrown open seems to warrant the most valuable returns. In the 
examination of a bed apparently in suitable condition, several thou- 
sand oysters — usually eight or ten thousand — are taken up and the 
pearls found therein are examined and valued. If they average Rs.25 
or Rs.30 per thousand oysters, profitable results may be expected, pro- 
vided there is a sufficient quantity of oysters on the bed. This method 
of determining the fishery is very ancient. Tavernier wrote, about 
1650, "before they fish, they try whether it will turn to any account by 
sending seven or eight boats to bring 1000 oysters each, which they 
open, and if the oysters per 1000 yield five fanos or above, they then 
know the fishing will turn to account." ^ And much the same method 
was described by Ribeiro in 1685. 

When it has been decided to hold a fishery, public notice is given by 
advertisement, stating which of the many paars or reefs will be open, 
and the estimated quantity of oysters to be removed, the number of 
boats that will be given employment, and the date for beginning the 
season and the length of time it will probably last. This notice is usu- 
ally given in December preceding the fishery, and it is the signal for 
preparation by tens of thousands of persons in this part of Asia, and 
especially on the Madras and the Malabar coasts of India, and on the 
coast of Arabia. The fishermen, the merchants, and the multitude of 
artisans, mechanics, and laborers who contribute to the industry, set 
their homes and business in order so that they may attend. We give 
the notice issued in 1907, both in Cingalese and in English.^ 

Early in February the area to be gleaned is again examined, the 
limits of the oysters are charted and buoyed off, the number that may 
be obtained is estimated as accurately as possible, and valuation 

'Tavernier, "Travels in India," Vol. II, ch. 21. "See pp. no, in. 




samples are collected. Several thousand oysters are taken up, the 
pearls are removed, examined, and valued by uninterested experts, and 
the results are published, so that prospective buyers may have a re- 
liable idea as to their value. Otherwise this would not be possible 
until the merchants had washed some of their own purchases, which 
ordinarily would not be for a week or ten days after the opening of the 

The fishery usually begins late in February or early in March, as 
the sea is then relatively calm, the currents least perceptible, and there 
is less danger of storms. It is prosecuted from a temporary settle- 
ment or camp on the sandy shore at a place conveniently near the reefs. 
The important fisheries of the five years ending in 1907, were centered 
at the improvised settlement known as Marichchikadde. Although 
prosecuted from the coast of Ceylon, relatively few Cingalese attend 
compared with the large numbers who assemble from India, Arabia, 
and elsewhere. 

A week or two before the opening of the season, the boats begin to 
arrive, sometimes fifty or more in a single day, laden with men, women 
and children, and in many cases with the materials for their huts. In a 
short time the erstwhile desolate beach becomes populated with thou- 
sands of persons from all over the Indian littoral, and there is the 
noisy traffic of congregated humanity, and a confusion of tongues 
where before only the sound of the ocean waves was heard. Beside 
the eight or ten thousand fishermen, most of whom are Moormen, 
Tamils, and Arabs, there are pearl merchants — mainly Chetties and 
Moormen, boat repairers and other mechanics, provision dealers, 
priests, pawnbrokers, government officials, koddu-counters, clerks, 
boat guards, a police force of 200 officials, coolies, domestic servants, 
with numbers of women and children. And for the entertainment of 
these, and to obtain a share of the wealth from the sea, there are jug- 
glers, fakirs, gamblers, beggars, female dancers, loose characters, with 
every allurement that appeals to the sons of Brahma, Buddha or Mo- 
hammed. Natives from the seaport towns of India are there in thou- 
sands ; the slender-limbed and delicate-featured Cingalese with their 
scant attire and unique head-dress ; energetic Arabs from the Persian 
Gulf; burly Moormen, sturdy Kandyans, outcast Veddahs, Chinese, 
Jews, Portuguese, Dutch, half-castes, the scum of the East and the 
rififrafif of the Asiatic littoral, the whole making up a temporary city 
of forty thousand or more inhabitants.^ 

iThe report of the Chief of PoHce at the out occupation in their own country, made 

1905 fishery states : " In the camp there their way to Marichchukkadi with the hope 

were 40,000 to 50,000 persons, of whom it may of making money to gamble in oysters." 

be said that not less than a tenth were (" Reports on the Pearl Fisheries for 1905," 

gamblers, vagrants, and rogues, who, with- Colombo, p. 17.) 



Ceylon Company oj pearl fishers, 



Is hereby given that a Pearl Fishery will take place at 
Marichchukkaddi, in the Island of Ceylon, on or about 
February 20, 1907. 

The Banks to be fished are — 

The Karativu, Dutch Moderagain and Alanturai Pars, 
estimated to contain 21,000,000 oysters, sufficient to employ 
100 boats for twenty-one days with average loads of 10,000 
each per day. 

The North-West and Mid-West Cheval, estimated to 
contain 2,000,000 oysters, sufficient to employ lOO boats for 
two days with average loads of 10,000 oysters. 

The Muttuvaratu Par, estimated to contain 8,000,000 
oysters, sufficient to employ lOO boats for eight days with 
average loaas as before stated : each boat being fully manned 
with divers. 

2. It is notified that fishing will begin on the first 
favourable day after February 19. Conditions governing the 
employment of divers will be issued separately. 

3. Marichchukkaddi is on the mainland, eight miles 
by sea south of Sillavaturai, and supplies of good water and 
provisions can be obtained there. 

4. The Fishery will be conducted on account of the 
Ceylon Company of Pearl Fishers, Ltd., and the oysters put 
up to sale in such lots as may be deemed expedient. 


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A populous town springs up with well-planned and lighted streets 
and vast numbers of temporary abodes of all sorts, according to the 
means and the caste of the occupants, some of them just large enough 
for two or three persons to creep into. Although made mostly of 
poles, mats, cajans or plaited fronds of the cocoanut tree, they furnish 
ample shelter for the locality and season, the uncertainty of the fishery 
from year to year being sufficient argument against expensive and 
substantial buildings. Numerous wells and cisterns yield water for 
the use of all. Sanitary measures are strictly enforced, with a liberal 
use of disinfectants. At a considerable distance southward from the 
settlement are constructed the private toddis, or inclosures, for decom- 
posing the oysters and washing the pearls therefrom. Nearer the 
camp or settlement itself are the police court, the jail, the bank, the 
post and telegraph offices, the auction room, the hospital and the 
cemetery — all to endure through a strenuous six weeks of toil and 
labor, of money-getting and gambling, and then the inhabitants "fold 
their tents like the Arabs, and silently steal away," leaving the debris 
to the shore-birds and the jackals. 

The fishing fleet consists of several hundred boats^ of various rigs 
and sizes. These are interesting on account of their picturesque ap- 
pearance and also their remarkable diversity of types in hull and rig- 
ging: there is the broad and roomy Jaffna dhoney, commonly painted 
black; the lugger-like Paumben boat; the very narrow and speedy 
canoes, — not unlike the single masted bugeyes of the Chesapeake 
region — from Kilakarai and neighboring villages, most noticeable 
owing to their great number and their bright colors — red, green, or 
yellow; the clumsy looking, single masted Tuticorin lighters, sharp 
sterned and copper bottomed, the largest boats in the fleet, ranging in 
capacity from twenty to forty tons each ; and, most singular of all, the 
three masted great canoes from Adirampatnam and Muttupat on the 
Tanjore coast, pale blue in color and with curved prow. In addition to 
these standard types, added novelty is imparted by a few boats of de- 
sign so odd and fantastic as would be conceived only by the mind of an 
oriental builder. 

Reaching the camp at the beginning of the season, these boats are 
examined by the officials as to condition and equipment and, if found 
satisfactory, are registered and numbered. When the quantity of 
oysters to be removed is small, many more boats may arrive than is 
necessary or than can find profitable employment. Formerly when 
this occurred a lottery was held to determine those to be employed. 
More recently the officials have endeavored to engage all boats passing 

iln 1906 there were 473 boats employed; in 1905, 318; in 1857, 1858, 1859, and 1863, over 
400 boats reported for employment. 


the inspection, although to do so might necessitate arranging the fleet 
into two divisions, each fishing on ahernate days. In 1874, the boats 
were arranged in three divisions, the red, blue and green, with fifty- 
boats in each ; in 1879, and again in 1881, there were two divisions, the 
red and the blue; and likewise in 1880, in 1903 and in 1906 there were 
two, the red and the white divisions. Of the 318 boats employed in the 
1905 fishery, 143 were from Kilakarai, seventy- four from Jaffna, 
thirty-five from Tuticorin, thirty-four from Paumben, nine from 
Manaar, six from Negapatam, five from Colombo, four each from 
Tondi and Kayalpatam, and one each from Devipatam, Adrapatam, 
Ammopatam, and Koddaipatam. 

The number of persons on each boat ranges from about twelve to 
sixty-five, with an average for the entire fleet of about thirty-five men 
per boat. This includes the sammatti, or master, who represents the 
owner ; the tindal, or pilot ; the todai, or water-bailer, who is very nec- 
essary on these leaky craft, and who also takes charge of the food and 
drinking water; at times a government inspector or "boat guard"; 
and from five to thirty divers, with an equal number of manducks, or 
attendants.^ The sammattis, tindals, and todais are nearly all from 
the coast of southern India. The "boat guards" or inspectors are 
natives of Ceylon, and are employed by the government to prevent the 
fishermen from opening the oysters. Most of the manducks are from 
the Indian coast. 

Of the 4991 divers employed in 1905, 2649 were Moormen or Lub- 
bais from Kilakarai, Tondi, etc., on the Madura coast; 923 were 
Arabs; 424 were Erukkalampiddi Moormen from Ceylon, and the 
remaining 995 were Tamils from Tuticorin, Rameswaram and else- 
where on the Madras coast, Malayalans from the Malabar coast, with 
small numbers from other localities on the Asiatic coasts. 

Among the 86cx) divers in 1906, were 4090 Arabs, the largest num- 
ber of those people employed in recent years. In 1905 there were only 
923 Arab divers, in 1904 only 238, and previously the number was 
much less. Some have worked on the Ceylon coast since 1887, but 
most of them are newly arrived from Bahrein and Kuweit, where they 
received their training as pearl-divers. They are very energetic and 
skilful fishermen, far surpassing the Tamils, coming early in the sea- 
son and staying late, and working on many days when rough seas 
deter the Indian divers from venturing out. 

The Erukkalampiddi divers of Ceylon are by no means so energetic 
or steady in work as the Arabs, and commonly desert the fishery be- 

1 Some years ago, notably in the early sons in each boat. (See Vane's "Report on 
sixties, each and every boat was required to Ceylon Pearl Fisheries," 1863.) 
have ten divers, thus making a total of 23 per- 



fore the close. The Tamil divers belong to the Parawa and Kadeiyar 

The season in the Ceylon fishery is very short, only about six or 
eight weeks at the most; and the holidays and storms usually reduce 
the number of actual working days to less than thirty. In no other 
pearl fishery of importance is the season less than four months in 
length, and in most of them it extends through more than half of the 
year. Owing to this restricted time, there is greater activity in the 
Ceylon fishery compared with the value of the output than in any 
other pearl fishery in the world. 

Although the season is short, it is strenuous. Arising shortly 
after midnight, the thousands of fishermen breakfast, perform their 
devotions and prepare to get under way so as to reach the reefs about 
sunrise. There each boat takes its position on the ground allotted for 
the day's work, and which has been marked in advance by buoys 
topped with flags ; and shortly afterward, on a signal from the guard 
vessel, the diving commences. This is carried on in the same manner 
as already described for the Persian Gulf, except that the Indian 
divers do not use nose-clips, only compressing the nostrils with the 
fingers during the descent. Rarely do they descend to a greater depth 
than ten fathoms. 

The divers work in pairs, each pair using a single diving stone in 
common, and descending alternately, precisely as in the Persian Gulf. 
It is remarkable what few changes have occurred in the methods of 
the fishery in the last six centuries; the description' of Marco Polo, 
who visited the region about 1294, and of writers somewhat more 
recent, indicating that, in the main features, it was then conducted in 
the same manner as at the present time. 

An exception to the usual mode of diving is practised by the Malay- 
alam fishermen, who, in some seasons — as in 1903, for instance — at- 
tend in large numbers from Travancore and northward on the Mala- 
bar coast. These men are rather low in skill and physical endurance.^ 
They dive head foremost from a spring-board, and even with this 
assistance, — or possibly we should say, handicapped by this method, — 
they find the average depth of eight fathoms too great for them to 
work in with much comfort, rarely remaining under water longer than 
forty-five seconds. 

The number of oysters secured on each visit to the bottom ranges 
from nothing to seventy-five or more, averaging between fifteen 
and fifty. This depends not only on the ability of the fishermen, but 
also on the abundance of oysters and the ease with which they may 
be collected. Sometimes they are held together in loose bunches of 

' Supra., p. 100. - Hornell, " Reports on the Pearl Fisheries of 1904," Colombo, p. 31. 

I iiinadiiig oysters from the vessels Into the kottus, at Marichchikadde, Ceylon 

The pearling fleet on the shore at Marichchikadde, Ceylon 

Hindu workmen preparing to drill pearls, Marichchikadde, Ceylon 


five to ten in each, and a diver can easily gather one hundred in the 
short length of time he remains submerged. In other localities they 
may be somewhat firmly attached individually to the bottom, so that 
some force is necessary to release them, thus reducing the possible 
quantity. Ordinarily one dive clears a space of several square yards. 

Since 1904, a steamer has been employed each season by the govern- 
ment for dredging oysters in connection with experiments in oyster- 
culture. The officer in charge of this work concludes that "dredging 
is economically a more sound method of fishing than is diving."^ This 
view is disputed by the superintendent of the fishery, who points out 
that the average catch by the steamer when dredging mature oysters 
only slightly exceeds that of. an ordinary diving boat, and the cost of 
maintenance and operation is vastly greater.^ A remarkable tribute to 
the skill of the nude divers, brought out by this discussion, is that, 
during some days when they were at work, the sea was too rough for 
dredging by the steamer, notwithstanding that she was a typical 
Grimsby or North Sea trawler of 150 tons measurement, built in 1896.'' 

A rough comparison of the Ceylon method of catching pearl-oysters 
with that practised by the American oyster-growers may not be un- 
interesting. On a basis of 400 to the bushel, the total Ceylon catch of 
81,580,716 pearl-oysters in 1905 represents a trifle more than 200,000 
bushels, or about the quantity annually produced by each of the half 
dozen leading oyster-growers of this country. Each one of these 
growers requires only about three steamers, at a total cost, maybe, of 
$25,000, and manned by twenty-five men; instead of one steamer at a 
cost of $25,000 and 318 diving boats manned by 10,000 men, which was 
the equipment in Ceylon. To be sure, the conditions under which the 
work is prosecuted are different— however, not so entirely unlike as 
might be supposed— and the American season is about six months long 
instead of the two months in Ceylon ; but the comparison is presented 
simply as a suggestion of the possibilities of dredging on the Ceylon 

Until 1885, one of the most novel features of the fishery was the 
employment of shark-charmers or "binders of sharks" {kadal-kotti 
in the Tamil language, hai-banda in Hindustani), whose presence 
was rendered necessary by the superstition of the Indian divers. The 
fishermen placed implicit reliance upon the alleged supernatural pow- 
ers of these impostors, resembling in some respects that reposed in the 
"medicine men" by the American Indians, and would not dive without 
their supervision. It is unknown at what period the influence of these 

1" Reports on the Pearl Fishery for 1904," - "Reports on the Pearl Fishery for 1905," 

p. 7- P- 23. 

3 Ibid., p. 22. 


semi-priests developed, but at the time of Marco Polo's visit about 
1294, they were in the full bloom of their authority, receiving one 
twentieth of the total catch of oysters,^ which amounted to a very 
considerable sum. It is probable that the number of shark-charmers 
was then quite large, some writers more recently referring to one for 
each boat. During the Portuguese occupation the number was re- 
duced to twelve, and at the beginning of the British influence, it was 
further reduced to two. 

Interesting descriptions have been given of the methods by which 
these men exercised their alleged powers. In 1807, Cordiner stated: 

One goes out regularly in the head pilot's boat. The other performs certain 
ceremonies on shore. He is stripped naked, and shut up in a room, where no 
person sees him from the period of the sailing of the boats until their return. 
He has before him a brass basin full of water, containing one, male and one 
female fish made of silver. If any accident should happen from a shark at 
sea, it is believed that one of these fishes is seen to bite the other. The divers 
likewise believe that, if the conjurer should be dissatisfied, he has the power of 
making the sharks attack them, on which account he is sure of receiving 
liberal presents from all quarters.^ 

Amusing stories are told of the shrewdness displayed by these fel- 
lows in inventing explanations to redeem their credit when a fisher- 
man became a victim of the sharks. These accounts are by men who 
evidently bore no good-will toward the shark-charmers, and it would 
be of interest to hear from the other side ; but we have been unable to 
find any one who has appeared in print in their defense. 

The British government, in its policy of noninterference with the 
superstitions or semi-religious customs of the natives, tolerated these 
seeming impostors, owing, probably, in a measure, to the fact that the 
superstitious belief in their necessity was favorable to the preservation 
of the resources, since it restricted poaching on the reefs. However, 
the government endeavored to prevent an extravagant misuse of the 
influence, and restricted the compensation of the shark-charmers to 
one oyster per day from each diver. Later, they were remunerated by 
the government, and were not allowed, under any pretense whatever, 
to demand, exact, or receive oysters or any other compensation from 
the boatmen, divers, or any other persons. And, finally, in 1885, the 
shark-charmers were done away with entirely, after having exacted 
their toll for upward of six centuries at least. 

The dangers to which the Ceylon divers are exposed have been 
greatly exaggerated, and especially the risks from sharks. Poets tell 

i"The Book of Ser Marco Polo," Lon- - Cordiner, " Description of Ceylon," Vol. 

don, 1871, Vol. II, p. 267. II, p. 52. 


how "the Ceylon pearler went all naked to the hungry shark," and 
the struggle of the diver has been a favorite theme with sensational 
writers. As a matter of fact, the trouble from this source is very 
slight, and the occupation is less dangerous than that of most of 
the deep-water fisheries, not to be compared, for instance, with that of 
the winter haddock-fishery oflf the New England coast. Even in 1905, 
when 4991 divers and an equal number of assistants were employed in 
pearling, not a single fatal accident was reported, and although much 
rough weather prevailed, not a fishing boat was lost. In the impor- 
tant fishery of 1904, with 3049 divers, only one fatal accident occurred, 
this was an elderly Moorman, whose death at the bottom was ap- 
parently due either to apoplexy or to exhaustion from remaining under 
water too long. 

The superintendent of the fishery reported that not a single shark 
was seen during the 1904 season.^ According to the statement of Sir 
William Twynam, whose Ceylon pearl fishing experience and observa- 
tion equal those of any European, he has never known of a diver being 
carried ofif by a shark, and has heard of only one case — "which was a 
very doubtful one."^ Prof. James Hornell, the inspector of pearl 
banks, reported in 1904: "During all the months I have spent upon 
the pearl banks during the last two years and a half I have never 
had a glimpse of a shark dangerous to man. Several times the boat- 
men have caught basking sharks of considerable size, but all were of a 
species that lives almost entirely upon small crustaceans."* The late 
Mr. A. M. Ferguson wrote in 1887: "I think it is pretty certain that in 
the whole course of the Ceylon fisheries only two human beings have 
fallen victims to these fierce fishes."* 

The diving continues until a signal is given from the guard vessel 
about twelve or one o'clock, this time depending largely on the begin- 
ning of the sea breeze which roughens the water and interferes with 
the work, and likewise serves to speed the passage of the sail vessels 
to the shore. Occasionally the breeze is unfavorable, and the boatmen 
are obliged to row for miles, delaying their return in some instances 
imtil nightfall. Then the shore is lighted up to guide them to the 
landings, and extra precautions are maintained to prevent them from 
getting away with some of the oysters in the darkness. 

It is claimed— and doubtless with much truth— that it is not unusual 
for the boatmen to take advantage of the time spent in reaching the 
shore to surreptitiously open many of the oysters and extract the 
pearls therefrom, throwing the refuse back into the sea. It would ap- 

1 "Reports on the Pearl Fisheries of 1904," ' Ibid. , p. 34. 

p. 17. *" Royal Asiatic Society Proceedings," 

^Jbid., p. 17. 1887-1888, p. 100. 


pear from some authorities that this is a general practice. One official 
— and probably the one in the best position to know — reported in 1905 
that more than 15,000,000 oysters, or nearly one fifth of the enormous 
catch during that season, were illicitly opened.^ However, this state- 
ment is strongly disputed by the superintendent of the fishery, who 
states : 

As a matter of fact the opening of oysters that goes on in the boats is of 
a much more casual description than this. The divers occasionally pick out 
some of the best looking oysters that happen to be conspicuous, or some that 
open, and look inside them. It is quite possible that a valuable pearl might be 
found in this way, but the chances are against it. It is hardly likely that the 
divers would throw into the sea an enormous quantity of perfunctorily ex- 
amined oysters in which they have a share and which contain pearls, while 
they were aware that immediately on landing they could get good prices for 
their shares. - 

The government ofl^icials have endeavored to put a stop to whatever 
looting may exist, searching boats and occupants at the shore, revoking 
the license of any boat showing evidence of oysters having been opened 
or carrying knives or other appliances for that purpose. The fisher- 
men are alleged to resort to all sorts of devices to secrete their illicit 
find of pearls, concealing them in the nose, ears, eyes, and other parts 
of the body, and even hiding them in parcels in the furled sails or at- 
tached to the embedded anchor. In some seasons — as in 1904 and 
1905— the government employed a guard for each boat. But serious 
criticism has been made of the integrity of these guards, who, with 
compensation of only one rupee per diem, could scarcely be expected 
to resist the action of thirty or forty fishermen and report their doings, 
when by silence they would have much to gain, and "the guards simply 
add to the number of thieves on board " was reported by one superin- 

Doubtless the most interesting sight in the Ceylon fishery is af- 
forded by the return, about mid-afternoon, of the hundreds of novel, 
sail-spreading boats running before the wind and crowded with tur- 
baned fishermen dressed in their few brilliant rags, and each anxious 
to be the first at the wave-washed beach, where they are welcomed by 
an equal if not greater number of officials, merchants, laborers, and 
camp followers, gathered on the shore to learn the result of the fishery. 
The fantastic appearance of the boats, the diversified costumes of the 
people, the general scene of animation, afford a view which for novelty 
is rarely equaled even in the picturesque Orient. 

The average number of oysters brought in daily by each boat is 

1 " Reports on the Pearl Fisheries of 1905," p. 40. ^ Ibid., p. 24. 


about 10,000. Some days when the weather is unfavorable many of 
the boats return empty; on other days they may have 25,000 or more. 
In 1905 the maximum catch in one day for one boat was 29,990, while 
in 1904 a single boat brought in 37,675 oysters. The catch by the en- 
tire fleet one day in 1905 was 4,978,686 oysters, or an average of 
16,485 for each of the 302 boats out on that occasion. 

Each person taking part in the fishery receives as his compensation 
a definite portion of the oysters. By government regulations, pub- 
lished in 1855 and yet operative, each sammatti, tindal, and todai re- 
ceives daily one dive of oysters from each diver in the boat to which 
they are respectively attached. In some instances the hire of the boat 
is paid for in cash — about Rs.1.50 per day from each diver, — but in 
most cases either one fifth or one sixth of each diver's portion is de- 
voted to this purpose. After these provisions have been made, each 
diver gives one third of his remaining portion to his manduck, retain- 
ing the balance for himself. The Moormen divers from Kilakarai 
commonly contribute one dive daily to the mosque of their native 
town,* in addition to the portions given to the sammatti, tindal, and to- 
dai. Previous to 1855, the Hindu temples of the Madras Presidency 
were allowed to operate a certain number of boats on their own ac- 
count, but this led to so many abuses that it was abolished. 

After the boats are run up on the firm, hard beach, all the oysters are 
removed by the crews of the boats into the government koddu or pali- 
sade, a large wattle-walled and palm-thatched inclosure with square 
pens, each bearing a number corresponding to that of each boat. This 
is done under close supervision to prevent a diversion of the oysters 
from the regular channels, which otherwise would be relatively easy 
among the animation and excitement caused by the thousands of per- 
sons about the landing-place. 

Within the government inclosure, the oysters taken by each boat are 
divided by the fishermen themselves into three portions as nearly equal 
as possible. This applies not only to the oysters falling to the share of 
the divers and mandiicks, but also to those set apart for the sammatti, 
tindals, and todais, for hire of the boat and even for the Kilakarai 
mosque. An official indicates one of these as the share of the fisher- 
men, who at once remove their portion from the inclosure through a 
narrow gate on the landward side. By this arrangement a satisfac- 
tory division of the oysters is secured and all cause for complaint or 
imfairness is removed. Previous to 1881, the fishermen received only 
one fourth of the catch as compensation for their work; but in that 
year their portion was increased to one third, at which it has since re- 

1 " Reports on the Pearl Fishery for 1904," Colombo, p. 6. 


As soon as the fishermen pass out of the government koddii with 
their quota, they are met by a crowd of natives eager to buy the oysters 
in small lots, and frequently at so many per rupee — ranging from eight 
to twelve ordinarily. This "outside market" is one of the many inter- 
esting features of the camp, for there are few persons on the shore 
who do not risk small sums in testing their fortunes in this lottery. 
And a wonderful lottery it is too, in which a man may risk a few cop- 
pers and win a prize worth hundreds of dollars. A poor Tamil once 
bought five oysters for half a rupee, and in one of them he found the 
largest pearl of the season. Any not sold among this eager, animated 
throng are at once marketed with a native buyer. The diver then 
hastens to immerse himself in one of the bathing tanks provided for 
the purpose. It is claimed that if this bath is omitted after immersion 
all the morning in the salt water of the gulf, the diver is liable to fall 
ill; and a sufficient supply of fresh water for this purpose is an im- 
portant factor in the arrangement of the camp. 

Owing to their sale in much smaller lots, or as we may say, at 
retail, the fishermen succeed in getting relatively high prices for their 
oysters, and their earnings exceed one half of the government's share. 
In 1905 this amounted to probably £86,000, or an average of about 
$1350 for each of the 318 boats. However, some crews made very 
much more than this, with a corresponding decrease for the others. 
Although 1905 was a record year for large returns, even in an ordi- 
nary season pearl fishing is relatively profitable, as a skilled diver 
earns five or six times as much as a common laborer in Ceylon. The 
regulations particularly forbid the employment of divers for a mone- 
tary consideration instead of for a share of the oysters according to 
the established custom. 

The remaining two thirds of the oysters in the koddu are the 
property of the government. These are combined and counted. At 
nine o'clock each evening they are sold at auction, and by noon of the 
following day all have been removed, and the inclosure is ready for 
the incoming catch. 

At the auction the number of oysters to be sold that evening is an- 
nounced, and bids are invited. Some one starts the bidding at, maybe, 
Rs.20 or 25, and this is advanced by successive bids until the limit ap- 
pears to be reached, which may possibly be Rs.50 or 60. The suc- 
cessful bidder is permitted to take as many oysters in multiples of 1000 
as he chooses ; and after he is supplied, other merchants desiring them 
at that particular price are accommodated. If there is no further de- 
mand for them at that price, the bidding on the remaining oysters is 
begun precisely as at first, and when the maximum bid is reached, all 
merchants willing to give that amount are furnished with as many as 

Indian pearl merchants ready fur business 

Children of Persian pearl dealers 


they wish in muhiples of 1000 as before. If this does not exhaust the 
oysters, the bidding on the remainder is started up again, and so on 
until all are sold.^ No one knows at the time whether he is buying a 
fortune in gems or only worthless shells. 

The prices at which the oysters are sold at auction may differ greatly 
from the estimated valuation of the samples secured in the February 
examination. For instance, in 1905 the valuation of the South Mada- 
ragam oysters was Rs. 17.86 per 1000, yet the auction sales on the 
first day began at Rs.53 and went up to Rs.6i per 1000, or three 
times the valuation ; and about the same general proportion of increase 
prevailed for the oysters from the remaining banks, a result of great 
advances in the market for pearls. 

The auction prices for the different lots and from day to day are 
fairly constant. But the shrewd Indian merchants know their busi- 
ness well and keep in close touch with the yield, so that there are many 
variations in the selling price that are puzzling to the uninitiated. A 
somewhat higher estimation is placed on the oysters from certain 
banks, and also on those from rocky portions of a particular reef, 
owing to their reputation for yielding a larger percentage of pearls. 
The estimation of particular oysters varies to some extent according to 
the amount of adhering rock and coral growth. As already shown, 
the prices in 1906 covered the remarkable range of from Rs.20 to 
309 per 1000. Superstitious belief in luck also has its influence, 
and a buyer may consider a certain day as unfavorable for him and 
abstain from bidding on that occasion; or considering a particular 
day as lucky, he may bid very high to secure a considerable portion of 
the sales. 

The prices in different seasons vary greatly. In i860, the average 
was Rs. 134.23 per 1000, which was unprecedentedly large; the nearest 
to this was Rs.79.07 in 1874 and Rs.49 in 1905. In 1880, the average 
price per 1000 was only Rs.ii, which was the lowest ever recorded. 
The records for individual days greatly exceed these limits. The 
highest figures at which oysters have sold on any one day was Rs.309 
per 1000 in 1906, the equivalent for each oyster of 10^ cents in 
American money. In 1874, the price reached Rs.210 per 1000, and in 
1905, the maximum price was Rs.124, or about 4^ cents for each 

The oyster-buyers are principally wealthy Chetties from Madura, 
Ramnad, Trichinopoli, Parambakudi, Tevakoddai, Paumben, Kumbha- 
konam, and other towns of southern India. These are quite differ- 
ent from the scantily clothed Naddukoddai Chetties so common in 
Ceylon. Many of them are fashionably dressed in semi-European 

1 " Colonial Sessional Papers," 1904, Colombo, p. 653. 


costume, with walking-stick, patent leather boots, and other evidences 
of contact with Europe. Smaller quantities of oysters are purchased 
by Moormen of Kilakarai, Ramnad, Bombay, Adrampatam, Tondi, 
etc. A few oysters are also purchased by the Nadans or Chanar caste 
people of Perunali, Kamuti, and Karakal. Over 99 per cent, of the 
50,346,601 oysters sold by the government in 1905 were secured by 
Indian buyers, and less than one per cent, by Cingalese. A few of the 
oysters — from two to five per cent. — are sent to Indian and Ceylon 
ports, but most of them are opened at the fishing camp. 

The purchaser of only a small number of oysters may open them at 
once by means of a knife, and with his fingers and eyes search for the 
pearls. By this method very small pearls may be easily overlooked, 
and it is scarcely practicable in handling large quantities of oysters. 
These are removed to private inclosures known as toddis or tottis, 
situated some distance from the inhabited portions of the camp ; where, 
exposed to the solar heat, they are permitted to putrefy, and the fleshy 
parts to be eaten by the swarms of big red-eyed bluebottle flies, and the 
residue is then repeatedly washed. 

Shakspere may have had in view some such scene as this when he 
spoke of the "pearl in your foul oyster." The lady who cherishes and 
adorns herself with a necklace of Ceylon pearls would be horrified 
were she to see and especially to smell the putrid mass from which her 
lustrous gems are evolved. The great quantity of repulsive bluebottle 
flies are so essential to success in releasing the pearls from the flesh, 
that a scarcity of them is looked upon as a misfortune to the merchants. 
However, except it may be at the beginning of a fishery, there is rarely 
ever a cause for complaint on this score, for commonly they are so 
numerous as to be a great plague to persons unaccustomed to them, 
covering everything, and rendering eating and drinking a difficult and 
unpleasant necessity, until darkness puts a stop to their activities. But 
the intolerable stench, impossible of description, the quintessence of 
millions of rotting oysters, fills the place, and makes existence a burden 
to those who have not acquired odor-proof nostrils. This animal de- 
composition seems almost harmless to health ; indeed, the natives evi- 
dently thrive on it, and eat and sleep without apparent notice of the 
nauseous conditions. And yet vegetable decomposition in this region 
is usually followed by fatal results. Notwithstanding sanitary pre- 
cautions and the usual quarantine camp and hospitals, cholera occa- 
sionally becomes epidemic and puts a stop to the fishery, as was the 
case in 1889; but this probably was due more to the violation of ordi- 
nary sanitary laws than to the decaying oysters. 

In a large toddi the oysters are placed in a ballain, or a dug-out 
tank or trough, fifteen or twenty feet long and two or three feet deep. 


smooth on the inside so that pearls may not lodge in the crevices. This 
tank is covered with matting, and the toddi is closed up, sealed, and 
guarded for a week or ten days, when the fly maggots will have con- 
sumed practically all o£ the flesh tissues, leaving little else than the 
shells and pearls. The tank is then filled with sea water to float out 
the myriads of maggots. Several nude coolies squat along the sides 
to wash and remove the shells. The valves of each shell are separated, 
the outsides rubbed together to remove all lodgments for pearls, and 
the interior examined for attached or encysted pearls. The washers 
are kept under constant supervision by inspectors to prevent conceal- 
ment of pearls ; they are not permitted to remove their hands from the 
water except to take out the shells, and under no circumstances are they 
allowed to carry the hands to the mouth or to any other place in which 
pearls could be concealed. 

After the shells have been removed, fresh supplies of water are 
added to wash the debris, which is turned over and over repeatedly, 
the dirty water being bailed out through sieves to prevent the loss of 
pearls. After thorough washings, every particle of the sarrakn, or 
material at the bottom of the ballani, consisting of sand, broken pieces 
of shell, pearls, etc., is gathered up in a cotton cloth. Later the sar- 
raku is spread out on cloths in the sun to dry, and the most conspicuous 
pearls are removed. When dry, the material is critically examined 
over and over again, and winnowed and rewinnowed, and after it 
seems that everything of value has been secured, the refuse is turned 
over to women and children, whose keen eyes and deft fingers pick out 
many viasi-tul or dust-pearls; and even after the skill of these has been 
exhausted, the apparently worthless refuse has a market value among 
persons whose patience and skill meets with some reward. It is due 
largely to the extreme care in the search that so many seed-pearls are 
found in Ceylon. 

And this leads to a discussion of what is commonly known in Ceylon 
as the "Dixon washing machine." This is an invention of Mr. G. 
G. Dixon who constructed it at Marichchikadde in 1904 and 1905, 
at a total cost to the government of about Rs. 162,000,^ including all 
expenses incidental to the experiment. The machine involves two 
separate processes ; the first consists in separating the shells from the 
soft portion of the oysters, and the second in recovering the pearls 
from the resultant sarrakn after it has been dried. In 1905, about 
5,000,000 oysters were put through this machine,^ but with what 
result has not been announced. 

The shells having pearls attached to the interior surface are turned 

' "Colonial Sessional Papers," 1906, Col- ' "Reports on the Pearl Fisheries for 1905," 

ombo, p. 330. Colombo, p. 25. 


over to skilled natives, who remove the valuable objects by breaking 
the shell with hammers, and then with files and other implements 
remove the irregular pieces of attached shell and otherwise improve 
the appearance. 

In no fishery in the world is the average size of the pearls secured 
smaller, nor is the relative number greater than in that of Ceylon. It 
is rare that one is found weighing over ten grains, and the number 
weighing less than two grains is remarkable. For roundness and 
orient they are unsurpassed by those of any region. However, Ceylon 
pearls worth locally Rs.iooo ($400) are by no means abundant. The 
most valuable one found in the important fishery of 1904, is said to 
have been sold in the camp for Rs.2500. The fishery of 1905 yielded 
one weighing 76)^ chevu, and valued at Rs. 12,000. 

The quantity of seed-pearls obtained in the Ceylon fishery exceeds 
that of any other — probably all other parts of the world. The very 
smallest — the masi-tiil, — for which there is no use whatever in Europe, 
have an established value in India, being powdered for making chu- 
iiani for chewing with betel. Those slightly larger. — fid pearls — for 
which also there is no market in Europe, are placed in the mouth of 
deceased Hindus of wealth, instead of the rice which is used by poorer 

The great bulk of the Ceylon pearls are silvery white in color, but 
occasionally yellowish, pinkish, and even "black" pearls are found, al- 
though the so-called "black" pearls are really brown or slate-colored. In 
some seasons these are relatively numerous, as in 1887, for instance. 

Notwithstanding the large product at the fishery camp, it is difficult 
to purchase single pearls or small quantities there at a reasonable 
price, the merchants objecting to breaking a miidichchii, or the lot 
resulting from washing a definite number of oysters. 

The shells obtained in the Ceylon fisheries do not possess sufficient 
thickness of lustrous nacre for use as mother-of-pearl, and are mostly 
used for camp-filling. A few are burned and converted into 
chnnam, i.e.: prepared lime for building purposes, or to be used by 
natives for chewing with the betel-nut. Forty or fifty years ago, be- 
fore the large receipts of mother-of-pearl from Australia and the 
southern Pacific, there was a good market for the shell for button 
manufacture and the like, but since 1875 only the choicest have been 
used for this purpose, and these are worth only about $25 per ton 
delivered in Europe. 

It will be observed that up to the close of the season of 1906, the 
Ceylon fisheries were operated by the colonial government as a state 
monopoly. In 1904, proposals were made to the British colonial office 
by a London syndicate with a view to leasing the fisheries for a term 


of years. The original suggestion was that they should be leased for 
thirty years in consideration of an annual rental of £13,000 or Rs.195,- 
000, together with a share of the net profits after payment of a 
reasonable rate of interest on the investment; and later it was sug- 
gested that the rental be Rs. 100,000 a year and twenty per cent, of the 
profits after seven per cent, on capital had been paid to the share- 
holders. But the government preferred a definite money payment 
without any rights to share in the profits realized; and after lengthy 
negotiations this was fixed at Rs.3 10,000 annually, with certain pre- 
liminary payments. Accordingly, on November 30, 1905, a prelimi- 
nary agreement was executed between the crown agents for the 
colonies, acting on behalf of the government of Ceylon, and represen- 
tatives of the Ceylon Company of Pearl Fishers, Limited. On Febru- 
ary 27, 1906, this agreement was confirmed and made effective by 
special ordinance^ of the governor and legislative council of Ceylon, 
and the crown agents were authorized to execute the lease as of 
January i, 1906. 

The principal financial terms of this lease required the company to 
purchase the expensive Dixon pearl-washing machine at a cost of 
Rs. 1 20,000, which was Rs.42,000 less than it cost the government 
during the preceding two years; to purchase at a cost of Rs.62,501 
the steamship Violet, which the government had used in its experi- 
mental oyster-culture; to reimburse the government each year the 
amount spent in policing, sanitation and hospital services at the fishery 
camp, which had in some individual seasons amounted to more than 
Rs. 200,000; to expend each year from Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 150,000 in the 
development of pearl-oyster culture; and to pay an annual rental of 
Rs. 315, 000, a rate based roughly on the average return of the preced- 
ing twenty years, including the record year of 1905. 

The company was authorized to take up the pearl-oysters by means 
of divers, or by steam dredges, or by such other mechanical means as 
might appear most advantageous, and to carry on such experiments 
with the immature oysters as appeared most conducive to the profitable 
working of the fisheries, provided they do nothing to make the re- 
sources less valuable at the expiration of the lease. 

One of the most interesting features of the lease is that relating to 
the power of the colonial government to grant an exclusive right of 
fishing on the banks outside the three-mile limit. The question of this 
exclusive right arose in 1890, but was not conclusively determined. 
Fearing lest this authority did not exist, the terms in which the 
right of fishing was conveyed were carefully chosen by the attorney 
general to protect the government from liability "should any inter- 

' Ordinance No. 8 of 1906. 


national question arise";' and the government leased to the company 
"all the right or privilege which the lessors have hereto exercised 
and enjoyed of fishing for and taking pearl-oysters on the coasts of 
Ceylon between Talaimannar and Dutch Bay Point, to the intent that 
the company so far as the lessors can secure the same may have the 
exclusive right, liberty and authority to fish for, take and carry away 
pearl-oysters within the said limits. . . . But nothing in this lease 
shall be taken to make the lessors answerable in damages if ozving to any 
cause beyond the control of the lessors the company is prevented from 
fully exercising and enjoying such exclusive right and privilege." ^ 

In the meantime, while the negotiations were in progress, there 
occurred the very profitable fishery of 1905, from which the colonial 
government derived a revenue of Rs.2,5 10,727, or approximately eight 
times the proposed annual rental; and before the lease was finally 
concluded occurred the fishery of 1906, with its revenue of Rs. 1,376,- 
746. While it is true that a succession of barren seasons prevailed 
from 1892 to 1902, yet, as the revenue in 1903 was Rs.829,548, and in 
1904 it was Rs. 1,065,751, there was, in the four years ending in 1906, 
a revenue to the government of Rs. 5, 782,772, or nearly as much as 
the total amount to be derived from the lease during the twenty years 
it was to run. These figures seemed to furnish strong reasons for 
retaining such a valuable source of revenue, with its possibilities of 
still greater expansion imder the supervision and direction of special- 
ists in the employ of the government. 

Many of the inhabitants of Ceylon saw in this a decided objection 
to the lease, and there was a general feeling of indignation in the 
colony, with public meetings in protest, and the like. In reply to a 
memorial prepared at one of these meetings held in Colombo, Lord 
Elgin, the British secretary of state for the colonies, wrote under date 
of May 9, 1906: 

The memorialists have protested against the lease on the double ground 
that a lease on any terms is contrary to the best interests of Ceylon, and that 
the rent agreed upon is "under existing circumstances wholly inadequate." 
There must always be in cases of this kind a difference of opinion as to 
whether a fixed annual sum, with immunity from all expense and sundry 
other advantages, is or is not preferable to continuing to face all the risks for 
the sake of all the profits. In the present instance the lease appears to me to 
have been drafted with a sincere desire to safeguard to the utmost the property 
and interests of the Colony. 

It may be true that the development of the fishery upon a scientific system 
affords good prospect of a greater return in the future than has been obtained 
in the past, and affords at least the hope that the barren cycles which have 

' "Ceylon Sessional Papers," 1906, p. 328. 'Ibid., pp. 333> 335- 


been so common in the past will not recur to the same extent. But the opera- 
tions necessary to that end are of a highly technical and experimental char- 
acter, and I am very doubtful whether any machinery which could be set in 
motion by the Government would be suited to develop processes at once so 
doubtful and so delicate. In twenty years' time the Colonial Government will 
receive back the fishery, not only intact, but in the most perfect state to which 
commercial enterprise and scientific methods can raise it, and, in the mean- 
while, a regular and substantial payment is assured. Twenty years are no 
doubt a considerable period in the lifetime of individuals; but if within that 
time all the resources that science can contribute toward systematic develop- 
ment of the fisheries have been applied and thoroughly tested, the period will 
not, I think, be regarded as excessive or unfortunate in the history of a fishery 
which has lasted for more than two thousand years.* 

The Ceylon Company of Pearl Fishers, Limited, with a paid up 
capital of £165,000, has just entered into possession of its lease, and it 
is uncertain what changes will be made in the methods of the fish- 
ery or what measure of success will follow the attempts at pearl oyster- 
culture and the growth of pearls. The attention of the pearling 
interests of the world is now directed to the work of this company in 
the development of its magnificent leasehold, and it seems not unlikely 
that greater changes will be made in the methods of the industry dur- 
ing the ensuing decade than have occurred in the whole of the last ten 

A curious fishery, with the Placuna placenta for its object, exists 
in Tablegram Lake, a small bay in northeastern Ceylon adjacent to 
the magnificent harbor of Trincomali, which Nelson declared to be 
"the finest in the world." At intervals during the nineteenth century, 
the Ceylon government leased the Tablegram Lake fishery to native 
bidders for a period of three consecutive years. In 1857, Dr. Kelaart 
visited the place and calculated that in the three years preceding, eigh- 
teen million oysters had been removed.^ Owing to scarcity of the 
mollusk, no fisheries have existed since 1890, but from 1882 to 1890 
they were regularly leased at an average of Rs.5000 for each term 
of three years. Prof. James Hornell, who made a careful examina- 
tion in 1905, reported that if the business were carried on provi- 
dently and systematically, "it should become the source of a fairly 
regular annual revenue to Government of from Rs. 10,000 to Rs.12,- 
000, possibly even more."^ 

' "Ceylon Sessional Papers," 1906, p. 650. ' Kelaart, "Report on the Tablegram Pearl- 

' The Government Commission has inter- Oysters," Trincomali, 1857, 6 pp. 

dieted the fishing for this year (1908), as * Hornell, "Report on the P/arwHa /'/of ffi/o 

experts have reported the pearl-oysters were Pearl Fishery of Lake Tampalakamam," 

not plentiful enough and were also immature, Colombo, 1906. 

being only five years old. The next fishery 

will be in 1909. 


The Placnna oysters are caught by Moormen divers, who are 
scarcely equal physically to the pearl fishery in the sea. They rarely 
descend more than four fathoms, and most of the work in Tablegram 
Bay is in less than two fathoms. Each diver returns with from one to 
five or more oysters, depending on their abundance, and receives one 
half of the catch as his share of the proceeds. Unlike the method in the 
pearl-oyster fishery of Ceylon, the Placnna oysters are opened while 
fresh, this work being performed by coolies, who are compensated at 
the rate of about Rs.3 per 1000. 


There are two moments in a diver's life : 
One, when a beggar, he prepares to plunge ; 
Then, when a prince, he rises with his prize. " 

Robert Browning. 

Notwithstanding the great fame of the pearl fisheries of India, 
those prosecuted within the limits of British India proper are of small 
extent. The only pearl resources within the empire are the rarely 
productive reefs on the Madras coast in the vicinity of Tuticorin, the 
relatively modern fisheries of Mergui Archipelago, and some small 
reefs of only local importance on the Malabar coast and in the Bombay 

The celebrity of India in connection with the pearl fisheries has never 
rested on the extent of those within the territorial limits or under the 
control of this government. It originated in the fact that it is largely 
Indian capital which finances the fisheries of Ceylon and of the 
Persian Gulf; nearly all of the divers and others employed in Ceylon 
are from the coast of this empire, and most of the pearls are pur- 
chased by merchants of Bombay, Madura, Trichinopoli, and other 
large towns. Thus, from an economic and industrial point of view, 
the pearl fisheries of Ceylon, and to a less extent those of the Persian 
Gulf, have contributed to the fame and to the wealth of the Empire 
of India. 

The pearl fisheries ofif Tuticorin in the Madras presidency have been 
referred to incidentally in the account of the fisheries of Ceylon. They 
are separated by only a few miles of water, and are prosecuted by the 
same fishermen and in precisely the same manner. Consequently, it 
is difficult to discuss them separately, especially in their early history 
and during the time that this part of the world was under the rule of 
the Portuguese and later of the Dutch. 



The fisheries of the Madras coast compete in antiquity with those 
of Ceylon. Indeed, from the time of Ptolemy to the seventeenth cen- 
tury, the industry seems to have been prosecuted largely from the Mad- 

The pearling regions in Ceylon and British India 

ras side of the gulf, centering at Chayl or Coil on the sandy promon- 
tory of Ramnad. This place appears to be the KoXxot of Ptolemy, 
the Ramana Koil of the natives, as well as the Cael of the travelers 
of the Middle Ages. But during the last three hundred years, the 


Ceylon side has been the scene of the greatest pearHng operations ; and 
from the Madras coast, the fisheries have not been prosecuted except 
at long intervals, averaging once in fifteen or twenty years. 

Owing to the scarcity of oysters and to other causes, the fishery 
was prosecuted on the Madras coast in only eight years of the whole 
period from 1768 to 1907. These years of productivity were 1822, 
1830, i860, 1861, 1882, 1889, 1890, and 1900; and even then the yield 
was relatively small. The largest was 15,874,500 oysters in i860, 
from which the Madras government derived a revenue of Rs. 250,276; 
and about half as many oysters were obtained in 1861 with a revenue 
of Rs. 1 29,003. Numerous and prolonged experiments in conserving 
the reefs and in cultivating the oysters have been made without suc- 
cess. The reason usually given for the greater wealth of oysters on 
the Ceylon side is, that it is more sheltered from the strong currents 
which sweep down the Bay of Bengal into the Gulf of Manaar and im- 
pinge directly on the coast of the mainland. 

The headquarters of the fishery are at Tuticorin, near to Madura, 
the Benares of the south, the holy "City of Sweetness" which the gods 
have delighted to honor from time immemorial. But the camp is com- 
monly erected of palmyra and bamboo on the barren shore several 
miles distant from Tuticorin. The 1890 fishery was at Salapatturai, 
and that of 1900 at a place which received the mouth-filling name of 

The preparations for pearling at Tuticorin are similar to those on 
the Ceylon coast. In the autumn the reefs are examined by govern- 
ment inspectors, and if the conditions seem to warrant a fishery in the 
following spring, arrangements are made therefor and the proper 
notification issued. The announcement follows the general plan of 
that in Ceylon. The following, from the Fort St. George "Gazette," 
Madras, January 16, 1900, is a copy of the notification preceding the 
last fishery which has occurred : 

Notice is hereby given that a pearl fishery will take place at Veerapandian- 
patanam on or about the 12th March, 1900. 

1. The bank to be fished is the Theradipulipudithapar, estimated to employ 
100 boats for twenty days with average loads of 7,000 oysters per day. 

2. It is therefore recommended that such boat owners and divers as may 
wish to be employed shall be at Tuticorin on or before the ist of March next 
and anchor their boats abreast of the government flagstaff; the first day's fish- 
ing will take place on the 12th of March, weather permitting. 

3. The fishery will be conducted on account of Government, and the oysters 
put up for sale in such lots as may be deemed expedient. 

4. The arrangements of the fishery will be the same as have been usual on 
similar occasions. 

Now in the United States National Museum, Washington, D. C. 


5. Payments to be made in ready money in rupees or in Government of 
India notes. Checks on the Bank of Madras or Bank Agencies will be re- 
ceived on letters of credit being produced to warrant the drawing of such 

6. All particulars can be obtained on application to the Superintendent of 
Pearl Fisheries, Tuticorin. 

Tinnevelly Collector's Office, Sd/ — J. P. Bedford, 

i6th November 1899. Collector. 

On the long sweep of desolate shore at a place convenient to the 
reefs, a temporary camp is erected, just as is done on the Ceylon coast. 
However, this camp is not nearly so large, only about one fourth or 
one fifth the size of that on the eastern side of the gulf. It resembles 
the larger one in the quarters for divers and merchants, the bazaars, 
the bungalows for the officials, the hospital, the sale and washing in- 
closures, etc. ; in addition to these is the temporary Roman Catholic 

The divers are mainly of the Parawa caste from Tuticorin, Pinna- 
coil, Pamban, etc. on the Madras coast. Although influenced by many 
Hindu superstitions, they are nominally Roman Catholics, as evidenced 
by the scapulars suspended from the neck, their ancestors having been 
converted and baptized through the zealous work of that prince of 
missionaries, St. Francis Xavier, in the sixteenth century. Even yet 
a chapel at Pinnacoil is held in special reverence by these people as a 
place where the saintly father preached. Professor Hornell writes 
that the present hereditary head of this caste is Don Gabriel de Croos 
Lazarus Motha Vaz, known officially as the Jati Talaiva More, or 
Jati Talaivan. He resides at Tuticorin, and is largely the intermediary 
between the government and the Parawa fishermen. 

In the details of its prosecution, the Madras fishery dififers in no 
important particular from that of Ceylon. The boats are manned and 
operated in precisely the same way ; they fish in the morning only, tak- 
ing advantage of the prevailing favorable winds ; the divers carry the 
oysters into the government inclosure, and divide them into three equal 
lots, of which they receive one; the share of the government is auc- 
tioned daily, the divers disposing of theirs as they choose; and the 
oysters are rotted and washed in the same manner as in Ceylon. 

In addition to the fishery for pearl-oysters at Tuticorin, two other 
species of pearl-producing mollusks are collected in the Madras presi- 
dency; one of these is a species of mussel (Mytilus sntaragdiiiiis, ac- 
cording to Dr. Edgar Thurston of the Madras Museum), which is 
collected from the estuary of the Sonnapore River near Berhampore; 


and the other is the Placuna placenta, found in many places in this 
presidency, and especially in Pulicat Lake and in the vicinity of Tuti- 

The Sonnapore mussels, which are small and bright green in color, 
are found adhering to the masses of edible oysters in depths of ten or 
twelve feet of water. They are caught in a novel manner, as described 
in a letter from the acting collector of customs at Ganjam. Thrusting 
a long bamboo pole deep into the bottom of the reef, the fisherman 
dives down, and holding on to this bamboo, breaks off as large a mass 
of the oysters as he can bring to the surface in one hand, helping him- 
self up the bamboo pole with the other. Removing the mussels from 
the mass, he opens them with a suitable knife and by running his 
thumbs and fingers over the flesh tissues, detects the pearls therein. 
These pearls are of very inferior quality and of little ornamental 
value. They are sold mostly for chunam and for placing in the mouth 
of deceased Hindus. 

Along the west coast of India, in the Bombay presidency, a few 
pearls are found at various places, but the output is of slight value. 
The most important of these is off the coast of Nawanagar, on the 
south side of the Gulf of Cutch, where the true pearl-oyster is found. 

According to the "Jamnagar Diwan," the yearly value of the Nawa- 
nagar fisheries is about Rs.4000. This is smaller than formerly, as 
the reefs are in a depleted state; to give them a chance to recuperate, 
a close season was established in 1905. The oysters are found along a 
coast-line eighty miles in length extending from Mangra, near Jodya 
Bunder, to Pindera in the Gulf of Cutch, and also about the islands of 
Ajad, Chauk, Kalumbar, and Nora, which are also situated in the 
Cutch Gulf. They are not procured by diving, but are gathered off 
the rocks when the tide is out. During the monsoon, the collection is 
limited to eight days in the month; i.e., from the twelfth to the fif- 
teenth of each half according to the Hindu calendar. 

The fisheries are by law restricted exclusively to the ivaghers of 
ten villages, which are Varinar, Sashana, Sika, Balachedi, Jhakher, 
Sarmat, Bharana, Salaya, Chudesar, and Bedi. The collection of the 
pearls is left entirely to these men, who at Divala — the Hindu new 
year — bring all the pearls gathered by them to the durbar. There an 
estimate is made of their value, one fourth of which is paid to the 
waghers, and the pearls are turned over to the representatives of the 
state treasury for sale. This method of conducting the industry has 
been long established. In recent years the government experimented 
in farming out the revenue, but the old custom has been resumed in 
order to placate the native fishermen. 

A few pearl-oysters are also found on the Ratnagiri coast below 


Bombay, and likewise at Kananur in the Malabar district. In 1901- 
1902, there was some local excitement about pearls found at Belapur 
and quantities were reported as collected ; but since then little has been 
heard of the industry in that region. 

Elsewhere on the west coast of India, pearls are obtained from the 
so-called "window-glass" shell, of the genus Placuna. The individual 
shells are flat, thin, and transparent, and are still used in Goa and 
vicinity as a substitute for glass in windows. This moUusk is abun- 
dant from Karachi, near the Baluchistan border, to the Kanara dis- 
trict south of Bombay; and wherever it occurs in any abundance it is 
collected for the sake of the small pearls found therein. 

Of the fishery at Karachi, Mr. E. H. Aitken writes: "It is farmed 
out by Government for a good sum. In 1901, the amount real- 
ized was Rs.3650 for a period of three years; but the lessee lost 
heavily, and in 1904 the highest offer for a similar period of three 
years was Rs.1851. Pearls may be found in as many as ten to twenty 
per cent, of the mature mollusks." Pearls are far more numerous in 
the Placuna than in the pearl-oysters, but few of them are of sufficient 
size or luster to be used as ornaments, ranking with the so-called 
medicinal pearls of Europe. They are much softer in texture than 
the pearls of the Margaritiferae. The largest are commonly of irreg- 
ular form, with the surface slightly botryoidal or like the "strawberry" 
pearls of the Mississippi. While not often used as ornaments, they 
are highly valued by the Hindus in calcined or powdered form for 
medicinal purposes, and especially to be chewed with the betel-nut, 
and are also used in the original form in funeral rites, a small quan- 
tity being placed in the mouth of a deceased person. 

In the Mergui Archipelago, which is within the territory of lower 
Burma and under the jurisdiction of the government of British India, 
patches of pearl-oyster reefs are scattered over an area roughly com- 
puted at 11,000 square miles, taking 97° 40' as the western boundary. 
They occur principally in the strong tidal passages among the islands. 
The bottom is formed largely of porphyritic granite interspersed with 
sand and thinly covered with corals, coral cups, the long whip-like 
black coral {Antipathcs arborca), and other submarine animal and 
vegetable growths.^ These constitute a home most favorable to the 
growth and development of molluscan life. 

Of the several species of pearl-bearing mollusks occurring in the 
Mergui Archipelago, by far the most important is the "mok," or large 
Australian pearl-oyster (Margaritifera maxima). The shell attains 
a maximum size of about thirteen inches in diameter, and the nacre is 
of a milky or silvery color. This species occurs in its two varieties of 

^ Jardine, "Report Relating to the Mergui Pearl Fisheries," Rangoon, 1894, p. 6. 


"golden lip" and "silver edge," the former being in greater abundance. 
The "silver edge" shell is the more valuable owing to its uniformity 
of coloring, and the pearls found therein are of superior luster and 

The "pate goung," or Lingah pearl-oyster (Margaritifera vul- 
garis), is similar to that of the Gulf of Manaar. It is circular in shape 
and measures about two and one-half inches in diameter. The nacre 
is silvery, with slight yellowish tinge. Many of the pearls from this 
species are of a silvery color, but most of them are yellowish or 
golden. The fishery for this mollusk is of little importance compared 
with that for the larger pearl-oyster, which is the species referred to 
in Mergui when not otherwise mentioned. 

The pearl fisheries of Mergui originated with the Selangs or 
Salangs, a nomadic race of maritime gipsies, the last remnants of 
whom live among the three thousand islands of this group. They are 
supposed to be of Malay descent ; but their early history is unknown, 
and they are rapidly passing away in the conflict of existence with the 
neighboring peoples. Probably in no part of the world are the pearl 
fisheries prosecuted by a more primitive class of men. With their 
women and children, they live mainly in roomy dug-out boats; but 
during the southwest monsoon they erect temporary shelters on the 
shore, these consisting of a few frail sticks, supporting coverings of 
braided mats, and floors of bamboo strips. 

They have few wants and derive a livelihood principally from gath- 
ering and bartering shells, pearls, cured thadecon, and nests of the sea- 
swallow (Collocalia). Within depths of six or eight fathoms they are 
fairly good divers, both the men and the women, but their physical 
endurance is slight. Their trade is mostly with Chinese merchants 
who visit them in small vessels. No information exists as to when the 
Selangs first found profit in searching for pearls ; but it was probably 
many centuries ago, and for a long time they made contributions of 
them to the Buddhist rulers of Burma. 

Shortly after the acquisition of Mergui Archipelago in 1826, repre- 
sentatives of the British government brought experienced divers from 
southern India to examine more fully the resources which the Selangs 
had made known; but as only seed-pearls were secured, the govern- 
ment concluded that they would yield an insignificant revenue, and the 
attempt to develop these resources was given up.^ 

However, the Selangs continued to fish in their primitive fashion; 
and as the market for the shell developed, the profits increased. But 
their wants were easily appeased, and the increased profits were coun- 
terbalanced by decreased activities. Old traders among the islands 

^ Nisbet, "Burma Under British Rule and Before," Westminster, igoi, Vol. I, p. 362. 


tell of the opportunities of those days when choice pearls could be 
obtained for a pinch of opium or for a few ounces of tobacco. 

Far from the highways of the world, the Selangs remained undis- 
turbed in their beautiful seas until nearly twenty years ago. Mean- 
while, 800 miles distant, Singapore had arisen from a desert shore to 
the rank of a great seaport, and the headquarters for the pearl fishery 
of the Malay Archipelago and of the northwestern coast of Austraha. 
In this fishery the vessels were well equipped and depended on the use 
of diving apparatus rather than on nude divers. 

Beginning about 1888, some of these vessels made occasional visits 
to the Mergui pearl-oyster reefs, and usually with very profitable re- 
sults. This was the first instance in which diving apparatus was suc- 
cessfully introduced on any part of the Asiatic coast from the Red 
Sea to Malacca Strait. So great was the profit that nearly every one 
on the lower coast of Burma with sufficient capital or credit hastened 
to obtain a boat and diving equipment. The success of some of these 
early ventures was remarkable, single pearls worth $3000, $5000, and 
even $10,000 each being secured. The reefs in the shoal waters were 
rapidly depleted, to the great disadvantage of the nude Selangs, who 
can do little in deep water. 

With a view to deriving a revenue from these well-equipped vessels, 
the government of Burma in 1898 divided the 11,000 square miles of 
pearling territory into five definite areas known as "blocks." The 
area within each of these blocks was surveyed, marked, and charted; 
and the financial commissioner from time to time determined as to each 
block whether licenses for pearl fishing should be issued, or whether 
the exclusive right therein should be leased. These leases were 
disposed of either by inviting tenders and granting the lease to any 
of the persons who might tender, or by public auction, as the financial 
commissioner might direct. By the terms of the lease, the lessee was 
obliged to register at the office of the deputy commissioner of finance 
the number of boats and pumps employed by him ; to declare by letter, 
at the end of each month, the number, weight, and estimated value of 
all mother-of-pearl shell and pearls collected during the month, and to 
refrain from taking any mother-of-pearl measuring less than six 
inches from lip to hinge. 

Outside the limits of blocks in which the exclusive pearl fishing was 
leased, licenses to use diving implements were granted in such number 
and on payment of such fees, not exceeding Rs.iooo per apparatus, 
as might from time to time be fixed, every such license expiring on 
June 30 next following the date on which it was granted, and no li- 
cense was transferable. 

The five blocks in which the Mergui pearling rights were leased are 


of large area, averaging somewhat over 2000 square miles each. The 
lessees customarily granted permits to subsidiary fishermen to operate 
in their respective blocks, on payment of a royalty, this ranging in 
amount from 123^2 to 25 per cent, of the mother-of-pearl secured, and 
the pearls found were the absolute property of the fishermen. 

Until 1900 the pearling rights were leased by blocks as above noted. 
Rights to catch trochus, green snail shells, and sea-slugs, were in- 
cluded in the lease. It was noticed that European pearlers always sub- 
let the trochus and green snail rights, and it was decided to auction 
these separately; while as regards pearling proper the auction system 
was abolished in that year in favor of a system of licensing individual 
vessels for a fee of Rs.400 each. The right to collect pearls by nude 
diving was thought for some time to have been left free; but sub- 
sequently it was auctioned along with the rights to collect green snails, 
trochus and sea-slugs. 

The following summary, compiled from data furnished by Mr. I. 
H. Burkill of the Indian Civil Service, shows the extent of the pearl 
and shell fisheries of Mergui for a series of years. 


No. of 

Revenue from 



Revenue from 

Auction Rights. 


Reported Value 

of Yield. 





















The local headquarters of the industry are at Mergui, but most of 
the supplies are drawn from Maulmain and Rangoon, or from the 
more distant Singapore, where the industry is financed. The season 
extends from October to April or May, when the southwest monsoon 
begins and puts a stop to the fishery on this exposed coast. 

The boats used are mostly of Burmese build. They measure from 25 
to 35 feet in length, and 7 or 8 feet in width, and have 18 to 24 inches 
of draft, with curved or half -moon shaped keels, and with high square 
sterns. Owing to the very light draft and the amount of free-board, 
they are deficient in weatherly qualities ; but are fast sailors before the 
wind and are easily rowed from place to place. For this reason they 
are especially suited to the industry in Mergui, because during the 
pearling season calms and light winds prevail and oars form the prin- 
cipal motive power, especially in the channels and passageways be- 
tween the islands where the tides are frequently very swift. 

If a number of boats are of the same ownership, a schooner of 
thirty to one hundred tons' capacity is commonly provided as a floating 
station and base of supplies for them; the gathering of such a fleet 


Necklace and earrings. Property of an American lady 


presents an interesting sight, like a great white hen among her brood 
of chickens. 

Most of the boats are from Mergui, and are chartered at a monthly- 
rate of from Rs.105 to Rs.i20 each, including a crew of four or five 
Burmans with their subsistence, consisting principally of rice and 
salted fish ; the charterer is further required to pay each member of 
the crew' four annas, or one rupee, for each day actually employed in 
operating the diving pump. In addition to these men, each boat car- 
ries one diver and an attendant, commonly known as "tender." The 
boat is sailed or rowed by the crew, as directed by the diver ; and while 
the latter is submerged, the boat and crew are under the supervision 
of the attendant. 

The divers are the most important men in the fleet, for on their 
ability and efficiency depends the success of the enterprise. A very 
considerable portion of them are natives of the Philippine Islands, 
although many Japanese have been employed recently, and the number 
is increasing. The compensation is at the rate of £2 to £4 per month, 
and £20 for each ton of mother-of-pearl secured. The attendants are 
likewise mostly Manilamen, but many Malayans and Burmans are 
employed; the wages range from to Rs.8o per month, including 
provisions. The peculiar duties of the attendant are to help the diver 
into his dress, place the shoulder leads into position, screw on the 
helmet, and especially to receive and respond to signals and to direct 
the movements of the vessel in accordance therewith. 

The scaphander, or diving-dress, is composed of solid sheet rubber, 
covered on both sides with canvas. The head-piece is made of tinned 
copper, and is fitted with three glasses, one at the front and one on 
each side, so as to afiford the diver as wide a view as is consistent with 
strength of construction. It has a valve by which he can regulate the 
pressure of the atmosphere. The dress has a double collar, the inner 
portion coming up around the neck, and the other hermetically fastened 
to the breastplate. The breastplate is likewise made of copper. The 
suit is connected with the air-pump by means of a stout rubber tube 
which enters the helmet, and through which air is supplied to the diver 
incased therein. This air-tube consists of three or four lengths — each 
of fifty feet — of light hose, commonly called "pipe." This is buoyant 
so that it may be easily pulled along, and may not readily foul among 
the rocks. However, when working on very rough bottom with 
sharp-edged stones, the lower length is of stouter material in order 
to resist the chafing on the bottom. Before descending, the air-line 
is loosely coiled around the diver's arm to prevent a sudden strain on 
it when it is tightened, and a signal-line is attached to his waist to 
enable him to communicate with the men above. 


In fishing, if the current is slight, the boat is permitted to drift 
therewith, and if there is Httle or no current, it is propelled by oars 
as may be required. The diver — fully dressed in the rubber suit with 
helmet, etc., — goes overboard easily by means of a Jacob's ladder of 
five or six rungs on the port side of the boat, and is lowered by an 
attendant, who gives close attention to the lines, the crew having 
manned the pump in the meantime. On reaching bottom, the diver 
walks along, following the course of the moving boat and swinging 
his shoulders from side to side to take in a wide vision in his search 
for oysters. In clear water he can discover them at a distance of 
twenty-five or thirty feet, even when fifteen fathoms below the sur- 
face; but sometimes the water is so clouded that it may be necessary 
for him to go almost on hands and knees to see them, and when the 
seaweeds are thick and high, he may locate them almost as much by 
feeling as by sight. Owing to this difficulty in seeing the oysters, the 
work is suspended in rough weather and for many days following. 
The catch is placed in a sack or basket of quarter-inch rope, which is 
raised when filled, emptied, and returned to the bottom by means of 
a rope. 

Finding the shell is by no means an easy matter, and much natural 
hunter-craft is necessary. Of a neutral color, it is not at all con- 
spicuous as it lies on a gray coral bed, itself covered with coral or 
sponge or hidden in dense masses of gorgeous seaweeds. Still less 
visible is the shell on a muddy bottom, for there it embeds itself and 
exposes only half an inch or so of the "lip." As the boat is impelled 
by the tide, the diver may have to walk rapidly in a swinging gait; 
and if he should stumble or fall while stooping to pick up the shell, 
recovery of balance may be difficult. He must be constantly on the 
alert and has many dangers to avoid. Sharks are numerous in these 
clear tropical waters ; but although disaster sometimes results, they are 
timid, a stream of air bubbles from the sleeve of the dress sending 
them away in fright. More fruitful sources of danger are fouled air- 
pipes, broken pumps, falling into holes, and especially paralysis from 
recklessly deep diving. 

When the diver wishes to come up, he closes the escape valve in his 
helmet ; his dress fills and distends with air, causing a speedy return 
to the surface, and the tender hauls him alongside by means of the 
life-line. After "blowing" for a few minutes with the helmet re- 
moved, and usually enjoying the indispensable cigarette, he returns 
to the bottom. 

When the jNIergui reefs were first exploited by diving apparatus, 
the bulk of the shells were secured from depths of ten to twelve 
fathoms. These shallow reefs have been exhausted, temporarily, at 


least, and the divers now work in deeper water, fifteen, twenty, and 
even twenty-five fathoms, if the bottom is very uneven and rocky. 
Many shells are found in the depressions between the large boulders, 
which may be twenty .or thirty feet deeper than the surrounding areas. 

The oysters are opened by means of the long-bladed working-knife 
of the country, known as dah-she. The flesh is thrown into a large 
basket or washtub, where it is searched by the proprietor of the boat, 
who takes each piece between the hands and squeezes and feels through 
every part of it. After the flesh has been carefully examined, the 
sediment at the bottom of the tub is washed and panned to obtain 
those pearls which have fallen through the flesh tissues. The Mergui 
pearls are commonly of good color and luster, and compare favorably 
with those from the Sulu Archipelago or the Dutch East Indies. 

The sea-green shell of the snail {Turbo marmoraHis) is gathered 
m large quantities by the nude diving Selangs, who barter it to Chinese 
traders at the equivalent of Rs.8 or 10 per 100 in number. The 
flesh is also dried and disposed of to these traders under the name of 
thadecon, at about Rs.3 per viss of 3.33 pounds. This mollusk vields 
a few greenish yellow pearls. 

In 1895, three pearl reefs were discovered oflf the Bassein coast in 
the district of Irawadi.^ These proved fairly remimerative for one 
season and a portion of another, when they were abandoned. 


Under the Ptolemies, and even long after — under the 
Califs — these were islands whose merchants were princes; 
but their bustle and glory have since departed from them, 
and they are now thinly inhabited by a race of miserable 

James.Bruce (1790). 

The Red Sea was one of the most ancient sources of pearls, furnish- 
ing these gems for centuries before the Christian era, and particularly 
during the reign of the Ptolemies. These pearls were alluded to by 
Strabo, ^lianus, and other classical writers. Although the prom- 
inence of the fisheries has suffered by comparison with those of Persia 
and Ceylon, the yield has been more or less extensive from the days of 
Solomon up to the present time. 

Of the several pearl-yielding mollusks in the Red Sea and on the 

' Nisbet, "Burma Under British Rule and Before," Vol. I, p. 363. 



southeast coast of Arabia, the largest and best known is that called 
"sadof" by the Arabs, and which has been identified by Jameson as 
Margaritifera m. erythrccensis. This is closely related to the large 
species in the Persian Gulf. It is commonly four or five inches in 
diameter, and in exceptional instances attains a diameter of eight 
inches and a weight of three pounds or more. In addition to its 

Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, the pearling center of the world 

size, it is distinguished by a dark green coloring about the edges, and 
a more or less greenish tint over the nacreous interior surface; this 
color is darker in the vicinity of Jiddah and Suakin than at the south- 
ern end of the sea, or in the Gulf of Aden. This species occurs singly 
rather than congregated in beds or reefs. Although it is found in 
depths of fifteen fathoms or more, most of the fishing is in less than 
five fathoms of water. 

The "sadof" yields pearls only rarely, and is sought principally for 


the shells, which afford good qualities of mother-of-pearl, the pearls 
furnishing an additional but always looked-for profit to the regular 
source of income. As in other regions, there is no constant relation 
between the value of the pearls and the quantity of mollusks taken. 
The oysters of some reefs are comparatively rich in certain years ; 
while in other seasons or on other reefs the mollusks may be numerous 
but yield very few pearls. 

The second species of importance in the Red Sea is similar to the 
Lingah oyster and is known to the Arabs as "bulbul." This is much 
smaller than the "sadof," averaging less than three inches in diameter. 
It is collected for the pearls exclusively, the shells being too small 
for industrial use; but only 3 or 4 per cent, of the individuals yield 

It is claimed by writers of authority that it is the red Pinna pearl 
from this sea that is referred to in the Scriptures under the name 
peninim as the most precious product, and which has been translated as 
rubies.' The shell is extremely fragile, and the nacreous interior is 
white tinged with a beautiful red. It is of little importance in the com- 
mercial fisheries of the Red Sea at the present time. 

The "sadof" is more scattered and less numerous than the "bulbul" ; 
and in order to save much useless diving, it is customary to inspect 
the bottom before descending. Therefore, operations are largely 
restricted to calm weather, when the water is sufficiently clear to 
enable the divers to sight the individual oysters on the bottom. In 
recent years, water-telescopes have been used to assist in locating 
them. The most popular form consists of a tin can with a sheet of 
glass inserted in the bottom. The glazed end of the tin is submerged 
several inches below the surface, affording a far-reaching and much 
clearer vision. In this fishery the divers work from small canoes 
(iiri), each manned by two men, one of whom rows while the other 
leans over the bow and searches for the oysters. When one is 
sighted, he dives into the water for it, and then returns to the boat 
to resume the search. 

The pearling season begins commonly in March or April, and con- 
tinues until about the end of May; it is renewed in the autumn, con- 
tinuing through September and October.^ The vessels employed are 
of two varieties : dhows carrying from twenty to eighty men each, and 
the much smaller sambuks or sail-boats without decks, each with 
from six to twenty-five men, most of whom are Negro slaves. Many 
of the large vessels are from the Persian Gulf. The sambuks are 
owned principally by Zobeid Bedouins inhabiting the coast between 
Jiddah and Yambo, and also the islands near the southern end of the 

*See Proverbs xxxi, i. ^ Hesse, "Der Zoologische Garten," Dec. 1,1898. 


sea, which are very hot-beds of pearls, shells, religious frenzy and 
half famished Arabs and Negro slaves. 

The "bulbul" oysters are taken in nearly the same manner as in the 
Persian Gulf. When the vessel is located over the reef, each diver 
descends, commonly with a short stick of iron or hard wood, with 
which he releases the oysters within reach ; placing them in a sack, he 
is pulled up by an attendant when his breath is nearly exhausted. 

The fisheries are prosecuted along both sides of the Red Sea and 
in the channels among the islands, from the Gulf of Akabah to Bab-el- 
Mandeb. They are especially extensive among the Dahlak Islands 
on the coast of the Italian colony Eritrea, where the population is 
largely supported by them. This was the center of the industry 
during the time of the Ptolemies and in the early Christian era. The 
fisheries are also important in the vicinity of Jiddah, the port of 
entrance for Mecca and Medina, holiest places of Islam. They like- 
wise exist near Kosseir at the northern end of the sea, and at Suakin, 
Massawa, the Farsan Islands, and Loheia, near the lower end. They 
are carried on by Arabs, who succeed in evading efforts at control on 
the part of the local governments. Even on the African side, the Arab 
fishermen predominate, for the native Egyptian has never evinced 
much fondness for venturing on the sea. 

On the southeast coast of Arabia, pearl fishermen are to be found 
at the various harbors from Aden to Muscat. Their fantastic dhows 
are met with in the harbor of Makalla, and also in that of Shehr. 
On the Oman coast, the ports of Sur and of sun-scorched Muscat do a 
considerable pearling business, not only locally but to the Sokotra 
Islands, and even on the coast of East Africa and Zanzibar, the trading 
baggalas adding pearling and illicit slave-trading to their many sources 
of income. A number of these traders, each with an instinct for 
pearls equal to that of a trained hound for game, visit the fishing 
centers at intervals, and exchange needful commodities for pearls 
and shells. 

The Arab pearl divers of the Red Sea have been noted for the depths 
to which they can descend. Lieutenant J. R. Wellsted, of the Indian 
Navy, who had unusual facilities for acquaintance with their exploits, 
reported that in the Persian Gulf the fishermen rarely descended be- 
yond eleven or twelve fathoms, and even then they exhibited signs of 
exhaustion; but that in the Red Sea they go down twice that depth. 
Among the most noted of these divers of the last century was old 
Serur, who attracted the notice of many travelers. Lieutenant Well- 
sted states that he saw him descend repeatedly to twenty-five fathoms 
without the slightest evidence of distress ; that he frequently dived in 
thirty fathoms, and is reported to have brought up mud from the 

III Ihe collection of Dr. Bashford Dean 


bottom at a depth of thirty-five fathoms, which is about the record, 
the pressure of the water being nearly 90 pounds to the square 
inch. His sons were also remarkably expert; one of them when 
scarcely thirteen years of age would descend to a depth of twenty-five 

An interesting story of an Arab's diving ability is told by Lieutenant 
Wellsted: "In 1827, we were cruising in the sloop Teniate on the pearl 
banks. Whilst becalmed and drifting slowly along with the current, 
several of the officers and men were looking over the side at our Arab 
pilot, who had been amusing himself in diving for oysters. After 
several attempts, his search proved unsuccessful. 'Since I cannot get 
oysters I will now,' said he, 'dive for and catch fish.' All ridiculed the 
idea. He went down again, and great was our astonishment to see 
him, after a short time, rise to the surface with a small rock-fish in 
each hand. His own explanation of the feat was, that as he seated 
himself at the bottom, the fish came around and nibbled at his skin. 
Watching his opportunity, he seized and secured his prey by thrusting 
his thumb and forefinger into their expanded gills."^ 

Owing to the character of the fishery and the lack of government 
supervision, it is extremely difficult to determine accurately the extent 
of this industry in the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf. All over this 
coast extends the influence of the Hindu traders, who finance the 
fisheries and purchase most of the catch. The pearls are sent mostly 
to Bombay, and are not reported in the official returns of the Red Sea 
ports. The fishermen are suspicious of outside inquiries, and are far 
from anxious to impart reliable information. Probably the best esti- 
mates of the catch are to be obtained from Bombay merchants, from 
whom A. Perazzoli learned in 1898 that pearls to the value of 2,000,000 
lire ($400,000) were carried from the Red Sea to Bombay each year.^ 
In the last four or five years the output has been smaller than usual, 
owing to disturbed political conditions. 

The annual product of "Egyptian" and "Bombay" shells in these 
fisheries is usually upward of 1000 tons, worth from $100 to $600 
per ton, according to quality. Most of these go to Austria and 
France, only about 200 tons reaching London each year. Owing to 
the dark color and the lack of thickness in the nacreous layer, they 
are scarcely suitable for anything else than button-manufacture. 
Many of them are sent to Bethlehem and Jerusalem, where they are 
cut into various shapes for crosses, crucifixes, wafer-boxes, beads, 
and nearly every conceivable article in which mother-of-pearl is 

'Wellsted, "Travels in Arabia," London, '"Bolletino della Societa d'esplorazione 

1838, Vol. II, p. 238. commerciale in Africa," Milan, June, 1898. 

'-Ibid., Vol. I, pp. 268, 269. 


manufactured. Many of the choicest shells are incised with scriptural 
or allegorical designs for sale to tourists as well as for export. The 
best of the engraved shells sell for $io to $50, and the cheaper ones 
for less than $1 each. This industry is of great importance in Beth- 
lehem, giving employment to a considerable percentage of the eight 
thousand inhabitants of the village. 

Doubtless in no pearl fishery in the world are greater hardships 
endured than in the Red Sea and along the coast of the Arabian Gulf. 
In practically every other region, the industry is carried on under 
government supervision, and there is little opportunity for ill-treat- 
ment of the humbler fishermen. But the fanatics who control the 
fishery on the Arabian coast — untrammeled by authorities and re- 
sponsible to none — show little consideration for the poor divers, and 
particularly for the unfortunate black slaves brought from the coast 
of Africa. 

These pearl fishermen lead a very eventful life, the divers especially. 
They see some wonderful sights down below the surface — plant life 
and creeping things and enemies innumerable. Dropping from the 
sun-scorched surface down into the deep cool waters, everything shows 
"a sea change, into something rich and strange," just as the eyes of 
the drowned man in Ariel's song are turned into pearls and his bones 
into coral. 

And there are enemies innumerable. The terrible sharks, prowling 
about near the bottom, prove a source of perpetual uneasiness, and in 
the aggregate many fishermen are eaten by these blood-thirsty tigers 
of the sea. There are horrible conflicts with devil-fish equaling that 
in Hugo's "Toilers of the Sea." The saw-fish is also a source of 
danger, particularly in the Arabian Gulf, and instances are reported 
in which divers have been cut in two by these animals, which some- 
times attain a length of twelve or fifteen feet, and possess a saw five 
feet long and three inches broad, armed on each edge with teeth two 
inches in length. Another menacing peril is the giant clam ( Tridacna 
gigas), a monster bivalve, whose shell measures two or three feet 
in diameter, and is firmly anchored to the bottom. This mollusk 
occurs on many of the Asiatic pearling grounds. Lying with the 
scalloped edges a foot or more apart, a foot or a hand of the diver 
may be accidentally inserted. When such a fate befalls a fisherman, 
the only escape is for him to amputate the member immediately. Once 
in a while on the pearling shores a native may be found who has been 
maimed in this manner, but usually the unfortunate man does not 
escape with his life. 

Now in South Kensington Museum 



Do churls 
Know the worth of Orient pearls? 
Give the gem which dims the moon 
To the noblest or to none. 

Emerson, Friendship. 

It appears from ancient Chinese literature, noted in the first 
chapter of this book, that pearl fisheries have existed in the rivers 
of China for several thousand years. The Chinese also derived 
pearls from the sea, and especially from the coast of the province 
of Che-kiang. Little is known of the early fisheries, but the frag- 
mentary literature contains so many allusions to pearls as to lead us 
to believe that they were of considerable extent and importance. 

It is related that about 200 b.c, a pearl dealer at Shao-hing, an 
ancient city between Hang-chau and Ning-po, on the shore of Hang- 
chau Bay, furnished to the empress a pearl one inch in diameter, for 
which he received five hundred pieces of silver; and to an envious 
princess the same dealer sold a "four-inch pearl." A hundred years 
later, the reigning emperor sent an agent to the coast to purchase 
"moon pearls," the largest of which were two thirds of an inch in 

In the tenth century a.d., Mingti, one of the most extravagant of 
the early monarchs, used so many pearls — not only in his personal 
decoration but on his equipage and retinue. — that after a formal pro- 
cession the way would be rich in the jewels which dropped from the 
gorgeous cortege. About 1000 a.d., an embassy to the emperor 
brought as tribute an ornament composed of strings of pearls, and 
also 105 Hang (8^ lbs.) of the same gems unmounted. 

An interesting story is told of "pearl-scattering" by an embassy 
to the Chinese court from a Malayan state about 1060. Following 
the customs of their country, the ambassadors knelt at the threshold 
of the audience chamber, and then advanced toward the throne, bear- 
ing a golden goblet filled with choice pearls and water-lilies wrought 
of gold. These they scattered upon the floor at the feet of the 
emperor; and the courtiers, hastening to pick them up, secured ten 
Hang (15 oz.) of pearls.^ 

The Keh Chi King Yuen, a Chinese encyclopedia, describes a pearl 
fishery in the southern part of Kwang-tung province, in the depart- 

1 Von HessHng, "Die Perlenmuscheln," Leipzig, 1859, p. 6. 


ment of Lien-chau and near the city of Hohpu. Fishing began in the 
spring, and was preceded by conciliating the gods through certain 
sacrifices, in order that the weather might be propitious and that no 
disaster might be sufifered through sharks and other agencies. The 
five sacrificial animals, — horses, cattle, sheep, swine, and fowls, — were 
presented; but ordinarily paper images of these were economically 
substituted, as equally acceptable to the Chinese rulers of destiny. 
In the details of the diving, the fishery resembled somewhat that prose- 
cuted about the same period in the Gulf of Manaar. The diver was 
let down by a rope, and after collecting the moUusks and placing them 
in a basket, he was drawn up at a given signal. Much complaint was 
made that the divers would open the mollusks, extract the pearls and 
conceal them in the mouth before returning to the surface. 

The business became so perilous and the loss so great, that about 
the beginning of the sixteenth century, according to the same encyclo- 
pedia, dredges were adopted. These at first were simple rakes; later 
large dredges were trailed along between two boats, by means of 
which great quantities of shells were gathered. So important was the 
industry that an officer was designated by the viceroy of Canton to 
collect a revenue therefrom. It does not appear that pearls have been 
collected in considerable numbers on this part of the Chinese coast for 
very many years, probably not since the advent of Europeans. 

Pearls are yet found in the river mussels in all parts of eastern 
Asia, from Siberia to the Indian Ocean, and from the Himalayas to 
the Pacific. It is represented that they are not from the Unio marga- 
ritifcra, the common river-mussel of Europe, but from other species, 
such as Unio mongolicus, U. dahuricus , Dipsas plicatiis, etc. It is 
quite impossible to obtain a reliable estimate of the total number of 
persons employed, or the output of pearls in China, but these items are 
certainly very much larger than the average Occidental believes. 

In the vicinity of Canton the Dipsas plicatiis has been used for cen- 
turies by the Chinese in the production of artificial pearls, this industry 
giving employment to thousands of persons.^ 

The pearl-mussel fishery is of importance in Manchuria, where it 
has been carried on for hundreds of years, not only by the citizens, but 
by the military department on account of the government, and espe- 
cially in the streams which flow into the Songari, a tributary of the 
Amur. Jacinth relates that in case of a deficit, the officers and sub- 
alterns were punished by a deduction from their pay, and also by cor- 
poral chastisement.' Witsen speaks of the pearls from the River Gan, 
a tributary of the Amur, and also from the islands of the Amur, the 

' See p. 288 for an account of the methods. ' Statist, "Beschreibung des chines. 

Reiches," 1842, Vol. II, p. 11. 


boundary river of Manchuria. Pearl fisheries were estabHshed at 
these places by the Russians nearly two centuries ago.' 

Pearls become finer and more plentiful the further we penetrate 
into Manchuria; and they are numerous in the lake of Heikow or 
Hing-chou-men, "Black Lake" or "Gate of Precious Gems," where 
they have long been exploited for the account of the emperor of China. 

The occurrence of pearls in many parts of Asiatic Russia was noted 
by Von Hessling. In northern Siberia, according to Witsen, writing in 
1705," pearls were found in the waters about the town of Mangasea 
on the Turuchan; and Von Middendorf notes that they were found in 
the Tunguska River, which flows into the Yenisei. Whether, however, 
they come from the Unio margaritifera is considered doubtful by Von 
Middendorf. Witsen referred to their occurrence in the rivers and 
streams of Irkutsk and Onon, and this is confirmed by several writers 
of more recent times. Pallas says that the mussels found there are 
quite large, and speaks of the Ilim, which flows into the Angara, as 
another river where they occur. 

Ancient books relating to Japan repeatedly allude to the occur- 
rence of pearls on the coasts of that country. They are mentioned in 
the Nihonki, of the eighth century, the oldest Japanese history. 

Tavernier wrote about 1670: "It is possible that of those who have 
written before me concerning pearls, none have recorded that some 
years back a fishery was discovered in a certain part of the coasts of 
Japan, and I have seen some of the pearls which the Dutch brought 
from thence. They were of very beautiful water, and some of them 
of large size, but all baroques. The Japanese do not esteem pearls. 
If they cared about them it is possible that by their means some banks 
might be discovered where finer ones would be obtained."* 

In 1727, Kaempfer wrote that pearls, called by the Japanese kaino- 
tamma or shell jewels, were found in oysters and other mollusks al- 
most everywhere about Saikokf. Every person was at liberty to fish 
for them. Formerly the natives had little or no value for them, till 
they learned of their estimation by the Chinese, who were ready to pay 
good prices for them, their women being very proud of wearing neck- 
laces and other ornaments of pearls. "The largest and finest pearls 
are found in the small sort of oysters, called akoja, which is not unlike 
the Persian pearl-oyster. These are found only in the seas about 
Satzuma and in the Gulf of Omura (Kiusiu). Some of the pearls 
weigh from four to five candareens'* and these are sold for a hundred 

' Ranft, "Vollstiindige Beschreibung des ° Tavernier, "Travels in India," Ball edi- 

russischen Reiches," Leipzig, 1767, p. 415- tion, London, 1889, Vol. H, pp. 113, 114. 

■ Witsen, "Nord en Oost Tartarye," 170S, * One candareen equals 5.72 grains, 
p. 762. 


kobans each.^ The inhabitants of the Loochoo Islands buy most of 
those about Satzuma, since they trade to that province. Those found 
on the Gulf of Oniura are sold chiefly to the Chinese and Tun- 
quinese, and it is computed that they buy for about 3000 taels - a year. 
This great profit occasioned the strict orders, which were made not 
long ago by the princes both of Satzuma and Omura, that for the 
future there should be no more of these oysters sold in the market 
with other oysters, as had been done formerly."^ 

Kaempfer also noted that the Japanese obtained pearls from the 
yellow snail shell and from the faira gai (Placuna) in the Gulf of 
Arima, and especially from the awabi or abalone (Haliotis). This mol- 
lusk was much sought after for food, being taken in large quantities by 
the fishermen's wives, "they being the best divers of the country."'* 

Of the several species of pearl-oysters which occur in the coastal 
waters of Japan, the only one of importance at present is the Margari- 
tifcra martensi. While this occurs in very many localities, it is most 
numerous among the southern islands, where some fine pearls have 
been secured. The fishery for this species was quite extensive thirty or 
forty years ago, and the reefs were largely depleted. For nearly a 
score of years it has been used in growing culture-pearls, an account 
of which is given on pages 292, 293. 

A few pearls are obtained from several other bivalve mollusks in 
Japan. Among the collections of the present writers are pearls from 
Margaritifera martensi, collected at Bay Agu; from M. panasiscB, 
about the Liu-kiu Islands ; from Pecfcii yeaocitsis. in Sokhaido ;. from 
Mytilns crasitesta, in the Inland Sea, and from North Japan, and from 
a species of Dipsas found in Lake Biwa. 

While the pearl fisheries of Japan are not of great importance in 
any single locality, the distribution of the reefs is so extensive that the 
aggregate yield is considerable. 

The awabi or ear-shell {Haliotis gigantea) , found on the coast of 
Japan, Korea, etc., yields many pearly forms. This species is much 
smaller than the California abalones. It has a fairly smooth, nacre- 
ous surface, but its value is depreciated by the great size of the mar- 
ginal perforations, which render useless for commercial purposes all 
of the shell external to the line of perforations. While its opalescent 
tints make it desirable for manufacturing into certain styles of but- 
tons and buckles, its principal use is for inlaying work or marquetry, 
for which it is especially adapted, owing to its fineness of texture and 
beauty of coloring even when reduced to thin sheets. 

'One koban equals 66 cents. ' Kaempfer, "History of Japan," 1728, Vol. 

'$4200. I, pp. IIO, III. 

*Ibid., Vol. I, p. 139. 























Probably the most interesting of the abalone fisheries is that on 
the shores of Quelpaerd Island, about sixty miles south of the Korean 
coast, which is prosecuted largely by the women. Dressed only in a 
scanty garment, these women swim out to the fishing grounds, distant 
several hundred yards in some cases, carrying with them a stout knife 
and a small sack suspended from a gourd. On reaching the reefs, 
they dive to the bottom — sometimes to a depth of six or eight fathoms 
— and by means of the knife, remove the abalones from the bottom 
and place them in the sack. They may remain out an hour, diving re- 
peatedly until the sack is filled, when they swim back to the shore. 
Pearls are found only rarely; in one lot of one hundred shells, only 
five were found bearing pearls; two with three pearls each, two with 
two pearls each, and one with a single pearl. The flesh of this mollusk 
after it has been cleaned and dried, is quite popular as an article of 
diet. Although white when fresh, the color changes to a dark red. 
The pieces of dried flesh, in the form of flat reddish disks four or five 
inches in diameter, are fastened on slender sticks — about ten to each 
stick — and displayed in the grocery shops in Seul and other cities. 

In the Gulf of Siam on the Asiatic coast, pearls are obtained from 
a small oyster with a thin shell, presumably a variety of the Lingah 
oyster. The beds have not yet been thoroughly exploited, as the 
Siamese do not especially value pearls, attributing some superstitious 
sentiments of ill luck to them. However, from time to time Chinese 
traders have bought them from the Malay divers and sold them at 
great profit in the Singapore market. The known beds occur chiefly 
in the northern part of the gulf, on the west coast, and extend in a 
narrow belt for a distance of about one hundred miles. The fishing 
is prosecuted by nude divers in shallow water. A recent letter from 
Dr. K. Van Dort, a mining engineer of Bangkok, Siam, states that in 
1906 in six weeks, with the aid of half a dozen divers he was able to 
collect 720 grains' weight of pearls, mostly small ones, but including 
one of 20 grains, one of 14 grains, two of 12 grains each, and seven 
over 9 grains in weight. He reports that the total value of the large 
ones in Bangkok was $1500, but the small ones could not be sold to 
any advantage, as they are little prized by the Siamese. The shells 
are of no commercial value, as they are too thin for industrial use 
other than for inlaid work. Some fine old specimens of marquetry in 
which these shells were used exist in the Buddhist temples at Bangkok. 
This art of inlaying is almost lost among the Siamese, and there is said 
to be only one man in the king's palace who can lay any claims to 
proficiency in working mother-of-pearl shell. 



The Islanders with fleecy curls, 
Whose homes are compass'd by the Arabian waves ; 
By whom those shells which breed the orient pearls 
Are dived and fish'd for in their green sea caves. 

"o, Jerusalem Delivered. 

THE principal pearl fisheries of the coasts of Africa are those 
prosecuted in the Red Sea, between this continent and Asia. 
These have already been described in the preceding chapter, 
among the Asiatic fisheries; for, although situated between 
the two continents, they are prosecuted largely by Arabs rather than 
by natives of the western shores of the sea. 

Other than those in the Red Sea, the only pearl resources in Africa 
which have received attention are on the eastern coast, south of the 
Gulf of Aden. Little 'information exists as to the. origin of these fish- 
eries. In a paper published by the Lisbon Geographical Society, 
January, 1903, Seiior Ivens Ferranz states that, according to tradi- 
tion, in remote times the Ibo Archipelago, on the northeast coast of 
Portuguese East Africa, was inhabited by a Semitic colony, which 
located there to fish for pearls, and these were carried through the 
Red Sea to King Solomon. He adds that there is little doubt that, 
after the great emigration which started from the Persian Gulf in 982 
and founded Zanzibar, Kilwa, and Sofala on this coast, some Arabs 
engaged in fishing for pearls about the islands near Sofala. 

In 1609 Joao dos Santos wrote that on the sandy sea-bottom about 
the Bazaruto Islands, which are about 150 miles south of Sofala, there 
were many large oysters which bore pearls, and the natives fished for 
them by diving in practically the same manner as in the Persian Gulf.' 

In a personal memorandum. Sir Robert Edgcumbe states that in the 
very early times of Portuguese exploitation on the eastern coast of 
Africa, pearl fishing was carried on in these waters. For a long pe- 
riod the tenure of power exerted by the Portuguese was of a feeble 
character; they practically occupied no position of importance on the 

' Joao dos Santos, "Ethopia Oriental," Lisbon, 1609, Vol. i, c. 27. 



mainland, but seized upon stations on the islands which offered decent 
harbors. Thus their chief settlements, such as Mozambique and Ibo, 
were on islands lying off the coast, and until recent years they made 
no serious attempt to occupy the mainland. 

Arabs and Banyans carried. on the commercial traffic of the country, 
as they still do, and they were more truly the masters of this coast than 
were the Portuguese, who were little more than nominal rulers. Trad- 
ing to and from India in their small dhows, the Arabs and Banyans 
had full knowledge of the value of pearls, and undoubtedly secured all 
that were obtainable. But they observed no restrictions, and without 
doubt — for a time, at any rate — greatly impaired the productive power 
of the fisheries. 

The principal pearl reefs of East Africa, so far as known at present, 
extend along the coast of the German East African territory from the 
Province of Uzaramo to the Rovuma River, the southern limit of that 
territory, and also into Portuguese East Africa as far south as Pemba 
Bay, a total distance of about 300 miles. Along much of this coast, 
there are islands lying from one to two miles off shore, and between 
these islands are barriers of reefs, which create a series of lagoons. 
In these lagoons, protected by the islands and the reefs from the in- 
fluence of the surf formed by the Indian monsoons, there are large 
patches of coral rock and groups of living coral, which form excellent 
attachments for the pearl-oysters. 

It is only recently that serious attention has been paid to these pearl 
resources, although year by year a considerable number of' pearls have 
been collected by the natives and sold to Arabs and Banyans, who have 
sent them chiefly to India by way of Zanzibar. The natives of these 
parts are not very expert in diving, and they collect the oysters prin- 
cipally by wading out as far as they can at low tide. They do not wait 
for the mollusks to attain a proper age, and as a result they find few 
pearls of large size. Many parcels of pearls fished in this very elemen- 
tary way pass through- the custom-house, where they are subject to a 
small duty for export, and others are smuggled out of the country. 
Quantities of seed-pearls are sent to India, where they are used prin- 
cipally as a medicine and in cosmetics ; and occasionally there are ru- 
mors that some choice pearls have been discovered. 

In the German territory a concession of the fisheries was granted a 
few years ago to Dr. Aurel Schulz ; and, although we are not in posi- 
tion to say what success he has met with, it is reported that he has 
secured a considerable number of pearls under four grains in weight, 
of fair shape and quality and of good marketable value. 

A concession of the pearl fishery on the Portuguese coast north of 
Ibo has been granted to the East African Pearl Company. For this 


company an examination of the resources is now being made by Mr. 
James J. Simpson, acting under direction of Prof. W. A. Herdman, of 
the Liverpool University, the technical advisor of the Ceylon Company 
of Pearl Fishers. 

At least four species of pearl-bearing mollusks exist here; these are 
Margaritifera vulgaris, M. viargaritifcra, Pinna nobilis, and a species 
of Perna, named in the order of their importance. A preliminary re- 
port of Mr. Simpson (supplied through the courtesy of Sir Robert 
Edgcumbe), states that among the Ibo Islands about one half of the 
bottom is sandy and the other half is covered with detached pieces of 
coral rock, groups of living corals, masses of nullipore, and expanses 
of fixed seaweed. On all of these in the shoal waters, there is such an 
abundance of pearl-oysters {M. vulgaris) that a single diver, by 
simply descending and bringing up a few in his hands each time, can 
secure about 200 in fifteen minutes. Oysters also occur singly on the 
sandy bottom, but not so abundantly. Within the three-year-old 
oysters there are many seed-pearls. It is evident that there has been 
an extensive removal of large oysters in recent years and that large 
pearls were then found; but the depredations of the natives now pre- 
vent the mollusks from attaining an age and size which render them 
useful as pearl-bearers. 

Said Mr. Simpson in his report : "The women here play great havoc 
on the reefs "by going out daily and collecting the pearl-oysters at low 
tide. All along the coast from Muliga Point to Arimba the shores are 
covered with shells. At one place we came across a heap of freshly- 
opened oysters which consisted of thirty or forty thousand at the low- 
est estimate ; while an older heap contained between forty to sixty 
millions. Four women who were fishing on the reefs while we were 
there had over two thousand oysters in their baskets. Thus it is evident 
that immense quantities are annually destroyed. And the worst feature 
is that out of those destroyed, not one per cent, were over two years old." 

It is the intention of the East African Pearl Company, as soon as the 
investigation of the resources is completed, to police the fishing grounds 
so as to put an end to the removal of immature oysters, which yield 
only seed-pearls, and to permit them to attain maturity. In addition to 
this, it is their purpose to utilize the extensive beds of oysters lying in 
comparatively deep water, which are now inaccessible to the natives 
owing to their lack of diving skill. 

Sir Robert Edgcumbe writes that it is impossible to say more at pres- 
ent than that these fisheries at one time bore a high repute, and that 
the oysters have continued to exist in multitudes though fished by the 
natives in the immature state; and there is every indication that if 
properly policed and worked in a scientific way these fisheries should 


once again become of much importance. The fact that the pearl-bear- 
ing oysters are found there in large quantities, notwithstanding that 
they have been poached without restriction by the natives, indicates 
that only proper management and policing are necessary to make them 
valuable and productive. 

On the lower coast of Portuguese East Africa, pearl fishing has been 
of some local importance. The reefs are most extensive about the 
Bazaruto Islands, previously referred to as about 150 miles south of 
Sofala. In 1888, when famine prevailed on this coast, the inhabitants 
of this archipelago, of both sexes and of all ages, fished for the large 
pearl-oysters (known locally as mapalo), selling their catch at Chi- 
loane to Asiatic traders, who gave them a handful of rice for a large 
basket of the moUusks. It was estimated that during two months of 
that year, pearls to the value of eighty contos ($83,500) were taken.^ 
In 1889 three British subjects attempted to renew the fishery by using 
dredges, but without success, owing, it is said, to the great weight of 
the implements. 

The Kafirs of Bazaruto continue to fish irregularly, but their catch 
is not of importance. These pearls are carried by traders to Zanzibar, 
Muscat, and Bombay. The American consul writes that some years 
ago the Portuguese government granted a concession to a company of 
American fishermen to exploit the Bazaruto reefs, but the attempt to 
work the concession failed through "bad management, lack of funds, 
heavy expenses, and political difficulties," a combination apparently 
sufficient to wreck a similar attempt in the most favorable locality. 

The American consul at Tamatave states that in 1907 the govern- 
ment of Madagascar awarded two grants for pearl fisheries, covering 
the entire western coast, a distance of one thousand miles, excepting 
two hundred miles, for which two grants were given in 1906. Appar- 
ently no efifort was made to develop the earlier grants ; the later ones 
may be operated, perhaps jointly. These concessions are personal, and 
may not be sold or transferred without the governor-general's consent. 
The use of divers, machinery, dredges, and other apparatus, and the 
building of necessary stations are allowed, if there be no interference 
with navigation, fishing, or coast travel. An annual tax is to be paid, 
with a stated increase each year, and revised according to the success 
of the enterprise. A report must be sent yearly to the governor-gen- 
eral. The grants may be revoked if work is not begun within a stated 
period; if the work is needlessly abandoned during one year, or if the 
tax is not paid. Whenever the interests of the colony or of the public 
service require it, the privilege may be withdrawn without indemnity. 

' Lisbon Geographical Society Report, January, 1903. 




And Britain's ancient shores great pearls produce. 

Marbodus {circa 1070). 

THE occurrence of pearls in the British Isles was known two 
thousand years ago, and frequent references to them were 
made in Roman writings of the first and second centuries 
of the Christian era. 

In his "Lives of the Caesars," the biographer Suetonius, after speak- 
ing of the admiration which Julius Cassar had for pearls, states that 
their occurrence in Britain was an important factor in inducing the 
first Roman invasion of that country in 55 B.C.' If this be true, the 
English-speaking people owe a vast debt of gratitude to these pearls 
in bringing their Briton ancestors in contact with Roman civilization; 
and the influence which they have thus exercised on the world's his- 
tory has been greater than that of the pearls from all other regions or, 
we might add, than all other jewels. 

The naturalist Pliny (23-79) stated: "In Brittaine it is certain 
that some do grow; but they bee small, dim of colour, and nothing 
orient. For Julius C?esar (late Emperor of famous memorie) doth 
not dissimble, that the cuirace or breast-plate which he dedicated to 
Venus mother within her temple was made of English pearles."^ 

This decoration of pearls was a very proper offering to the goddess 
who arose from the sea. 

The historian Tacitus noted in "Vita Agricolas" that the pearls 
from Britain were dusky or brownish {suhfusca ac liventia)? 
In his commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew, Origen (185-253), 
one of the Greek fathers of the church, described the British pearls as 
next in value to the Indian. Their surface, he stated, was of a golden 
color, but they were cloudy and less transparent than those from 

' "Britanniam petiisse spe margaritarum, - "Naturall Historic," Holland edition, Lon- 

qiiarum amplitudinem conferentem, interdum don, 1601, Lib. IX, c. 35. 

sua nianu exegisse pondus." "Divus Julius "Vita Agricols," c. 12. 
Caesar," c. 47. 


We have no certain information whether the pearls secured by the 
Romans were from the edible mussel (Mytilus edulis) of the sea-coast 
or from the Unios of the fresh-water streams. Tacitus's statement 
that they were collected "as the sea throws them up," seems to locate 
them on the sea-coast ; but conditions in modern times make it appear 
more probable that they were from the fresh waters. 

Some of the very early coins of the country indicate that pearls were 
used to ornament the imperial diadem of the sovereigns of ancient 
Britain. In "Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum," the celebrated 
English monk, Bede (673-735) surnamed "The Venerable," enu- 
merated among other things for which Britain was famous in his day, 
"many sorts of shell-fish, among which are mussels, in which are often 
found excellent pearls of all colours; red, purple, violet and green, 
but mostly white." ^ And Marbodus, Bishop of Rennes, in his lapi- 
darium, written about 1070, refers to the British pearls as equaling 
those of Persia and India. About 1094 a present of an Irish pearl 
was made to Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, by Gilbert, Bishop 
of Limerick.^ 

In the twelfth century there was a market for Scotch pearls in 
Europe, but they were less valued than those from the Orient.* An 
ordinance of John II, King of France, in August, 1355, which con- 
firmed the old statutes and privileges of goldsmiths and jewelers, ex- 
pressly forbade mounting Scotch and oriental pearls together in the 
same article, except in ecclesiastical jewelry (Orfevre ne pent mettre 
en oeuvre d'or ne argent paries d'Ecosse avec paries d'orient se ce 
n'est en grands joyaulx d'eglise).^ 

Writing in the sixteenth century, the historian. William Camden 
(1551-1623) stated in his "Britannia": 

The British and Irish Pearls are found in a large black Muscle. . . 
They are peculiar to rapid and stony rivers ; and are common in Wales, and in 
the North of England, and in Scotland, and some parts of Ireland. In this 
country they are called by the vulgar Krcgin Dilizv, i.e. Deluge shells ; as if 
Nature had not intended the shells for the rivers ; but being brought thither by 
the Universal Deluge, they, had continued there, and so propagated their kind 
ever since. Those who fish here for Pearls, know partly by the outside of these 
Muscles, whether they contain.any ; for generally such as have them are a little 
contracted or distorted from their usual shape. A curious and accomplished 
Gentleman, lately of these parts, showed me a valuable Collection of the Pearls 
of the Conway River in Wales; amongst which I noted a stool-pearl [button- 

' Giles's edition, London, 1840, p. 6. Also "Alberti Magni Opera Omnia," ed. 

' Joyce, "Social History of Ancient Ire- .Au<?iisti Borgnet, Paris. 1890, Vol. V. p._ 41. 

land," New York, igo.l. Vol. IT, p. 227. ' "Histoire de rOrfevrerie-Joaillerie." Paris, 

'Nicolai, "Anglia Sacra," Vol. II, p. 236. 1850, p. 46. De Laborde, "Emaux," Paris, 

1852, Vol. II, p. 437. 


PnrruiS f^rjnzii^Wnsiurn Rrtilrus yioi^iis-. | ' jc. .,-..■>. ; 

T}i'l;us Or v.;:..-. J.-.. ■■ i .- 

Qij«r/i.j Honorii-m .•■r fjuuns viQu-ndi fnoiii 

Reproduced fr^mi " Margaritologia, sive Dissertalio de Margaritis," by Malachias Geiger, Munachii, 1637 


pearl], weighing seventeen grains, and distinguished on the convex side with 
a fair round spot of a Cornelian colour, exactly in the center. ^ 

In 1560 "large handsome pearls" were sent from Scotland to Ant- 
werp.'^ In 1620 a great pearl was found in the Kellie Burn, in Aber- 
deenshire. This was carried to King James by the provost, who was 
rewarded with "twelve to fourdeen chalder of victuals about Dun- 
fermline, and the Customs of Merchants' goods in Aberdeen during 
his life." No record appears of the reward paid to the finder ; possibly; 
it was not worth recording. 

In 1 62 1 the Privy Council of Scotland issued a proclamation that 
pearls found within the realm belonged to the Crown; and conserva- 
tors of the pearl fisheries were appointed in several of the counties, 
including Aberdeen, Ross, and Sutherland. It was the duty of the 
conservators, among other things, to nominate experts to fish for 
pearls during July and August, "when they are at chief perfection." 
The conservators and fishermen were compensated by selling those 
pearls of ordinary quality, but "the best for bignesse and colour" were 
to be remitted to the king. It was reported to the Privy Council that 
the conservator in Aberdeenshire did very well in the first year. "He 
hath not only taken divers pearls of good value, but hath found some 
in waters where none were expected." The first parliament of 
Charles I abolished these privileges. 

Robert Sibbald, physician to Charles II, wrote that he had seen a 
necklace of Scotch pearls which was valued at two thousand crowns; 
they were "larger than peas, perfectly round, and of a brilliant white- 
ness. ■* 

It is said that Sir Richard Wynne of Gwydir presented to Catherine 
of Braganza, queen of Charles II of England, a pearl from the Con- 
way in Wales, which is said to be even yet retained in the royal crown. 
In his "Faerie Queene" (1590), Spenser speaks of the 

Conway, which out of his streame doth send 
Plenty of pearles to deck his dames withal. 

The White Cart River in Scotland, on which the city of Paisley is 
situated, was distinguished, according to Camden, "for the largeness 
and the fineness of the Pearls that are frequently found hereabouts 
and three miles above."'* And the pearls from Irton in Cumberland, 
England, were so noted at that time that "fair as Irton pearls" became 

' Camden. "Britannia." and edition, Lon- ' Sibbald, "Hist. Nat. Scotiae," 1684. Vol. 

don, 1722, Vol. II, p. 802. Ill, p. 27. 

° Macpherson, "Annals of Commerce," 'Camden, "Britannia," London, 1695, 

Vol. II, p. 131. p. 924. 



a byword in the north country. In their history of Westmoreland and 
Cumberland/ Nicolson and Burn state that "Mr. Thomas Patrickson, 
late of How of this county (Cumberland), having employed divers 
poor inhabitants to gather these pearls, obtained such a quantity as he 
sold to the jewellers in London for above £800." But in 1794 Hutch- 
inson^ stated that none had been seen for many years past. 

Pearl fishing in Ireland was of some consequence in the seventeenth 
century. Speaking of the Slaney River, Solomon Richards, in a de- 
scription of Wexford about the year 1656, said: "It ought to precede 
all the rivers in Ireland for its pearle fishing, which though not abun- 
dant are yet excellent, for muscles are daily taken out of it about 
fowre, five and six inches long, in which are often found pearles, for 
lustre, magnitude and rotundity not inferior to oriental or any other 
in the world." ^ In 1693 Sir Robert Redding wrote that there were four 
rivers in the county of Tyrone in northern Ireland which abounded in 
pearl mussels, all four emptying into Lough Foyle and thence into the 
sea. They were also to be found in several rivers in the adjacent 
Donegal County. Redding gave an interesting description of the 
fishery : 

In the warm months before harvest is ripe, whilst the rivers are low and 
clear, the poor people go into the water and take them up, some with their toes, 
some with wooden tongs, and some by putting a sharpened stick into the open- 
ing of the shell; and although by common estimate not above one shell in a 
hundred may have a pearl, and of these pearls not above one in a hundred be 
tolerably clear, yet a vast number of fair merchantable pearls, and too good 
for the apothecary, are offered to sale by those people every summer assize. 
Some gentlemen of the country make good advantage thereof, and I myself, 
whilst there, saw a pearl bought for £2, los. that weighed 36 carats, and was 
valued at £40, and had it been as clear as some others produced therewith it 
would certainly have been very valuable. Everybody abounds with stories of 
the good pennyworths of the country^ but I will add but one more. A miller 
took a pearl, which he sold for £4, los. to a man that sold it for £10 to an- 
other, who sold it to the late Lady Glenanly for £30, with whom I saw it in a 
necklace; she refused £80 for it from the late Duchess of Ormond. 

The young muscles never have any pearl in them. The shells that have the 
best pearls are wrinkled, twisted, or bunched, and not smooth and equal, as 
those that have none. And the crafty fellows will guess so well by the shell, 
that though you watch them never so carefully, they will open such shells un- 
der the water, and put the pearls in their mouths, or otherwise conceal them. 
Yet sometimes when they have been taking up shells, and believing by such 
signs as I have mentioned, that they were sure of good purchase, and refused 
good sums for their shares, they found no pearl at all in them. Upon discourse 

^ London, 1777, Vol. II, p. 24. ^ Joyce. "Social History of Ancient Ire- 

" "History of Cumberland," London, 1794, land," New York, 1903, Vol. II, p. 227. 
Vol. I, p. 573. 



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with an old man that had been long at this trade, he advised me to seek not only 
when the waters were low, but on a dusky, gloomy day also, lest, said he, the 
fish see you, for then he will shed his pearl in the sand ; of which I believe no 
more than that some muscles have voided their pearls, and such are often 
found in the sands. ^ 

For several years following 1760, the Scotch pearl fisheries were of 
considerable local value. The zoologist, Thomas Pennant, wrote of 
them several times in his "Tour of Scotland." Referring to the 
Tay and Isla rivers, then as now the center of the Scotch pearling, he 
states : "There has been in these parts a very great fishery of pearl, 
got out of the fresh-water muscles. From the year 1761 to 1764, 
£10,000 worth were sent to London, and sold from los. to £1 6s. per 
ounce. I was told that a pearl had been taken there that weighed 33 
grains. But this fishery is at present exhausted, from the avarice of 
the undertakers. It once extended as far as Loch Tay."^ And he 
adds later that, some years preceding, a pearl fishery was prosecuted 
in Loch Dochart with great success and the pearls were esteemed the 
fairest and largest of any. 

From 1770 to i860 the pearl resources of Scotland remained almost 
dormant, and Scotch pearls were rarely met with in the markets. In 
1 86 1 a German merchant, who was acquainted with the beauty of 
these gems, traveled through the districts of Tay, Doon and Don, 
obtaining a great number which the poor people kept for their own 
pleasure, not esteeming them of any market value, and interested the 
fishermen in searching for the mussels. The seemingly high prices 
which he paid and the abundance of the pearls sent hundreds of per- 
sons to the rivers and small brooks. Those who were otherwise em- 
ployed during the day devoted hours of the long summer nights to 
diligent search after the coveted shells; while boys and old persons, 
who were without regular avocations, waded day after day where 
there was a probability of reward. In the course of a short time 
pearls, good, bad and indifferent, reached the originator of the move- 
ment at Edinburgh, from Ayrshire, from Perthshire, and from the 
Highland regions far beyond the Grampians. He was soon the pos- 
sessor of a collection which, for richness and variety, had seldom been 
surpassed. A trade in these gems was developed, the patronage of 
royalty was obtained, and once more Scotch pearls became fashion- 
able, and their vogue was enhanced by the fondness which Queen Vic- 
toria entertained for them. 

In addition to the rivers named, pearls were found in the Forth, 

' "Transactions of the Royal Society of ' Pennant, "Tour in Scotland," Chester, 

London, for 1693," Vol. XVIII, No. 198, pp. 1771. 


the Teith, the Ythan, and the Spey in eastern Scotland. The summer 
of 1862 was most favorable for pearling, owing to the dryness of 
the season and the low water, and unusually large quantities of 
pearls were found, the prices ranging ordinarily from los. to £2 6s. 
Queen Victoria is said to have purchased one for forty guineas; 
others were bought by Empress Eugenie and by the Duchess of Ham- 
ilton. A necklace of them was sold for £350 in 1863.^ The value of 
the entire catch in Scotland in 1864 was estimated at £12,000 to the 
fishermen, the yield being unusually large in that season owing to the 
unprecedented drought which permitted access to the deep beds of the 
rivers. In some of the streams the resources were quickly depleted, 
but in others the fisheries yielded profitable returns for many years. 
While most of the pearls were small, some of them were choice and 
of considerable individual value, ranging from £5 to £150, and £500 
is said to have been paid for one fine specimen. 

The pearl-mussel of the British Isles (Unio margaritifera) has a 
thick, coarse and unsightly shell, from 3 to 7 inches in width and i yi 
to 23/2 inches in length from the umbo to the lip. The rough exterior 
is dark brown, and it is sometimes twisted, distorted and barnacled. 

It generally lies scattered and detached over the pebbly bottoms, 
but it also exists in reefs or beds which are sometimes of considerable 
extent. These occur usually where a stretch of water is still and 
deep, and oftentimes where the depth places the mussels beyond the 
reach of the fishermen. Apart from the pearls it contains, the mussel 
is of no economic value except that in some localities the mollusk is 
used for bait in cod-fishing. 

In recent years the pearl-mussel has been numerous in several of 
the rivers of Scotland, such as the Tay, Earn, and Teith in Perth- 
shire; the Dee, the Don, and the Ythan in Aberdeenshire; the Spey 
and Findhorn in Inverness-shire, and also the classic Doon of Burns, 
the Nith, the Annan and others in southern Scotland; however, it is 
rare in the Clyde and the Tweed. 

The Teith has long been famed for pearl-bearing, though like other 
rivers it has become nearly fished out. The Tay produces many pearls, 
yet as a rule they are not of the best class. Some of its tributaries, as 
the Tummel and the Isla, also bear pearls ; those in the Isla are usually 
fine and rank higher than those from the Tay. The Earn is also 
famous for the fine quality of its pearls, but the whole river was 
robbed of its wealth some years ago by a body of professional fisher- 
men, and it has not yet recovered from the raid ; few pearls now exist 
there save in the deeper pools, where dotibtless may still be hid "full 
many a gem of purest ray serene." 

' London "Times," December 24, 1863. 


In Ireland pearls have been found principally in the rivers of coun- 
ties Kerry, Donegal, Tyrone, Antrum, etc. In an article in "The 
Field," December 10, 1864, Mr. F. T. Buckland stated that they 
abound near Oughterard, and that a man called "Jemmy the Pearl- 
catcher," who lived there, told him that he knevvr when a mussel had a 
pearl in it even without opening the shell, because "she [the mussel] 
sits upright with her mouth in the mud, and her back is crooked," 
that is, corrugated like a ram's horn. Pearls are yet found in several 
localities in the Emerald Isle, notably in the river Bann in the north- 
eastern part and in the beautiful Connemara district in western Ire- 
land. In 1892 the Bann yielded one of the choicest pearls that ever 
came from Ireland. Within the last twelve months Lady Dudley, 
wife of the Viceroy of Ireland, presented to Queen Alexandra a 
number of pearls from the Connemara. These were mounted in 
a green enameled brooch, and excited so much admiration that an 
active demand for similar gems quickly developed in County Gal- 

Mr. D. MacGregor, a well-known jeweler of Perth, to whom we 
are indebted for much information relative to pearls in Scotland, 
states that no attention whatever is given to conserving the mussel; 
on the contrary, the waters are unscrupulously despoiled by the 
greedy pearl fisherman who destroys all that he finds, since, by 
chance, they may yield the coveted gem. Immense numbers are thus 
wantonly destroyed, which if allowed to grow and propagate would 
be more likely to contribute to the pearl yield, as it is well known that 
it is the aged mussels in which a pearl is most likely to be found. 
There is no close time, and so extensive have been the raids upon the 
mussels in recent years that they have been rapidly exterminated in 
places accessible to the fishermen; and should the spoliation continue 
and extend to the deep waters, the pearl-mussel may soon become 

Pearl fishing is not prosecuted throughout the year, as it can be 
carried on only in the dry season when the waters are low. There are 
a number of professional fishermen who search in their favorite 
streams, and sometimes very profitably, as much as £200 having been 
gained in a single season by one fisherman. One of the most noted of 
these was "Pearl Johnnie," who a few years ago hailed from Compar- 
Angus, in Perthshire, and who styled himself "Pearl Fisher to the 
Prince of Wales," by reason of some dealings he once had with his 
Royal Highness. He was very successful in his experience of more 
than thirty years. There is little mystery in the search ; skill does not 
always avail, and men, women and children are rewarded or disap- 
pointed indiscriminately. The bed of the stream is searched until the 


patches of mussels are discovered, and this is usually the most tedious 
part of the work. These may be in very shoal water, where a small 
boy has only to wade with water above his knees and pick up the mus- 
sels by stooping; but more frequently the water covers a man's hips, 
and at times he is immersed almost to the shoulders. 

The equipment of a pearl fisherman is simple. If he wades, he com- 
monly wears long boots with tops reaching to his breast. Provided 
with a pole five or six feet long having a cleft at the lower end, and 
with a tube several inches in diameter with the lower end closed by a 
glass, he invades the home of the pearl-mussel. Thrusting the tube or 
water glass beneath the surface, he scans the bed of the stream, and 
when a mussel is sighted, the cleft pole is brought into use and it is 
picked up by means of these primitive tongs. Owing to the close 
resemblance which the pearl-mussel bears to the stones in the river- 
bed, good eyesight is required to avoid overlooking it. A bag by the 
fisher's side receives the catch ; and when this is well filled, he goes to 
the bank of the stream and opens his lottery, in the great majority of 
cases to find that he has drawn a blank. 

A boat is seldom used, simply because it is not available, but in the 
tidal waters it is indispensable. The "box" is a risky device for fish- 
ing in the deeper waters. It is a small contrivance, somewhat like the 
ancient British coracle, in which the fisherman sits or lies over on his 
chest; venturing out in the deeper parts which can not be waded, he 
carefully peers through the tube and draws up his find with the long 
cleft stick. This is a tiresome method, but some places can not be 
readily fished in any other manner. 

In Aberdeenshire, Perthshire, etc., there are a few men who regu- 
larly spend the season "at the pearls." The knowing ones dispose of 
their best finds to wealthy residents or to strangers and tourists who 
frequent the vicinity. In addition to these experienced fishermen, 
many of the idlers and unemployed about the riverside towns, and 
also the farm servants in the country, search the waters in their neigh- 
borhood in the hope of picking up some gems. But very often it is 
severe and disappointing labor, for the pearl-seeker may travel far 
and endure privation and hardships for days, and yet, after destroy- 
ing hundreds and even thousands of mussels, he may be rewarded with 
only a little almost worthless dross; but again and again he returns to 
the elusive game, inspired by the "hope which springs eternal in the 
human breast." 

The British pearls are in great variety of colors, but most of them 
are practically valueless on account of the absence of orient or luster ; 
for one possessing- the white pearly luster, fifty may be foimd of a 
dull color and devoid of value. Many of these opaque pearls are dark, 

The Valley uf the Tay 

The Ri\er K:ir 

Plii.lugrajilia \,y Tlit Km-lnirii Stiulii>. !'< 

rtl.. Smtlaliri 



lusterless brown, and handfuls of them sell for only a few shillings. A 
large percentage are of a grayish or milky color, or of a bluish white 
tinge; these seldom attain much value unless aided by excellence of 
shape and purity of skin. A few are of a dark, fiery tint and of great 
luster. Sometimes the pearl is of a beautiful pink tint, sometimes of 
a light violet, or other exquisite shade. The fine pink ones are very 
rare and are highly prized. The best are those having the sweet, pure 
white light which constitutes the inimitable loveliness of a pearl; 
but few of them are found even in the most favorable seasons, and 
usually these are from the streams in the northeastern counties and 
some of the streams in the southwest. Very few combine the qualities 
of perfection in shape and luster; and the product of many seasons 
might be examined in vain to furnish enough pearls to make a well- 
matched necklace of gems weighing from five to teii grains each. But 
occasionally beautiful specimens are discovered, weighing fifteen or 
twenty grains or more. One found in Aberdeenshire a few years ago, 
perfect in shape and luster, weighed twenty-five grains, and sold at 
first hand for £50. Another one, found at the confluence of the 
Almond and the Tay in 1865, weighed thirty grains. 

While most of these pearls are sold to jewelers in Edinburgh, Aber- 
deen, Inverness, Perth, and other towns, many of the finest specimens 
have gone into the possession of prominent Scotch and English fami- 
lies, who have a fancy for collecting them. Queen Victoria possessed 
a fine collection of Scotch pearls, choice specimens of many years' 
search, obtained almost exclusively from the Aberdeenshire waters 
which murmur round her beautiful Highland home. In 1907, a Scotch 
pearl was sold in Perth for the sum of £80; this was of a good luster 
with a bluish tint, it was spherical, measured seven sixteenths of an 
inch in diameter, and weighed twenty-one grains. 

The falling-ofif in the yield of pearls in some streams is credited to a 
certain extent to the building of bridges and the consequent abandon- 
ment of fords. This is based on the theory that injury to the mollusk 
has something to do with the production of pearls, and that they are to 
be found more plentiful about fords and places where cattle drink. The 
theory is beautifully stated by the lamented Hugh Miller: "I found 
occasion to conclude that the Unio of our river-fords secretes pearls 
so much more frequently than the Unionidae and Anadonta of our 
still pools and lakes, not from any specific peculiarity in the constitu- 
tion of the creature, but from the efifects of the habitat which it 
chooses. It receives in the fords and shallows of a rapid river many 
a rough blow from the sticks and pebbles carried down in time of 
flood, and occasionally from the feet of men and animals that cross 
the stream during droughts, and the blows induce the morbid secre- 


tions, of which pearls are the result. There seems to exist no inherent 
cause why Anadon cygnea, with its beautiful silvery nacre— as bright 
often, and always more delicate, than that of Unio margaritiferiis — 
should not be equally productive of pearls; but secure from violence 
in its still pools and lakes, and unexposed to the circumstances that 
provoke abnormal secretions, it does not produce a single pearl for 
every hundred that are ripened into value and beauty by the exposed, 
current-tossed Unionidae of our rapid mountain rivers. Would 
that hardship and suffering bore always in a creature of a greatly 
higher family similar results, and that the hard buffets dealt him by 
fortune in the rough stream of life could be transmitted, by some 
blessed internal pre-disposition of his nature, into pearls of great 
price." ^ 

The small blue mussel (Mytilus cdnlis) of the British seas yields 
opaque pearls of a deep blue color, but most of them are more or less 
white in some part. Sometimes a shell is found in which a blue pearl 
will be adhering to the blue lip of the shell while a dull white one 
adheres to the white portion of the shell. These pearls are commonly 
flattened on one side, doubtless where they have been adjacent to the 
shell. None of them is of more than very slight value. 

Probably the principal fishery for the salt-water mussel pearls is 
that in the estuary of the Conway in Wales. These are mostly quite 
small and well answer the designation of seed-pearls, although a few 
are of fair size. In color most of them range from dirty white to the 
dusky or brownish tint noted by Tacitus eighteen centuries ago, but a 
few are of a pure silvery tint. In some seasons London dealers have 
agents at Conway for purchasing these pearls. The price is usually 
from eight to thirty shillings per ounce. 


Apres I'esprit de discernement, ce qu'il y a au monde de plus rare, , 
ce sont les diamants et les perles. 

La Bruyere, Les caracteres. 

Pearls occur in species of mussels found in the streams and lakes of 
Europe, in some of which the fisheries have been of considerable local 
interest. It appears that these resources were exploited by the 
Romans, then by the Goths and the Lombards, and later the natives 
continued to draw forth the treasures which lay hidden about their 

*Hugh Miller, "My Schools and Schoolmasters," 1852, p. 201. 


homes. These pearls have attracted attention up to the present time; 
and while they do not compare with those of the seas, either in quality 
or in aggregate value, yet they are prized on account of their intrinsic 
worth as well as because they are a product of the fatherland. In the 
densely populated valleys, the rivers are so polluted by refuse and 
sewage that the mollusks have been greatly depleted ; but in the streams 
of clear, cool water, draining the mountain regions of France, Ger- 
many, Austria, and also in the rivers of Norway, Sweden, Russia, etc., 
the fisheries are not unimportant. 

The most celebrated of the pearl fisheries in France are those of the 
Vologne, a small river in the extreme eastern part of the country, in 
the department of Vosges. Its sources are in Lake Longmere in the 
Vosges mountains on the Alsace frontier, and it flows into the Moselle 
at Jarmenil, between Remiremont and fipinal. While the pearl-mussel 
occurs to some extent in nearly the whole length of this river, and, in- 
deed, is to be met with in the wild brooks and forest streams of nearly 
all the mountainous parts of France, it is most abundant in the vicinity 
of Bruyeres, where the Vologne receives the waters of the Neure. 
These resources were described in 1845 '^7 Ernest Puton,^ and in 1869 
by D. A. Godron;- to whom — and especially to Godron — we are in- 
debted for much of our information. 

The fisheries of the Vologne have been celebrated for nearly four 
centuries. Writing in 1530, Volcyr stated: "In the river Vologne be- 
tween Arche and Bruyeres, near the ancient castle of Perle, beautiful 
pearls are found. In the opinion of jewelers and artists they closely 
resemble the oriental."^ A few years later Francis Reues wrote: 
"There is near the Vosges mountains in Lorraine a river fertile in 
pearls, yet they are not very brilliant. The strange thing is that the 
quality which they lack by nature is supplied by the aid of pigeons, 
which swallow them and restore them purer than before." ■* In a pub- 
lication of 1609, this little river is represented in the frontispiece by 
the figure of a nymph bearing many pearls, while beneath is the em- 
blem: Vologna margaritifera sitas margaritas osfentat.^ 

In his paper above noted, Godron recites several orders issued from 
i6i6to i6i9by the Duke of Lorraine, who then had jurisdiction over 
the present department of Vosges, showing that a high value was 

' Puton, "Mollusques terrestres et fluviales "Volcyr, "Cronicque abregee par petits vers 

des Vosges : Le Departement des Vosges, sta- huytains des Empereurs, Roys, et Ducz d'Au- 

tistique, histxjrique, et adirnnistrative, par straisie," etc., Paris, 1530. 

Henri Lepaye et Ch. Charton," Nancj', 184S, * Reues, "De Gemmis aliquot," etc., Tiguri, 

8vo, 2 vols., Vol. I. 1566. p. 47. 

' Godron, "Les paries de la Vologne, et le ' Claude de la Ruelle, "Les pourtraicts des 

Chateau-sur-Perle." "Memoires de T.^ca- ceremonies, . . . et pompe funebres faitez au 

demie de Stanislas, 1869," Nancy, 1870, pp. corps de feu Charles III, Due de Lorraine," 

10-30. etc. Nancy, i6og. 


attached to these pearls and that the resources were well looked 
after. Writing in 1699, Dr. Martin Lister alluded to the many 
pearls taken from the rivers about Lorraine and Sedan. A Paris 
merchant showed him a fresh-water pearl of 23 grains, valued at 
£400, and assured him that he had seen some weighing 60 grains 

In 1779 Durival gave an extensive account^ of the Vologne fishery. 
He records that for sixty years pearls had been abundant, but at the 
time he wrote they were very scarce. 

Puton states that, in 1806, when taking the baths at Plombieres in 
the Vosges, Empress Josephine formed a great liking for the Vologne 
pearls, and at her request some of the mussels were sent to stock the 
ponds at Malmaison. It does not appear that any favorable result 
followed this transplanting. 

Owing to the extensive fisheries, the mussels became so scarce that 
in 1826, when the Duchesse d' Angouleme was visiting in the Vosges, it 
was impossible to secure enough pearls to form a bracelet for her. This 
scarcity has continued up to the present time ; and yet in the aggregate 
many pearls have been secured, so that there are few prominent fami- 
lies in the neighborhood who do not possess some of them. They are 
especially prized as bridal presents to Vosges maidens. 

While the Vologne pearls are of good form and of much beautv, 
they do not equal oriental pearls in luster. The color is commonly 
milky white, but some of them have a pink, yellow, red, or greenish tint. 
In size they rarely exceed 4 grains. The Nancy museum of natural 
history possesses one which weighs 5J4 grains and measures 6V2 mm. 
in diameter. 

In western France, according to Bonnemere,'' the pearl-mussel is 
widely difl^used, and in the aggregate many pearls are secured there- 
from. They are somewhat numerous in the river Ille near its union 
with the Vilaine at Rennes ; though small, these are commonly of good 
color and luster. In the department of Morbihan and that of Finis- 
tere, many pearls have been secured, especially in the Steir, the Odet, 
and in the Stang-Alla near Ouimper. Small pearls, frequently of 
some value, are found in the Menech near the town of Lesneven, a few 
miles northeast of Brest, the great naval port of France. 

The Unio simiatns (pictontm), the miilcttc of the artists, which has 
a shorter and smaller shell than the pearl-mussel, has also yielded 
many small pearls of good quality, as well as shells for manufacturing 

'Lister, "Journey to Paris in the year ' Bonnemere, "Les pedes fines de I'Ouest 

l6g8," London, p. 143. de la France," "Revue des sciences naturelles 

" Durival. "Description de la Lorraine et de I'Ouest," 1899, Vol. Ill, p. 97-99- 
du Barrois," Nancy, 1779, Vol. I, p. 280. 


Sold at auction in Amsterdam in 1776 for 180,000 florins. Note great baroque pearl 
forming body of the swan at the base, diameter 1,37 inches. 


purposes. This species has heen regularly exploited in the Adour, in 
the Charente, in the Gironde and its tributaries — the Garonne and the 
Dordogne and their affluents, and in some other streams in western 

There is a pearl fishery in the Charente River near the western 
coast of France, and likewise in the Seugne, a small tributary entering 
it from the south. The mussel is known locally under the name of 
palourde. In an account of this fishery,^ Daniel Bellet states that in 
the Seugne, where the water is shallow and clear, the mussel is se- 
cured by entering the pointed end of a wooden staff or stick between 
the valves of the open shell as the mollusk lies feeding on the bottom; 
as the shell is immediately closed tightly upon the intruding stick, it 
is easily removed from the water. 

In the deeper waters of the Charente, the fishery is prosecuted on a 
larger scale. Until recently, the palourdcs were caught by means of a 
dredge towed by a small boat, which was raised from time to time and 
the catch removed. Ten or fifteen years ago the scaphander or diving 
apparatus was introduced, requiring seven men for its operation, and 
by its use large catches have been made. The mussels are taken to the 
bank and there boiled for a time to cause the shells to open, so that the 
contents may be easily removed. 

The shells are examined one by one to find any pearls that may ad- 
here thereto, and then the flesh of the mollusk is crushed between the 
fingers to locate pearls contained in the mass; this is done largely 
by children, working under competent supervision. Many pearls of 
fairly good size and luster are obtained. The flesh of this mollusk is 
edible and well-liked in southwestern France ; and the shells are also of 
value in the manufacture of buttons and similar objects. 

In Germany the pearl fisheries are most important in streams of the 
southern districts, in Bavaria, Saxony, and Silesia. The pearl-mussel 
in these waters is not so abundant as formerly ; yet, owing to the care 
which has been given to these resources, it is probably as numerous 
here as in any other part of the continent. The mussel rarely occurs 
singly, generally in small beds or banks contiguous to each other, and 
in some favorable regions these are extensive. 

The pearl fisheries of Bavaria have been prominent since the six- 
teenth century. They exist principally in the districts of Upper Fran- 
conia (Oberfranken) and Upper Palatinate (Oberpfab), the several 
tributaries of the Danube between Ratisbon and Passau, and in those 
tributaries of the Main and the Saale which rise in the Bavarian 
mountains, such as the Oelsnitz, the Lamnitz, Schwesnitz, Griinebach, 
Vils, and the Perlbach ; also in the district of Lower Bavaria, where in 

'"La Nature," 1899, pp. 347, 348. 


nine districts alone there are one hundred pearl-bearing streams and 
lakes, of which the most important are the Regen, the Isar, and the Ilz.^ 

Early in the sixteenth century, the river Ilz had the reputation of 
yielding the choicest pearls in Lower Bavaria. The right to them was 
reserved to the bishop of Passau, and a decree was made in 1579 that 
persons convicted of poaching on these reserves should be hanged.^ 
Since that time there have been few decades in which the gems have 
not been found in the woodland brooks and mountain streams that 
flow through the ravines and past quaint, interesting castles of the 
wonderful Bavarian highlands. Most of the prominent families in 
this beautiful region have collections of native pearls, and there is still 
some trade in them in picturesque Passau. at the junction of the Dan- 
ube, the Ilz and the Inn. 

Tavernier wrote about 1670: "As for the pearls of Scotland, and 
those which are found in the rivers of Bavaria, although necklaces 
are made of them which are worth up to 1000 ecus (£225) and be- 
yond, they cannot enter into comparison with those of the East and 
West Indies." ^ 

The official returns for the Bavarian fisheries, dating from the latter 
part of the sixteenth century, were examined by Von Hessling in 1858. 
He noted many gaps in the statements of the yearly returns, partly on 
account of the loss of the records and partly because the pearls were 
delivered directly into the hands of the princes. The results of the 
first fisheries are recorded in the district of Hals for the years 1581- 
99, in Viechtach for 1581-83 and 1590-93, and in Weissenstadt and 
Zwiesel for 1583. The range of the fisheries was enlarged through 
the discovery of new areas during the first half of the seventeenth cen- 
tury; but this was offset by the bad seasons and by disturbed condi- 
tions during the Thirty Years' War. From 1650 to 1783 the pearls 
in the forest lands of the Palatinate were exploited regularly and un- 
interruptedly, with the exception of the district of Wetterfeld and that 
of Neunburg vor dem Wald, where they were prosecuted for a few 
years only. From 1783 to 1814, they were almost entirely neglected, 
and the take was confined to a few streams in Upper Palatinate 
and in the Bavarian forests. In the former episcopal principality of 
Passau, where, according to general accounts, the waters were rich in 
pearls, the records were scanty previous to 1786; this was probably 
owing to the fact that the head gamekeeper was obliged to transmit 
the catch of pearls directly to the prince-bishop. The records for the 

iVon Hessling, "Ueber die Erzeugusg ^Weinmann, "Bresslauer Naturgeschich- 

kiinstlicher Perlen," "Gelehrte Anzeigen der ten," 1725. 

Miinchener Akademie," 1856, VoL II, p. 159. ^Tavernier, "Travels in India," 1889, Vol. 

II, p. 113- 


fisheries in the districts of Rehau and Kulmbach began with the year 


From these fragmentary returns— making no estimate for the years 

for which there were no figures available — Von Hessling found that 
from 1600 to 1857 there were taken 15,326 pearls of the first class, 
which were clear white in color and of good luster; 27,662 pearls of 
the second class, which were somewhat deficient in luster, and 251,778 
pearls of the third or poorest class, or "Sandperlen," which, though of 
poor quality, had sufficient whiteness and luster to be used as orna- 
ments. Had the records been complete, these figures would probably 
have been at least fifty per cent, greater, or a total of about 445,000 
pearls in the 257 years. In the last forty-three years of this period, 
for which the records are fairly complete, the annual average was 208 
pearls of the first, 395 of the second, and 3091 of the third class, a 
total each year of 3694 pearls of all grades. This was divided among 
the districts as follows : 

District First class Second class 

Upper Franconia 13 34 

Upper Palatinate 38 yy 

Lower Bavaria 157 284 

Total 208 395 3091 3694 

Probably the most interesting of the pearl fisheries in Germany are 
those prosecuted in the extreme southwestern part of the kingdom of 
Saxony, in the picturesque region known as Vogtland. This is not on 
account of their extent, for the output rarely exceeds $2000 in value 
in any season ; but because for nearly three hundred years they have 
been conducted with the utmost care and regard for the preservation 
of the resources. Indeed, a record exists of practically every pearl ob- 
tained for nearly two centuries. 

The waters in which the Saxon Vogtland fisheries are prosecuted 
are the Elster River, from the health resort of that name to a short 
distance below Elsterberg; its tributaries, the Miilhaiiser, Freiber- 
ger, and Marieneyer brooks ; the Hartmannsgriiner and the Triebel 
brooks, the Trieb, the Meschelsgriiner, the Teil, and Loch brooks, and 
twenty-five or more small ponds. 

For most of the data relative to these fisheries, we are indebted to 
J. G. Jahn's "Die Perlenfischerei im Voigtlande," Oelsnitz, 1854; to 
Hinrich Nitsche's "Siisswasserperlen, Internationale Fischerei- 
Ausstellung zu Berlin," 1880, and to O. Wohlberedt's "Nachtrag zur 
Molluskenfauna des K5nigreiches Sachsen," "Nachrichtsblatt der 

Third class 

{ Total 








deutschen Malakozoologischen Gesellschaft," Frankfurt-am-Main, 
1899, pp. 97-104. 

In the year 1621, the electoral prince, Johann Georg I, reserved the 
pearl fishery of the Vogtland in Saxony as a royal privilege, and ap- 
pointed Moritz Schmerler as superintendent and fisherman. From 
that time until the present, this fishery has remained a royal preroga- 
tive; and, remarkable to state, except at the close of the seventeenth 
century when the father-in-law of a Schmerler enjoyed the privilege, 
all the superintendents of the fishery — twenty-four persons in number 
— have been direct descendants of the second pearler, Abraham 
Schmerler, who, in 1643, succeeded his brother Moritz. The present 
superintendent Julius Schmerler has been in charge since 1889. 

This fishery is conducted in accordance with regulations of the chief 
inspector of forests for the district of Auerbach. The present regu- 
lations date from June 15, 1827. In compliance therewith an inspec- 
tion is made of the waters each spring to remove all obstructions and 
debris that would injure the resources ; and, if necessary, entire beds 
of mussels are removed from one locality to another which appears 
more favorable. No mussels are opened at that time, for the real 
search for pearls does not begin until the season is far advanced and 
the fishermen can wade up to the waist in the water without discom- 

Dr. Nitsche states that the whole pearling district is not searched 
over every year, but is divided into 313 sections, each one constitu- 
ting a daj^'s work for three fishermen, and rarely are more than 
twenty or thirty of these fished in any one year. Thus each section or 
district is permitted to rest and recuperate for ten or fifteen years be- 
fore it is again invaded. Every mussel is opened carefully by hand, 
with the aid of a peculiarly constructed iron instrument. By inserting 
the edge of this between the nibs of the shell and turning it at right 
angles, the valves are opened sufficiently to determine whether a pearl 
is contained therein. If none is observed, the instrument is released 
and the mussel returned uninjured to the water; but if a pearl is found 
within, the shell is forced open and the find removed. In case small 
pearls are observed which give promise of growing larger in time, 
they are not removed, but the year is marked upon the shell with the 
opening implement and the mussel returned to the water. It often 
happens that good pearls are later removed from shells marked in this 

Complete records exist of the yield of this fishery during each year 
since 1719, when the Vogtland passed to the electorate of Saxony. 
The following is a summary of these records arranged in series of 
twenty 3-ears each. 






g^UtU\^Vy i . tM MMlU,. .hA aUA MMM)MMMMMMMMt rirH7 ; 








Half clear 

Sand pearls 






per year 
































































Years Clear pearls 

I72O-I739 ... 1,809 

I74O-I759 1,412 

I760-I779 1,042 

I780-I799 1,261 

180O-1819 1,603 

182O-1839 1,659 

184O-1859 1,884 

1860-1879 1,618 

1880-1899 471 

1900-1905 79 

Total in 186 years 12,838 
Average per year 69 

In recent years the development of manufacturing industries in 
Saxony and the resultant pollution of the water has greatly reduced 
the abundance of the moUusks and consequently the output has been 
much restricted. The average annual yield in the twenty years ending 
in 1879 was 163 pearls; in the twenty years ending in 1899 it was 66 
pearls, and in the six years ending in 1905 the annual average was 58 
pearls. Owing to high water, there was no fishing in 1888; and with 
a view to permitting the resources to recuperate, the fishery was sus- 
pended from 1896 to 1899, inclusive. Omitting these five years, the 
average yield during each season in the two decades ending 1899 was 
88 pearls. 

At the end of each season, the pearls secured are turned over to the 
director of forestry for the district of Auerbach; by him they were 
formerly sent to the royal cabinet of natural history, or to the royal 
collection at Dresden, but since 1830 they have been sent to the royal 
minister of finance, by whom they are sold each year. The total pro- 
ceeds from these sales now amount to about 55,000 marks. 

In former times, according to Dr. Nitsche, it was customary to use 
these pearls in making royal ornaments. This was the origin of the 
famous Elster necklace, consisting of 177 pearls, now in the art col- 
lection in the Griine Gewolbe in the palace at Dresden. Another as- 
sortment in that collection consists of nine choice, well-matched pearls, 
weighing 140 grains. For a necklace of Saxon pearls, the property of 
a duchess of Sachsen-Zeitz, the sum of 40,000 thalers ($28,400) is 
said to have been refused. 

In Prussian Silesia the pearl-mussel is found in the upper tributa- 
ries of the Oder, especially in Bober River from Lowenberg to the 
sources among the foot-hills of the beautiful Riesengebirge, in the Lu- 


satian Neisse to Gorlitz, the Queiss above Marklissa, and in the Juppel 
as far as Weidenau. The Queiss has been famous for its pearls since 
the sixteenth century, and even yet specimens of great beauty are ob- 
tained therefrom. As long ago as 1690, Ledel complained of the 
diminution of the number of mollusks owing to their wilful destruction 
by children; and in 1729 the government issued a rescript in Upper 
Lusatia {Oberlausit::) recommending the care of the young mollusks.^ 

Pearls are also found in the White Main a short distance from its 
source, in the head waters of the Saale, and in numerous other moun- 
tain-draining streams of middle Germany. Indeed, references could 
be made to the discovery of pearls in nearly every stream of Germany 
at some time during the last three or four centuries. 

The records of pearl fisheries in the province of Hanover were 
traced by Von Hessling as far back as the sixteenth century, when 
they were prosecuted in the Aller, Ovia or Oni, Lua or Low, and in the 
Seva in the district of Liineburg. During the reign of Christian Lud- 
wig (1641-65) and in that of George William (1666-1705), pearl 
fishing was carried on by the state, and old records of the former dis- 
trict of Bodenteich note the customs and practices of that period and 
of earlier times, and the implements employed. In 1706, for in- 
stance, 265 clear and 292 imperfect pearls were taken by three offi- 
cial fishermen from the Gerdauerbach. Gradually, however, owing 
to indifferent management, the brooks yielded less and less ; the gov- 
ernment seems to have entirely abandoned supervision of them, so 
that, according to Taube's "Communication," ^ slight results were ob- 
tained in 1766; indeed, only a few pearls could be shown as curiosities.^ 

Regarding the condition of the Hanoverian pearl-brooks, especially 
of those in the vicinity of Uelzen, Mobius wrote: "Uelzen lies at the 
confluence of eleven small rivulets, three of which, the Wipperau, the 
Gerdau and the Barnbeck, contain pearl-mussels. Fishing has been 
pursued here for centuries, and there exists an old regulation of the 
sixteenth century in regard to the pearl fisheries in the Ilmenau. Even 
at the present day, hundreds of pearls are found here which command 
a good price when they are bright and of good form. These 
either have a silvery sheen or they are of a reddish color. The 
season for fishing is during the months of July and August. The 
pearls are usually found in deformed shells. Their shape varies 
greatly ; most of them are flat on one side. Naturally those which are 
spherical are the best, but the pear shapes are highly prized." Mobius 

'Von Hessling, "Die Perlenmuscheln," 'Von Hessling, "Die Perlenmuscheln," 

Leipzig, 1859, p. 179. p. 180. 

^ "Beitrage zur Naturkunde des Herzog- 
thums Celle," Halle, 1766, Pt. I, p. 70. 


Presented by the Czar Alexis Mikhailovitch and the Czarina Marie IIHinichna. Decorated largely 
with European fresh-water pearls. Now in the treasury of the Patriarchs, Moscow. 


frequently failed to find one pearl in a hundred shells, but at other 
times he came across six or eight in this quantity. Most of the mus- 
sels are found in the deepest places, especially near the banks of the 
streams. One end of the shell usually projects out of the sand. The 
fisherman is represented as feeling about the bottom with his feet, and 
when he finds a shell, he seizes it between his toes, picks it out, and 
then places it in the basket suspended from his neck.^ 

In Baden and in Hesse are small pearl fisheries. In 1760, Elector 
Maximilian III sent to Mannheim, then in the Palatinate, eight hun- 
dred living pearl-mussels from the Bavarian forests, and again in 
1769, he sent four hundred mussels from Deggendorf on the Danube, 
so that they might be established in the Palatinate. The mussels were 
placed in the Steinbach not far from Heidelberg, where they thrived 
so well that fishing was instituted in 1783. Soon, however, most of 
the mussels became buried in the sand, and the remainder were trans- 
planted into a quieter portion of the Steinbach, between Kreutzsteinach 
and Schonau, about five miles northeast of Heidelberg. Here they 
seem to have been forgotten, and were left undisturbed until, about 
1820, a fine pearl valued at two louis d'or was found near Schonau. 
This discovery soon led to such reckless exploitation that the govern- 
ment reserved the fishery as a state monopoly. The mussels were 
examined and sorted, and a portion of the brook was specially pre- 
pared for their reception. However, the cost of supervision was 
greater than the proceeds of the fishery, and the business was rented 
to private parties for a very small amount. This was paid as late as 
1840 by the Natural History Society of Mannheim, the annual rate 
then being ten florins. 

An efl^ort was made nearly two hundred years ago to develop the 
pearl fisheries in Hesse. In 1717, Landgrave Prince William requested 
his cousin, Duke Moritz of Saxony, to send a pearl fisherman "to ex- 
amine some streams in his territory where mussels have been found 
and to determine whether they are fitted for pearl fishing and whether 
fisheries can be established." ^ In the following year, a member of the 
famous Schmerler family from the Saxon fisheries was sent to Cassel, 
but with what result is unknown. 

When the pearling excitement developed at Schonau about 1820. 
Landrath Welker. of Hirschhorn on the Neckar, requested the grand 
duke of Hesse to place him in charge -of the fishery, and when the 
proposition was declined, he formed a small company for pearl culture. 
In 1828 his company had 558 mussels, 88 of which showed pearl for- 

' Mobius, "Die echten Perlcn," Hamburg, p. 165 ; Von Hessling, "Die Perlenmuscheln," 
1858. p. 47. p. 182. 

''Jahn, "Voigtiandische Perlenfischerei," 


mations; in 1833, out of 651, 98 contained such objects, and in 1851, 
117 mussels were found with pearl formations out of 867 examined.^ 
Owing to the policy of the company in selling the pearls only among 
the members thereof, the profits were altogether insufificient to cover 
the expenses, and gradually the fishery dwindled down until it was 
prosecuted only as a pastime. 

Pearls are found in the province of Schleswig-Holstein, which for- 
merly belonged to Denmark, but since 1866 has been a part of the 
kingdom of Prussia. Mobius relates that the Bavarian soldiers in 
1864 collected large quantities of pearls from the streams of this prov- 
ince and sold many of them to jewelers in Hamburg." Most of them 
were of good form and luster ; milky white was the prevailing tint, but 
some were pink and others were rose-tinted. 

In Austria, pearl fisheries are most important in the province of 
Bohemia, where they are prosecuted in the headwaters of the A'loldau 
from Krumau, a few miles above Budweis, to below Turenberg, and 
to a much less extent in its tributary, the Wottawa, on the northeast- 
ern slopes of the Bohmer Wald or Bohemian Forest mountains. From 
very early times the right of fishery belonged to those domains and 
estates through which the streams flow, as for example, the cloister of 
Hohenfurth, the domain of Rosenberg, of Krumau, etc. The Schwar- 
zenberg family formerly drew a considerable revenue therefrom. Over 
a hundred years ago the fishery was actively prosecuted by Count 
Adolph Schwarzenberg, who exhibited at the Bohemian Exposition, 
held in Prague in 1791, an interesting collection of shells, apparatus 
employed in the fishery, and many beautiful pearls obtained from his 
domains. The fisheries of the Wottawa were noted in 1560 by the 
Swiss naturalist Konrad von Gesner,^ and again in 1582 by the district 
treasurer, Wolf Huber von Purgstall. In 1679, Balbinus referred to 
the excellent qualities of the pearls, estimating the value of many of 
them at twenty, thirty, and even one hundred golden florins each. He 
described the methods by which they were taken, and also complained 
of the destruction of the reefs by depredations of poachers.* 

The Wottawa or Otawa River has long had linked with its name the 
epithet "the gold- and pearl-bearing brook." Formerly, along its 
shores gold washing was more or less carried on, as well as the fresh- 
water pearl-mussel industry. At the present time, every third or 
fourth year, these mussels are gathered, by means of small, fine-woven 
nets, from the bed of the river, and a goodly number of pearls are col- 

' "Von Hessling, "Die Perlenmuscheln," ' Gesner. "De aquatilibus," Tiguri, 1560. 

p. 182. 'Bohuslai Balbini, "Miscellanea historica 

""Die echten Perlen," p. 48. regni Bohemiae," Prague, 1679, Vol. I, p. 73. 


The reefs in the Moldau from Hohenfurth to Krumau were ahnost 
entirely ruined in 1620 by the troops who were cantoned there when 
the Bohemian Protestants were overthrown near the beginning of the 
Thirty Years' War, and they never regained the reputation they for- 
merly enjoyed. According to the Vienna "Handels- und Borsen- 
zeitung," the output of the pearls fifty years ago in the upper Moldau, 
in the Wottawa, and in the Chrudimka — a tributary of the Elbe — 
reached in some years the sum of one million florins in value, and as 
much as eighty and sometimes even one hundred and twenty florins 
were paid for an individual specimen.^ These pearls closely resemble 
those from Passau in Bavaria, and some approach the oriental gems 
in luster. 

In the archduchy of Austria, pearls occur in several of the tribu- 
taries of the "beautiful blue Danube." They are especially important 
in streams within the former district of Scharding, such as the Lud- 
hammerbach, the Ranzenbergerbach, the Glatzbachenbach, the Bram- 
bach, the Schwarzbergerbach, the Mosenbach, and the Hollenbach; 
those in the former district of Waizkirchen, including the Pirninger- 
bach, the Kesselbach, and many of their tributary brooks, and the 
Michel, the Taglinsbach, the Fixelbach, and the Haarbach, in the 
domain of Marbach.^ Fishing in the Pirningerbach and the Kessel- 
bach was prosperous about 1765, and Empress Maria Theresa received 
a beautiful necklace and bracelets of the pearls therefrom. In the 
district of Marbach, the fishing was prosecuted as long ago as 1685 
for the account of the archbishop of Passau. 

In Hungary from time immemorial, the native pearls have been 
popular with the Magyar women, and very many yet exist in the old 
Hungarian jewelry worn with the national costume. A century ago 
there was scarcely a family of local prominence which did not possess 
a necklace of pearls, although these were frequently not of choice 
quality or of considerable size. With a falling off in the output of the 
native streams there has been a great increase in the quantity of choice 
oriental pearls purchased by the wealthy families, and some of the 
most costly necklaces in Europe are now owned here. 

In the kingdom of Denmark no pearl fisheries are now prosecuted, 
but three centuries ago the gems were taken in the Kolding Fjord in 
the province of Veile, Jutland. The great Holberg, who ranks first in 
Danish literature, wrote that the governor of the castle at Kolding 
employed as a pearl fisherman a Greenlander who had come to Den- 
mark in 1605 or 1606, and who "had given the governor to under- 
stand that in his native land he was accustomed to fish for pearls." 

' "Allg. Zeitung," Nov. i, 1858, No. 305. ' Von Hessling, "Die Perlenmuscheln," 

Leipzig, p. 178. 


Being required to work continuously, both winter and summer, he fell 
ill and died, and as no one else wished to pursue the occupation, the 
fishery ceased.' 

In many of the Norwegian brooks, pearl fishing has been carried on 
for two or three centuries, and often with satisfactory results. It ap- 
pears from ordinances dated November lo, 1691, May 14, 1707, and 
May 28, 1 718, that the fisheries were under special supervision as a 
royal prerogative of the queen of Denmark.^ Jahn notes that in 1719 
and in 1722, Saxon pearl fishermen were sent for. In 1734 Charles VI 
of Denmark requested the elector of Saxony to send one of the pearl 
fishermen of Vogtland to examine the brooks of Norway in reference 
to the pearl resources, and to determine the practicability of establish- 
ing fisheries there. In response to this request, C. H. Schmerler was 
sent to Copenhagen and thence to Christiania, where he began an 
investigation of the Norwegian waters, the governor himself attend- 
ing at the beginning of the work. So great was the estimation of its 
importance, that Schmerler was soon afterward received in audience 
by the king and queen of united Denmark and Norway at Frederiks- 
borg palace near Copenhagen, and was awarded a gift of one hundred 
ducats and a life-pension.^ 

In 1751, according to Pontoppidan, Bishop of Bergen, the Nor- 
wegian pearl fisheries were placed under the jurisdiction of the diocese 
of Christiansand. Among the principal pearling regions at that time 
were the Gon, Narim and Quasim rivers in the Stavanger district or 
amt; the Undol, Rosseland and other brooks in the Lister and Man- 
dal province ; and several streams in the district of Nadenas.'* 

The returns from the Norwegian fisheries gradually decreased. 
After 1768 the rights were leased, and the revenue therefrom was paid 
into the royal treasury. Owing to small returns, this source of revenue 
received less and less attention, and about a century ago it was alto- 
gether neglected, although from time to time choice finds were made. 
Due to unusually low water in 1841, a number of valuable pearls were 
found near Jedderen in the province of Christiansand, some selling as 
high as $300 each ; several of these were shown at the London Indus- 
trial Exhibition by the diocese of Christiania. 

The pearl fisheries of Sweden were noted, nearly four centuries 
ago, by Olaus Magnus, Archbishop of Upsala.^ The gems were 

' Holberg, "Danmarks Riges Historie," p. 175 ; and Von Hessling, "Die Perlen- 

Reicharot edition, 1743. Vol. II, p. 632. miischeln," p. 189. 

" Thaaruys, "Versuch einer Statistik der * Pontoppidan, "Versuch einer natiirlichen 

danischen Monarchic," Copenhagen, 179S, Historie von Norwegen," Copenhagen, 1754, 

Pt. I, p. 416. Vol. II, p. 309. 

"Jahn, "Voigtlandische Perlenfischerei," ' Olaus Magnus, "Historia de gentibns sep- 

tentrionalibusV' Antwerp, 1562, c. 6, p. 192. 

" > > / 




sought for by expert fishermen in the interior districts, and were 
brought in large quantities to the coasts for sale, the women and girls 
of all classes, rich and poor, using them extensively in personal deco- 

The celebrated Linnaeus left a detailed account of the method by 
which mussels were caught in Sweden nearly two centuries ago. He 
wrote: "In the summer season, if the water is shallow, the fishermen 
wade in the stream and gather the mussels with their hands. Should 
the water be deeper, they dive for the mussels and place such as they 
find in a vessel made of birch bark, which they carry with them. Sunny 
days are selected, because then they can see deeper into the water. 
But, should this not suffice, they traverse the river on rafts which are 
painted white beneath so that the bed of the stream may be illumined 
by the reflected light. The men lie prone on the rafts and look down 
into the depths so that they may immediately seize with wooden tongs 
the mussels which they discover. Or else, hanging by their hands to 
the rafts, they seize them in the water with their toes. If the water is 
too deep even for this, they dive and feel around on the bottom with 
their hands until it becomes necessary to rise again to the surface in 
order to breathe. However, out of a hundred mussels, scarcely one 
contains a good pearl ; but sometimes as many as twenty pearls of the 
size of a grain of sand are found in one shell. Many of the larger 
pearls are reddish or dark, but occasionally a beautiful white pearl is 
hidden under such a covering ; although, naturally, it is rare that this 
is altogether perfect. It has been noted that mussels seven years old 
contain pearls : and in each of two mussels eighteen years old, a pearl 
was found attached to the shell." ^ 

The list of streams in Sweden from which pearls were taken, as 
noted by Olaf Maimer, J. Fischerstein, and Gissler^ a century and a 
half ago, seems to cover nearly all the rivers and brooks which flow 
from the mountains of this beautiful country. 

In Russia the love for the pearl has been almost as great as in Persia 
and India. During the Middle Ages, pearls were worn upon the 
clothes of nearly all well-to-do Russians. The great head-dresses of the 
women were ornamented with them ; and they were used in decorating 
the stoles, vestments, crosses, and the priceless relics in the churches. 

The pearl-mussel is found in very many of the Russian streams. It 
occurs throughout Archangel, in most of the rivers which flow into 
the White Sea, into Lake Ladoga, Lake Onega, and the Baltic Sea; 
and likewise in the Volga watershed. Von Hessling states that east 

'Linnaeus, "Lach. Lapponica," Vol. II, pp. Akademie," 1742, Vol. IV, p. 240; 1759, Vol. 
104-107. XXI, p. 136, and 1762, Vol. XXIV, p. 64. 

' See "Abhandlungen der Schwedischen 


of the Volga its southern boundary extends to Lat. 56°, while on the 
west it extends, further southward, so that in the region of the Dnieper 
it reaches Lat. 51°. The extreme southern limit is near the mouth of 
the Don, about 47° north latitude/ 

In northern Russia pearls are secured in the provinces of Livonia, 
Esthonia, and Olonetz, and in the grand duchy of Finland, where they 
have been sought after for three centuries or more. Most of them are 
bluish gray in color and they attain a maximum weight of about twelve 
grains. Although not equaling the oriental gems, these pearls are of 
good quality and are highly esteemed, not only by the peasants but by 
the nobility and by the royal family of Russia. For reference to most 
of the historical data relative to the fishery in Livonia, we are indebted 
to an account written by H. Kawall.^ 

So long ago as 161 2, Dionysius Fabricius compared the pearls of 
Livonia with those of India. Said he: "Nor should I omit to mention 
that there are rivers in Livonia wherein large pearls are produced in 
shells ; and I myself have seen some as large as the oriental, especially 
when they are well grown. But because the peasants of this region are 
too ignorant to determine with certainty when they mature, they are 
unable to collect them properly, and therefore the pearls have become 
rarer. ■* 

According to Mylius,'* in the seventeenth century, when Livonia 
belonged to Sweden, the pearl resources received attention from the 
government. Charles IX of Sweden decreed October 22, 1694, that 
the pearls therefrom should not be exported but should be sold to offi- 
cers of the crown at a definite price. In 1700, an inspector of the 
fishery in Livonia, whose name was Krey, reported that the peasants 
collected pearls secretly from the small rivers and brooks, and for- 
warded them to Moscow for sale. As the peasants objected to selling 
them to the king's commissioners at the prices fixed, the fishery soon 
dwindled in extent. However, on the annexation of Livonia to Russia 
in 1 71 2, and the removal of these restrictions, it revived and became of 
local importance during the last years of the reign of Peter the Great. 

In 1742 the Livonian fishery was reorganized at the suggestion of a 
Swede named Hedenberg. Furnished by the government with funds 
and an escort, he began an exploration of the pearl-bearing waters, 
commencing with Lake Kolk, where he secured many pearls of value, 
some of which were presented to Empress Elizabeth.^ 

'"Die Perlenmuscheln," Leipzig, 1859, p. 194. ' G. F. Mylius, "Memorabilium Saxoniae 

^Kawall, "La peche des perles en Livonie," subterraneae," Leipzig, 1709-1718, Vol. II, p. 

"Annales de la Societe Malacologique de 20. 

Belgique," 1872, Vol. VII, pp. 38-46. ^ Charles Zeze, "Considerations sur les 

^Dionysius Fabricius, "Scriptor rerum lievres blancs en Livonie," 1749, p. 52. 

Livonicarum," 1612, Vol. II, p. 440. 


The fishery then came into great favor. To the nobihty of Livonia, 
in whose domains the brooks were situated, the crown accorded sixty 
rubles for each half ounce of choice pearls secured, and for every 
half ounce of the second class, thirty rubles ; but the nobles were 
obliged to renounce their rights to the fisheries and to permit the lakes 
and brooks to be guarded by imperial soldiers. Owing to the very 
great destruction of mussels which yielded no pearls, a reward was 
offered to any one who would discover a method of determining from 
external characteristics those individual shells which contain gems of 

In 1746, when the Empress Elizabeth passed the summer in Livonia, 
large quantities of pearls from the neighboring brooks were presented 
to her. But, owing to the cost of supervision, the expenditures soon 
exceeded the revenues and the government abandoned the guard and 
dismissed the fishermen. Little by little the search decreased, and by 
1774 relatively few pearls were found.^ 

According to Hupel, the Schwarzbach River, near Werro, was cele- 
brated for its pearls, which were noted for their size and beauty; one 
of the tributaries of this river is named Perlenbach (Pearl Brook). 
The Ammat and Tirse streams, and forty other brooks and lakes also 
yielded them. Pearls of slight value were likewise produced in the 
Palze and the Rause, near Palzmar; the Paddez, a tributary of the 
Evest which empties into the Diina, and the Voidau and the Petribach, 
each of which flows into the Schwarzbach. Near the Tirse was a very 
old road house, patronized by the peasants, which from time imme- 
morial had borne the name Pehrlu-kroghs (Pearl Tavern). 

Formerly some of the brooks of Esthonia on the Gulf of Finland, 
and principally those near Kolk and the adjacent lakes, furnished 
beautiful pearls. From these waters came the beautiful necklace which 
is yet an heirloom in the Kolk family. The choicest of these weighed 
from five to ten grains, and the color was grayish blue. The Emperor 
Alexander I is said to have received a present of pearls collected in the 
vicinity of Tammerfors, in the government of Tavastehus, in the 
grand duchy of Finland. The development of manufacturing in that 
region, however, has destroyed most of the mussels. 

Von Hessling notes that in the province of Olonetz, pearls are 
found in the Poventshanka, in the Ostjor, and in the Kums, where the}^ 
are secured by the neighboring peasants who sometimes make valuable 
finds. ^ When the brooks dry up, the mussels are easily secured; old 
inhabitants note that on one occasion of this kind many superb pearls 

' A. H. Hupel, "Nouvelles topographiques ^ "Dig Perlenmuscheln," Leipzig, p. 196. 

de Livonie et d'Esthionie," 1774, Vol. I, 
P- 134- 


were found in the Poventshanka, and a necklace of them was presented 
to the Empress Catherine Alexievna. These pearls rarely leave the 
province in which they are collected, as the inhabitants are fond of 
using them for personal decoration. Young girls attend to the fishing, 
and workmen pierce them for about two copecks each. Choice ones sell 
for thirty to one hundred rubles apiece. 

In the government of Archangel pearls have been collected for cen- 
turies from the streams flowing into the White Sea and the Arctic 
Ocean. An extended account of the fisheries of this region was given 
by Von Middendorfif.^ He states that the Unio margaritifera inhabits 
all the rivers in which the descent is not too rapid, and especially in the 
Tjura, the Tuloma, the Kovda, Kereda, the Kanda, etc. The fisheries 
have been conducted exclusively by the shore Laplanders; but they 
have been neglected in recent years owing to the small returns. Von 
Hessling notes that the pearls are dull in color ; in the opinion of the 
fishermen this is caused by the mysterious influence of the copper 
money which they carry with them. The Tuloma was formerly a 
productive river; its pearls were sold in Kola, whence they were car- 
ried to Archangel, 335 miles distant, where they were pierced by ex- 
pert workmen. The Tjura also yielded many pearls; but since a Lap- 
lander was drowned while fishing for them, a legend has spread that 
the spirit of the river guards the pearls, and the natives hesitate about 
seeking them. 

Probably the occurrence of so many in the home streams had much 
to do with developing in Russia that great love for the pearl which has 
made it the national ornament, all classes finding pleasure in its pos- 
session. While the superb gems treasured by the nobility are mostly 
from oriental seas, a considerable percentage of those worn by the 
peasantry are from the native waters. An interesting account of this 
fondness among a certain class of Russian women — the Jewesses of 
Little Russia — was given sixty years ago by the German traveler 

In Alexandria, a small city in the government of Kherson in South Russia, 
a Jew kept a cafe, and his charming daughter served us with cofifee. We paid 
her compliments on her beautiful eyes and teeth. But she seemed to be much less 
vain of these natural ornaments than of the acquired ones in the magnificent 
glittering pearl-cap which she wore upon her head. For all the women through 
South and Little Russia even as far as Galicia wear a certain stiff, baggy cap 
which is very disfiguring, and is covered all over with a great number of 
pearls, upon a foundation of black velvet. It is called a "mushka." This cap, 
with very unimportant modifications, has almost always the same form; the 

^Baer and Helmersen, " Beitrage zur Kenntniss des russischen Reiches," St. Petersburg, 

184s, Vol. XI, pp. 143, 144. 



only difference is that, in the case of the wealthy, the pearls are larger, and 
sometimes a number of small pearls and precious stones are suspended here 
and there, set in the same way as the ear-rings of our ladies. It is common for 
them to wear half their fortune on their heads in this way. For these caps 
generally cost from five hundred to one thousand roubles, and many are worth 
five or six thousand and even more; they wear them every day, holidays as 
well as ordinary days, and strut around the kitchens and cellars with their 
"mushka." They spend their last penny in order to secure such a pearl-cap, 
and even when they are clad in rags their head is covered with pearls. In order 
to furnish the requisite material for this wide-spread fashion, the commerce in 
pearls of Odessa, Taganrog and some other places in southern Russia is not 
unimportant. There may live in the region where the pearl-caps of which I 
speak are worn at least 2,000,000 Jewesses. Let us estimate that among them 
there are but 300,000 adults, and that only half of these, 150,000, wear pearl- 
caps (only the most indigent and the most aristocratic do not wear the 
"mushka") ; let us then estimate the average value of such a cap at only five 
hundred roubles — these are the lowest minima and fall far short of the real 
figures — and we have a total capital of 76,000,000 roubles, which the Jewesses 
of this region wear upon their heads. Naturally the annual diminution of this 
capital is small, since these pearls are transmitted from the mothers to their 
daughters and granddaughters. Still, if we estimate that they last for a cen- 
tury, the necessary yearly contribution amounts to nearly one million. It is, 
however, probable that a much larger capital is employed in the commerce of 
pearls. They are, for the most part, oriental and come by way of Turkey and 
Odessa or else by way of Armenia and Tiflis. We inquired of our beautiful 
Jewess whether she was not in perpetual dread on account of her pearl-cap, 
and how she protected it from thieves. She answered that she wore it on her 
head all day and at night placed it in a casket which rested under her pillow. 
So that the whole short life of these Jewesses of the steppes revolves around 
their pearl-cap as the earth does around the sun.* 

Several species of marine mollusks on the coasts of Europe yield 
pearly formations, but none of much ornamental or commercial value. 
Probably the most interesting of these are from the Pinna on the 
Mediterranean coasts, and especially on the coast of Sardinia and the 
shores of the Adriatic. An interesting collection of these Pinna pearls 
was furnished to the writers by Alexandre Castellani of Rome. 

' Kohl, "Reisen in Siidrussland," 2nd edition, Leipzig, 1846, Vol. I, p. 15. 






Sea-girt isles, 
That, like to rich and various gems, inlay 
The unadorned bosom of the deep. 


GATHERING pearl shells and pearls is the principal indus- 
try of the semi-amphibious natives of the hundreds of palm- 
' crowned and foam-girdled islands of the southern Pacific, 
' commonly known as the South Sea Islands. Among these 
the most prominent for pearl fishing are the Tuamotu Islands or Low 
Archipelago, the Society Islands, the Marquesas, the Fiji Islands, Pen- 
rhyn or Tongareva, and New Caledonia. These are under the pro- 
tection of the French government, except Fiji and Penrhyn, which 
belong to Great Britain. 

Almost ever since the South Sea Islands have been known to civil- 
ization they have contributed pearls ; and the fishery has been one of 
the principal industries, not only for the natives, but also for the not 
inconsiderable number of sailors who, preferring the lotus on shore 
to the salt pork and monotony of ship life, have yielded to the insular 
attractions and formed domestic ties. The industry has been especially 
extensive during the last seventy years, when there has been a profit- 
able market for the shells. Most of the natives— men, women, and 
children — follow it for a living. Domestic duties rest very lightly 
upon the women, and many of these, and even young girls, find em- 
ployment in diving, in which at moderate depths these dusky mermaids 
are nearly, if not quite as expert as the men and boys. 

Tahiti, the largest of the eleven Society Islands, is the center of the 
pearling industry of French Oceanica. It is situated in about Lat. 
17° S. and Long. 150° W., and has an area of approximately 410 square 
miles and a population of 11,000, nearly one half of whom live in Pa- 
peiti, the principal town. This is one of the most agreeable of the 
"Summer Isles of Eden," Nature furnishing food in abundance, and 
climate and social customs requiring little in the way of dress and 
habitation. Notwithstanding its importance as the headquarters of 


the pearling industry, few pearl-oysters are caught at Tahiti, most o£ 
them coming from the archipelagoes of Tuamotu, Gambler, and occa- 
sionally Tubai. 

The Tuamotu Archipelago is the scene of the principal pearl fisheries 
of the South Seas ; and from the local importance of this industry the 
group is sometimes called the Pearl Islands. These coral-formed 
islands are strung out for a distance of 900 miles in a northwest and 
southeast direction, and extend from Lat. 14° to 23° S. and from 
Long. 136" to 149° W. They number about seventy-eight, many of 
them made up of small atolls only a few feet above the surface of the 
ocean, and with an aggregate area of about 360 square miles. The 
total population is approximately 6000, with many visitors from Tahiti 
and other neighboring islands during the pearling season. The prin- 
cipal products are pearl shell and pearls, copra, and cocoanut oil; and 
nearly one half of the islands yield nothing but shell and pearls. The 
chief port is Fakarava on an island of the same name, and the trade is 
almost entirely with Tahiti. 

As the Tuamotus are of coral formation, they produce little vege- 
table growth, and the people seem often on the brink of starvation, 
forming a striking contrast with those of the neighboring Society 
Islands. Drawing their subsistence entirely from the sea, except for 
the native cocoanuts and breadfruit, these people have, at times, been 
in great straits for food, and it was doubtless severe hunger that drove 
them to the acts of cannibalism with which they have been charged. 
And the sea which supplies them with food has also visited them with 
great destruction. As recently as January, 1903, a great storm swept 
over this group, drowning over 500 of the inhabitants, and destroying 
a very considerable portion of the pearling fleet and other property. 

The pearl-oyster reefs of the Tuamotu Archipelago are very ex- 
tensive, only eight or ten of the islands failing to contribute to the 
supply. They occur in the protected lagoons of the atolls, where the 
bottom is well covered with coral growth, with numerous elevations 
and depressions of various sizes ; and it is about the bases and in the 
recesses of these coral growths that the best shells are usually found. 
Most of them are of the black-edged variety of Margaritifera marga- 
rififcra, which here attains a great size, reaching a diameter of twelve 
inches in extreme cases. 

While pearl-oysters are found about nearly all of the Tuamotu 
Islands, the reefs are richest at Hikueru or Melville Island. When 
that lagoon is open it is the scene of the greatest operations, and it is 
credited with nearly one half of the total product of the archipelago. 
At the opening of the season, this is the resort of fishermen from all 
over the group, even from a distance of five hundred miles, and thou- 


sands of natives camp in temporary leaf-thatched huts among the 
cocoanut-palms on the beach, those from the different islands con- 
gregating in isolated settlements. As many as five thousand persons 
are sometimes brought together in this way. 

The volcanic-formed Gambler Islands, with high peaks reaching, in 
one instance, an altitude of over 1200 feet, present a striking contrast 
to the Tuamotu atolls. This group consists of five large and several 
small islands, surrounded by a coral reef of an irregular triangular 
figure. The iioo inhabitants of the Gambler Islands derive a large 
percentage of their support from the pearl fishery. The patches of 
pearl-oysters are located between the islands and the barrier reefs. 
They are numerous about the island of Mangareva, which is well sur- 
rounded by them on the north, east, and southeast. Oysters from the 
reef of Tearae, which extends from the eastern point of Mangare\a 
to the small island of Aukena, a distance of two miles, are especially 
rich in pearls. On this reef, where the water is from one to four 
fathoms in depth, the moUusks are small, rarely exceeding five or six 
inches at maturity, but the shell is very thick and coral covered; these 
yield many pearls. In greater depths, the oysters attain a larger size, 
but they yield few pearls. 

The first white man to attempt the exploitation of the pearl re- 
sources of the Tuamotus appears to have been Morenhout. In a voy- 
age to the Oceanic Islands in 1827, he learned of the great wealth of 
pearl shell, and applied to Queen Pomare at Tahiti for permission to 
employ the natives in the fishery. With an eye to business, she required 
a fee of $5000 for herself before granting the desired authority.^ 
Considering this excessive, Morenhout attempted to deal with the 
natives without permission of the dusky queen, but vmder these ad- 
verse conditions he found the trade unsatisfactory and soon aban- 
doned it. 

In 1830, and the years immediately succeeding, desultory pearling 
voyages were made from Valparaiso, Chile, and these were followed 
by expeditions from America and elsewhere. An interesting account 
of the trade at that time is contained in Lucatt's "Rovings in the 
Pacific from 1837 to 1849," published in London in 185 1. 

The Mormon influx in 1846 resulted in a further development of the 
pearl fishery; and Grouard, the local leader of that denomination, is 
credited with making a fortune in the business. 

From the beginning of the industry up to 1880, when control of the 
islands passed to the French government, it is estimated that about 
15,000 tons of pearl-oysters were secured. The eN:tent of tte fishery 
during the few years preceding 1880 made such drains upon the pro- 

' "Voyage aux lies du Grand Ocean," Paris, 1838; also "Le Correspondant," March 10, igo6. 


ductiveness of the reefs that many of them gave signs of exhaustion. 
With a view to adopting methods for conserving the industry, so es- 
sential to the welfare of the natives, the French Ministry of Marine 
and Colonies in 1883 inaugurated an investigation of its condition, and 
of the possibilities for improvement. This was made under the im- 
mediate direction of G. Bouchon-Brandely, whose interesting report* 
contains much data on this subject. 

As a result of these investigations and recommendations, a re- 
stricted season for fishing was adopted, and only a portion of the 
reefs was thrown open each year, a decree of the governor, published 
in the "Journal Officiel" of the colony, determining the islands in 
which the fishery might be prosecuted. This interdiction, known 
locally as rahiii, is for the purpose of permitting the oysters to develop, 
and thus prevent the exhaustion of the reefs. 

By decree of January 24, 1885, a restriction was made against tak- 
ing shells measuring less than 17 centimeters in diameter on the in- 
terior nacre, or weighing less than 200 grams per valve. But this was 
repealed in 1890, and since then there has been no restriction on the 
size of the oysters that may be fished. 

The pearl fishery and the isolated leper station are the principal 
claims which attract the attention of the outside world to the island of 
Penrhyn or Tongareva, one of the Manahiki group, in Lat. 9° S., and 
Long. 158° W. This desolate atoll island consists of a ring of land a 
few hundred yards in width, inclosing a lagoon nine miles long and 
five miles wide, and it produces little else than pearls and pearl shell. 
The white gravelly shore yields little vegetation except cocoanuts, 
which share with fish in furnishing sustenance to the semi-amphibious 

At Penrhyn the pearl fishery is carried on in the clear, limpid waters 
of the atoll where the oysters are undisturbed by storms. The shells 
belong mostly to the golden-edged variety, and are of good quality, 
the value in London ranging from £100 to £250 per ton. Relatively 
few pearls are found, amounting in aggregate value to only about one 
fourth of the value of the shells. These are the principal objects of the 
fishery ; the finding of pearls is incidental, but careful search is always 
made for them, and some choice specimens have been secured. 

On the coast of New Caledonia, pearling is of recent origin, dating 
as an industrial enterprise from 1897, although previous to that time 
some shells and pearls had been secured by native beach-combers. This 
island is 220 miles in length and 30 in width, situated 850 miles south- 
east of Australia, and about the same distance from New Zealand. 

'"La Peche et la Culture des Huitres Perlieres a Tahiti; Pecheries de I'Archipel Tua- 

motu," Paris, 1885. 


It is a French colony, and has been used by that government as a penal 
settlement since 1864. 

In 1897, rich beds of pearl-oysters were discovered off the west 
coast of this island. They are most numerous between the shore and 
the barrier reefs on the west coast from Pouembout River to Gomen 
Bay, and especially about the small island of Konienne at the mouth of 
the Pouembout River. They are also abundant among the Loyalty 
Islands off the eastern coast of New Caledonia, and especially at the 
island of Lifu.' The shell is similar to that from Torres Straits, and 
the yield of pearls is very large. Several concessions have been ob- 
tained to exploit these beds, one of them covering 130 miles in length. 
The industry is carried on by means of scaphanders, in a manner 
similar to that of Torres Straits. Virtually all of the catch is sent to 

The natives of the South Sea Islands, and particularly of Penrhyn 
and the Tuamotu group, are doubtless the most expert divers in the 
world. This can be readily appreciated by those who have read of 
Hua Manu in C. W. Stoddard's thrilling narrative, or have heard the 
story of the brown woman who swam for forty hours in a storm with 
a helpless husband on her back. Accustomed to the water from in- 
fancy, these human otters swim all day long as readily as they would 
walk, go miles from shore without a boat in search of fish which they 
take by means of baited hook and line, and boldly attack a shark single- 
handed. Seemingly fabulous stories are told of their descending, un- 
aided, 150 feet or more beneath the surface, and remaining at lesser 
depths for nearly three minutes, far surpassing any modern records of 
the divers of India. 

The water in the South Seas is wonderfully clear, enabling the 
fishermen to detect small objects at considerable depths, and especially 
so when using the water-telescope, similar to that employed in the Red 
Sea fisheries. By immersing this to a depth of several inches and cut- 
ting off the light from the upper end as he gazes through it down into 
the waters, the fisherman can readily inspect the bottom at a depth of 
fifteen fathoms, and thus locate the shells before he descends. 

The diving is quite unlike that in Ceylon and Arabia. The men do 
not descend on stones, but swim to the bottom. The diver is stripped to 
his pareu or breech-clout, his right hand is protected by a cotton mitten 
or by only a wrapping of cotton cloth, and in his left hand he carries a 
pearl shell to assist in directing his movements and in detaching the 
oysters at the bottom. In preparing for a deep descent, he sits for 
several minutes in characteristic attitude with hands hanging over 
knees, and repeatedly inflates his lungs to the fullest capacity, exhaling 

' Seurat, "L'huitre perliere," Paris, igoo.p. 133. 


the air slowly through his mouth. After five or six minutes of "taking 
the wind," the diver inhales a good breath, drops over the gunwale into 
the water to give him a start, and descends feet foremost. At a dis- 
tance of twelve or fifteen feet below the surface, gracefully as an otter 
or a seal, he bends forward and turns head downward and, with limbs 
showing dimly in frog-like motion, he swims vertically the remaining 
distance to the bottom. There he assumes a horizontal position and 
swims slowly just above the ground, searching critically for suitable 
oysters, in this way traversing a distance possibly of fifty feet or more. 
When he has secured an oyster, or his breath is approaching ex- 
haustion, he springs from the ground in an erect position and rapidly 
swims upward, the buoyancy of his body hastening his ascent so 
that he pops head and shoulders above the surface, and falls back with 
laboring pulse and panting breath. In case the dive has been unusually 
extended, a few drops of blood mav trickle from the nose and mouth. 
His find — consisting frequently of nothing and rarely of more than 
one oyster— is carried in a cocoanut fiber sack suspended from the 
neck, or is held in the left hand, or may be hugged beneath the left 

Ordinarily in actual fishing operations, the fishermen do not descend 
to greater depths than fifteen fathoms, and remain from sixty to ninety 
seconds. Writing in 185 1, a trader who had spent several years in 
collecting pearls and pearl shells among the Tuamotus stated: 'T timed 
several by the watch, and the longest period I knew any of them to 
keep beneath the water was a minute and a quarter, and there were 
only two who accomplished this feat. Rather less than a minute was 
the usual duration. It is unusual for them to attempt deep diving; and 
let the shells be ever so abundant, they will come up and swear there 
are none."^ 

However, in mutual contests or in special exhibitions, reports of 
twenty, twenty-three, and even twenty-five fathoms are numerous, and 
they have repeatedly been timed two and a half to three minutes. Bou- 
chon-Brandely speaks of a woman at Anaa, one of the Tuamotus, 
who would go down twenty-five fathoms and remain three minutes 
under water.^ This seems very unusual, but there are numerous re- 
ports of two and a half minutes at about seventeen or eighteen 
fathoms. In October, 1899, at Hikueru Island, another of the Tuamotu 
group, a young native made an exhibition dive for the officers of the 
United States Fish Commission steamship Albatross. He reached 
bottom at a depth of 102 feet under the boat's keel, and remained sub- 
merged two minutes and forty seconds. The water was so transparent 

^ Lucatt, "Rovings in the Pacific from 1837 ' "Bulletin United States Fish Commis- 

to 1849," London, 1851, Vol. I, p. 245. sion," Vol. V, p. 293. 


that he was clearly seen from the surface. After he touched bottom at 
that great depth, he calmly picked over the coral and shells to select a 
piece to bring up/ The diver was ready to go down again only a few 
minutes after he came up. 

In his work on French Oceanica, Chartier states: "There are three 
women well known in the archipelago [of Tuamotu] who have no 
equals elsewhere; they explore the depth at twenty-five fathoms and 
remain not less than three minutes before reappearing at the sur- 
face.'' ^ However, these unusual depths and extensions of time are 
dangerous, and care must be taken or serious results follow. Most of 
the catch is obtained in about ten fathoms of water. 

At the request of the writer, Mr. Julius D. Dreher, American Consul 
at Tahiti, made inquiries among the South Sea Islands in regard to the 
record of the best divers, and wrote as follows : 

Mr. J. L. Young, who has lived in these islands for thirty years, informs 
me that he has never seen a diver remain under water longer than 80 seconds, 
and that at a depth of twelve to fifteen fathoms. At one time he tested a man 
who claimed to be able to stay under for three minutes, yet this man could hold 
his breath on land less than 80 seconds by the watch. 

Elder Joseph F. Burton, who has spent many years as a missionary in these 
islands, states that once in Hikueru, of the Tuamotu group, he went out in a 
boat with the divers to time them. The best record made was 107 seconds, but 
he was informed that there were better divers on the island than those he tested. 
He thinks the water was ten to twelve fathoms in depth. A native of Takaroa, 
named Metuaro, told Mr. Burton that he could stay under water three minutes 
or longer. When these divers come up they take a breath and immediately put 
their head under water to prevent headache. 

Mr. J. Lamb Doty, formerly Consul and now Vice-Consul at Tahiti, who 
has spent eighteen years here, is willing to be quoted as affirming that he once 
timed a diver who remained under water 2 minutes 35 seconds. 

Mr. Henry B. Merwin, a leading trader with the Tuamotu Islands, is willing 
to be quoted as saying that he saw a diver remain under water 4 minutes 45 
seconds by the watch. This is generally regarded, so far as my inquiries go, 
as improbable; but most persons interviewed believe that men do remain un- 
der water i]^ to 3 minutes. A native of Takaroa, named Tai, assured me in 
the presence of others that there were twenty men in that island who could re- 
main under water 2j<^ to 3 minutes at a depth of twenty fathoms. He claimed 
to be able to stay 3 minutes at that depth. 

Diving-suits, or scaphanders, have been used at most of the South 
Sea Islands, but in a very irregular manner. In 1890 the use of sca- 
phanders was restricted in the Tuamotu group, and by decree of De- 

^ Alexander, "Report United States Fish ^"Tahiti et les Colonies Frangaises de la 

Commission," Vol. XXVII, p. 764. Polynesie," Paris, 1887, p. 173- 

Pearl-divers of the Tuamutu Archipelagic; men, women and tliil<lrL-ii i\\v: in tlic-c w .iters 

Settlement of pearl fishermen at Hiqueru, Tuamotu Archipelago 


cember 28, 1892, it was interdicted altogether with a view to preserv- 
ing the industry to the natives, as it represents their principal means 
of livelihood. The suit commonly employed at Penrhyn consists of a 
helmet and a jumper, neither boots nor trousers being worn. Owing 
to the absence of weights on the feet, it rarely but nevertheless some- 
times happens that a diver turns upside down, and the unwieldy helmet 
keeps him head downward while the air rushes out under the bottom 
cord of the jumper and he is suffocated. Also, when a good patch of 
shells has been located, the temptation to remain down too long is 
great, and paralysis often results. On the whole, these diving-suits 
have proven very dangerous to the light, graceful swimmers of these 
southern seas, to whom they are about as much of an impediment as 
was Saul's armor to the shepherd lad who slew the giant with the 
simple pebble from a sling. 

And there are dangers also in nude diving, even to those who have 
spent a lifetime about the water. Sharks and sting-rays and devil-fish 
there are in abundance, and many of them know the taste of diver's 
flesh ; on the other hand many a daring South Sea Islander could tell of 
a fierce combat more thrilling than even those pictured by Victor 
Hugo. One of the chief advantages of the diving-suit is that in case a 
shark comes along, the diver can bide his time until the fish is ready to 
leave, or he can frighten it away by ejecting air bubbles from the 
sleeve of his suit or by other demonstrations ; whereas a nude diver is 
obliged to seek the air without delay, and in the retreat is seized by the 
fish who, human like, has his appetite increased by the visible retreat 
of the object of his desire. 

Not Schiller nor Edgar Allan Poe ever conjured up a picture more ghastly 
than that of a Penrhyn diver caught like a rat in a trap by some huge, man- 
eating shark or fierce kara mauua, crouching in a cleft of the overhanging 
coral, under the dark green gloom of a hundred feet of water, witli bursting 
lungs and cracking eyeballs, while the threatening bulk of his terrible enemy 
looms dark and steady, full in the road to life and air. A minute or more has 
been spent in the downward journey ; another minute has passed in the agon- 
ized wait under the rock. . . . Has he been seen? . . . Will the creature 
move away now, wliile there is still time to return? The diver knows to a 
second how much time has passed ; the third minute is on its way ; but one goes 
up quicker than one comes down, and there is still hope. . . . Two minutes 
and a half ; it is barely possible now, but — the sentinel of death glides forward ; 
his cruel eyes, phosphorescent in the gloom, look right into the cleft where the 
wretched creature is croucliing, with almost twenty seconds of life still left, 
but now not a shred of hope. A few more beats of the laboring pulse, a gasp 
from the tortured lungs, a sudden rush of silvery air bubbles, and the brown 
limbs collapse down out of the cleft like wreaths of seaweed. The shark has 
his own. (Beatrice Grimshaw in the "Graphic") 


At the end of the day's work, the catch is opened by means of a 
large knife, and carefully searched for the much prized pearls. Usually 
the fisherman finds none ; occasionally he discovers a small round one 
or a large baroque, and at long intervals — possibly once in two or 
three years — his search is rewarded with a fine pearl for which he 
may receive $50 or $60, and there is always the chance that the very 
next oyster will disclose a gem which will make him independent for 
the remainder of his life ; and if no pearls whatever are found, there 
are the shells, the sale of which furnishes sufficient to purchase tobacco, 
knives, fish-hooks, the gaudy cotton cloths, the flour and other simple 
articles of food, and especially rum, that fatal gift of civilization which 
has been the curse of so many primitive peoples. 

Some of the individual pearls secured have been remarkably large, 
weighing 100 grains and over. Returning visitors from Tahiti, with 
views magnified doubtless in propoi"tion to the distance of the objects 
of their description, credited Queen Pomare with the possession of 
some sufficiently large to be used for billiard-balls. Sixty years ago 
superb pearls could be obtained from the natives for a few gallons of 
rum or a small number of pieces of cheap calico, and several shrewd 
traders made great profits in the business. But as trade at the islands 
was open to vessels of all nationalities, the competition increased, with 
the result that the natives gradually learned the high estimation in 
which pearls are held, and in recent years it has not been unusual for 
one of medium grade to sell higher in Oceanica than it would in 

It is difficult to form a reliable estimate of the value of the pearling 
industry of the South Sea Islands. The Tuamotu group, with 4000 
fishermen, yields, in an average season, about 450 tons of mother-of- 
pearl, worth about £65,000 in London, where most of it is mar- 
keted. The yield at the remaining French islands is less than that 
of the Tuamotus. Probably the total yield of mother-of-pearl 
in all the South Sea Islands is not far from 900 tons, worth about 

No statistics whatever are available regarding the yield of pearls, 
and the estimates sent from the islands are small compared with those 
made by London and Paris firms who import the pearls. A large num- 
ber of persons living in Papeiti and many traders visiting the islands 
depend very largely on pearl-dealing for a livelihood. From the yield 
of pearl shell and estimates made by dealers, we are inclined to put 
the value of the pearls secured in an average season from all the South 
Sea Islands at about $125,000, only a small portion of which goes to 
the fishermen themselves, the greater part representing profits of the 



Ocean's gem, the purest 

Of nature's works ! What days of weary journeyings, 

What sleepless nights, what toils on land and sea, 

Are borne by men to gain thee ! 


As regards area of distribution the most extensive pearl-oyster 
grounds of the world are situated on the northern and western coasts 
of Austraha. These are located within the jurisdictions of Queens- 
land, Western Australia, and South Australia ; and extend in irregular 
patches from near Cooktown on the northeast almost to Fremantle at 
the southwest, a distance of nearly 3000 miles. Those in Queensland 
are commonly known as the Torres Straits fisheries, as they are espe- 
cially important there ; but they extend a considerable distance beyond 
each end of the strait, and pearling expeditions are made from the 
limits of the Great Barrier coral reef northward to the vicinity of 
New Guinea.' Those of Western Australia are commonly spoken of 
as the Northwest fisheries. 

The fisheries of Queensland and of Western Australia are approxi- 
mately equal in extent, as regards number of vessels, boats, and men 
employed, and the quantity and value of the catch, with the advantage 
slightly in favor of the Northwest fishery in the last four or five years. 
In 1905, according to the official figures, the Queensland fishery gave 
employment to 348 vessels and 2850 men, and yielded shell and pearls 
worth £135,000, which was the smallest output since 1890. The West- 
ern Australia fishery, exclusive of Sharks Ray, employed 365 vessels 
in 1905, and about the same number of men as in Queensland, and 
yielded £196,000 worth of shell and pearls. The fishery of South 
Avistralia employed about 60 vessels and 375 men, and yielded about 
£25.000 worth of shell and pearls. This makes for the whole of 
Australia, except Sharks Bay hereinafter noted, a total of 773 vessels, 
6075 men, and an output worth £356,000. It should be understood 
that the South Australia fishery is not prosecuted on the southern coast 
of the continent, but on the northern coast, in what is known as the 
Northern Territory of South Australia. 

Three species of pearl-oysters are found in Australian waters. The 
largest species, Margaritifera maxima, which is by far the most im- 
portant and widely distributed, occurs to a greater or less extent 
throughout the whole of this region. This yields the standard mother- 

' "Report on Pearl Fisheries of North Queensland," Brisbane, 1890. 


of-pearl of commerce. Although the pearls which it yields are 
among the largest and finest in the world, this mollusk is sought more 
particularly for the shell, the value of which from season to season 
averages three or four times as much as that of the pearls. Ordinarily 
this shell is uniformly white over the entire inner surface, and is com- 
monly known locally as "silver lip"; but some "golden-edged" shell 
occurs on the muddy grounds in narrow passages between the islands 
on the northwest coast. 

While this species is gregarious, it is not located in densely covered 
beds, but is scattered in patches over the reefs. Some of these are 
miles in length and contain scores of tons, but usually they are very 
much smaller. The oysters occur principally on rocky bottom, and also 
on clay and sand when well covered with seaweeds, but are rarely 
found on muddy ground. They are most numerous in the channels 
where the current is strong. The small oysters are generally loosely 
attached by the byssus to rock, gravel or other shells ; while the mature 
ones lie loosely on the bottom or slightly turned in the sand. 

The second species of the Australian pearl-oysters, Margaritifera 
margaritifera, is smaller, rarely exceeding eight inches in diameter 
and a weight of two pounds. The distinguishing characteristic is the 
black edge bordering the inner surface of the shell, whence it ac- 
quired the local designation "black lip." This variety is not rare in 
Queensland, and in Western Australia its range extends as far as 
Champion Bay in Lat. 29° S. However, the catch is small compared 
with that of the Margaritifera maxima, amounting to only two or 
three per cent, in Queensland. In 1905, the export of "silver lip" and 
"golden-edged" from Thursday Island was 527 tons, and of "black 
lip" only II tons; in 1904, these figures were 778 and 7 respectively. 
In Western Australia the percentage of yield is much larger than this. 

The third species, Margaritifera carcharium, is confined almost 
entirely to the limits of Sharks Bay, on the extreme western coast of 
Australia. At maturity it is the smallest of the three, averaging three 
or four inches in diameter, and about equals in size the Lingah pearl- 
oyster of the Persian Gulf. The percentage of pearls therefrom is 
relatively greater than from the larger variety ; but, owing to its small 
size and lack of thickness, the shell is of little commercial value. The 
value of the output in recent years has approximated two or three 
thousand pounds sterling, which is very much less than formerly, the 
value of the shell having greatly decreased since the introduction of 
the Mississippi shell in button manufacture. 

The pearl fishery on the coast of Australia originated about 1861. 
It appears that an American sailor named Tays was the pioneer in the 
business; and on his death by drowning, the business was conducted 


by his partner named Seubert.' This was on the northwest coast, and 
the output reached the market by way of Singapore. At first the 
oysters were so abundant in shallow water that they could be picked 
up at low tide, and beach-combing was profitable, especially when 
carried on with cheap native labor. As the beach-beds became ex- 
hausted, the natives were encouraged to wade out to greater depths, 
and soon they became accustomed to "bob under" for those oysters 
visible from the surface. The Australian blacks were thus taught to 
dive, and in 1867 diving from boats in two or three fathoms was at- 
tempted with such success that in the following year the practice was 
generally adopted, the depth in which they worked gradually extend- 
ing to six or eight fathoms. In diving from a boat, the men imitated 
"bobbing tmder" which they had practised in shoaler water; they 
slipped off the gunwale feet foremost, and when six or eight feet 
below the surface, turned and swam downward. 

Owing to the close labor relations existing between the natives and 
the sheep-raisers of northwestern Australia, the latter were brought 
into the business, and for a number of years pearling and sheep-raising 
were closely associated. The blacks were employed in various duties 
in connection with raising and shearing sheep, and it was important 
to find some occupation for them when ranch-work was slack, not only 
for their own subsistence but for the protection of the herdsmen and 
their property. Fortunately, this opportunity was furnished by the 
pearl fishery, for which these men were well qualified. 

The profits of the business soon attracted many outside capitalists, 
and it became difficult to procure divers. Not only did the pearlers — 
and particularly new-comers — resort to impressing the blacks into ser- 
vice, but skilled fishermen were brought over from the Malay Archi- 
pelago, and in some cases the methods used in securing them were by 
no means regular. 

In 1 87 1 the Northwest pearl fishery gave employment to 12 vessels 
of 15 to 50 tons each, and yielded about 180 tons of mother-of-pearl. 
During the same year, in Torres Straits, where the industry had ex- 
tended about 1868, there were 10 vessels — mostly from the port of 
Sydney— and the catch of mother-of-pearl approximated 200 tons, 
valued at £60,000 in London.^ Each vessel was commonly manned by 
two or three white men and from ten to fifty divers, who worked from 
dinghys, in gangs of six or eight each with an overseer in charge. 

As the fishery increased rapidly in extent, the problem of securing 
nude divers became a serious one, and "nigger hunting" became rather 
common, the Australian black man representing the cheapest form of 

' Garran, ".■Vustralasia Illustrated," Syd- "Gill, "Life in the Southern Isles," Lon- 

ney, 1892, Vol. II, p. 886. don, 1876, p. 294. 


labor, working for his food, tobacco, and the simplest articles of cloth- 
ing. There was no complaint that the men thus impressed were 
treated with inhumanity; on the contrary they were well fed and cared 
for ; yet, with a view to protecting them and preventing even a suspi- 
cion of wrong-doing, the Australian government enacted regulations 
restricting pearling contracts with the natives. Nearly every year 
these regulations became more stringent, affecting the hours for div- 
ing, and limiting the work to depths of six and a half fathoms, so 
that the employment of Australian aborigines in the fishery became 
extremely troublesome and annoying. 

The government of the Netherlands also placed severe restrictions 
on the employment of natives of the Dutch Indies, requiring security 
of £20 per head for the repatriation of each man ; and the local chiefs 
or rajahs also expected a rake-off before permitting their men to ship. 
These Malays— from the islands of Solor, Allor, Adonare, etc.,— also 
expected much better pay and better provisions than the Australian 

The following interesting account by Henry Taunton gives a 
graphic description of the fishery as carried on at that time : 

The work was far from easy. It was exhausting and perilous for the 
divers, and full of privation, exposure, and danger for the white men. Only 
the hope of a prosperous season reconciled one to the life. When shells were 
plentiful and the weather fine, the work was exciting and interesting enough ; 
but during rough weather, when one had to be constantly straining at the oar 
to keep the dinghy from drifting too rapidly, or when hour after hour might 
pass without the men bringing up a single shell, the discouragement was great. 
The rays of the vertical sun beating down on one's shoulders at such times 
seemed as if it would never reach the western horizon, which was the signal 
for returning on board. 

As may well be imagined, when three or four white men had to control and 
compel some thirty or forty natives to carry on work which they detested, a 
very strict discipline had to be maintained. It was the rule that no talking was 
allowed amongst the divers when in the dinghy, nor were they even permitted 
to address the white man, unless, maybe, to answer a question as to the nature 
of the bottom, whether nanoo (sand) or bannin (shelly bottom), etc., or 
unless some urgent necessity arose. Sometimes, indeed, I have pushed off 
from the vessel's side of a morning and have not heard a word spoken until 
we returned on board at night, unless chance might take me within hail of 
some other dinghy, when felicitations or condolences would be exchanged, as 
good or bad luck might happen. At times, when the "patch" was small, the 
dinghys of the whole fleet might be congregated on a very small area, in which 
case the scene was animated enough. On all sides you could see divers slipping 
into the water and others just coming to the surface, puffing, blowing, and 
coughing to clear their eyes, ears, and mouth from the salt water— some with. 


others without shells. Others would be swimming to regain their dinghy or 
squatting in their places for the few minutes' rest permitted, and, if the wind 
were at all fresh, shivering with cold ; for although the weather might be ex- 
tremely hot, the constant plunging in and out for many hours at a time tended 
to reduce the bodily temperature considerably. The white men would be seen 
standing up in each dinghy. They were lightly clad, with shirt sleeves and 
trousers rolled up, in all varieties and colours of costume, from the regulation 
shirt, trousers, and felt hat, with leather belt sustaining sheath-knife and 
pouch, to the more comfortable pyjama suit, or even the Malay sarong. Some 
would be straining hard at the end of the scull-oar, forcing the boat against 
windand tide in the endeavor to keep it as long as possible on the "patch," which 
was marked by the discoverer's buoy, which also might be observed nodding 
on the surface, and canted over by the swiftly rushing tide. Others, their men 
all being below, just kept the dinghy's head to wind until, by judicious use of 
the oar and well-calculated drifting, all the divers reappear on the surface 
within a short distance from their own boat. This is the secret of saving the 
divers from wasting their powers and time uselessly. ... As may be sup- 
posed, Vv here the tide sweeps the divers along the bottom at the rate of three or 
four or even six miles an hour, they have to be very smart in seeking and grab- 
bing any shell within reach. I have never tested them with a time-keeper ; but 
by counting seconds on many occasions, from the moment a diver's head sank 
below until it again came above the surface, I estimated the average time under 
water was fifty-seven seconds. Part of this is of course expended in swim- 
ming to the bottom, where they can remain only a very few seconds, as time 
must be allowed for reaching the surface before letting go their breath. Prac- 
tice in ever-varying depths enables them to gauge this limit of time to a nicety. 
But sometimes they cut things too fine, and then a catastrophe was inevitable, 
unless much watchfulness was exercised by the white man, who has to keep his 
eyes turned in all directions once his men are down. So long as a diver can 
hold his breath the pressure forces him to the surface at a speed which seldom 
requires accelerating by strokes with the hands or feet ; but the moment he lets 
go his breath — if under water — his upward course is arrested and his body 
commences to sink. Now, when the white man sees this, either he must plunge 
in to the rescue himself, or direct such divers who may be on the top to do the 

On a calm day, when one can see far into the blue clear depths below, I have 
often seen one of my men shooting rapidly upwards until within perhaps a foot 
or two from the surface, when a sudden gush of bubbles from the man's 
mouth would tell its own tale. Instantly he v.'ould begin to sink gently down- 
wards, and only quick action could save this diver who had miscalculated his 
time. However, as it was not infrequent for divers to go down and never 
come up at all, one may conclude that, where the time to be allowed is com- 
prised in so few seconds, even the most experienced make fatal errors.' 

The difificulties in securing labor at length resulted in experiments 
with the scaphander or diving dress, and gradually its adoption by 

' "Australind," London, 1900, pp. 233-239. 


most of the pearling fleet. The labor problem and the exhaustion of 
the oysters in medium depths developed more quickly in Torres Straits 
than on the northwest coast, and diving outfits were introduced there 
about 1879, while this was delayed about five years longer on the 
northwest coast. The outfit did not immediately supplant nude diving 
in either locality. In 1883, only 80 of the 206 Queensland vessels were 
supplied with scaphanders, the others continuing to use nude diving, 
and even yet nearly one third of the vessels depend on that form of 
fishery. Of the 353 vessels fishing in 1904, 108 depended on nude 
divers and 245 were supplied with armored equipment. 

In 1 88 1 the Queensland government took cognizance of the rapidly 
developing industry, and enacted a license system and other regula- 
tions. For every boat under two tons an annual license fee of £1 (in 
1886 this was reduced to ten shillings) was enacted, and for every 
vessel of ten tons or under, the sum of £3, with an additional amount 
for vessels in excess of that measurement; but not exceeding £20 in 
any case.* In 1886 it was required by the Queensland government that 
every person employed "as a diver, and using a diving apparatus," must 
be licensed annually, for which a fee of £1 is exacted.^ And in 
1891 it was required that "every diving dress and air-pump and all air- 
tubes and gear used in the fishery in connection with diving must be 
submitted to an inspector for examination once at least in every 
period of six months."* The license system was adopted in Western 
Australia in 1886, a fee of £1 per annum being exacted for each vessel 
engaged in the fishery.^ In 1891, South Australia adopted the license 
system, requiring that every boat of two tons or under should pay ten 
shillings, and that each boat over that measurement should pay twenty 

With a view to protecting the reefs, the government of Queensland 
in 1891 enacted a law forbidding the sale or removal — except for culti- 
vation purposes — of any pearl shell "of the kind scientifically known 
as Mclcagriiia margaritifcra, and of either of the varieties commonly 
known as 'golden-edged' and 'silver lip,' of which the nacre or mother- 
of-pearl measures less than six inches from the butt or hinge to the 
opposite edge or lip, but this does not apply to the variety commonly 
called 'dwarf-shell.' " ^ Owing to the difficulty in enforcing this regu- 
lation, the size restriction was reduced in 1897 to five inches from the 
hinge to the opposite lip, or six and one half inches exteriorly, shells 
of this size weighing approximately one pound. It is claimed that 
many oysters less than five inches in length are raised, opened for 

'45 Victoriae, No. 2. '50 Victoriae, No. 7. 

"50 Victorias. No. 2. ' 55 Victoria, No. 29. 

' 55 Victoriae, No. 29. 

Pearling boats at Hiqueru, Tuamotu Archipelago 

Australian pe.irl-.ilver (.irnmred) o.niini; uji fn .m ilii- depths 


pearls, and then cast back into the water.^ In 1899 the governor of 
South Austraha interdicted the capture in the waters of that territory 
of any shell of "Meleagrina margaritifera measuring less than four 
inches from the butt or hinge to the opposite edge or lip." Competent 
evidence exists that a good-sized pearl has been found in an oyster 
measuring one inch in diameter. 

The fishermen of Western Australia rendezvous at Broome, about 
one thousand miles by water north of Perth, the nearest railway sta- 
tion. With only a thousand or so inhabitants, under normal condi- 
tions, this is a scene of great activity, and bears a reputation of being 
no Sunday-school when the fishermen are in, with tons of shell and 
many a pickle bottle more or less full of pearls. Cossack and Onslow 
are also important stations. 

In 1905, 340 luggers and 25 schooners were employed in the pearl 
fisheries of Western Australia, exclusive of Sharks Bay. Of this 
number about 85 per cent, hailed from Broome. The schooners ranged 
in size from 13 to 133 tons, and the luggers were mostly about 12 tons, 
with a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 14 tons. The total number 
of fishermen approximated 2900, a medley of races, Japanese, Malays, 
Chinese, Arabs, native aboriginals and South Sea Islanders working 
together more or less harmoniously. The yield consisted of 1394 tons 
of mother-of-pearl, with a declared value of £146,225, and about 
£50,000 worth of pearls, a total of £196,255 for the year, which was 
an increase of £32,286 over 1904.^ 

The headquarters for the fishery of the Northern Territory of 
South Australia are at Port Darwin. In 1905 this fishery employed 
forty-nine sail vessels and two canoes manned by Europeans, and 
two proas and twelve canoes manned by Malays. The crews, num- 
bering about 375, consisted mainly of Malays, Japanese and Filipinos. 
In 1905, 42 per cent, were Malays, 24 per cent, were Japanese, and 20 
per cent, were Filipinos. Owing to the low price of pearl shell, the 
fishery was not prosecuted actively, and many of the Asiatics left for 
the pearling reefs at the Aru Islands. The total value of pearl shells 
reported among the exports for that year was £18,526; during the 
preceding year it was £28,391. No record is available for the value 
of the pearls. 

The Queensland pearling fleet has its rendezvous at Port Kennedy, 
Thursday Island, which was originally maintained by the British, the 
Queensland, and the New South Wales governments as a harbor of 
refuge for mariners. Politically this port is important as the strategic 
key to the northeast of Australia, but its prosperity is almost wholly 

' "Departmental Commission on Pearl Shell " "Report on the Fishing Industry for the 

and Beche-de-Mer Fisheries," Brisbane, 1897. Year 1905," Perth, 1906, pp. 4-7. 


dependent on the pearl-oyster fishery. The population approximates 
1600, consisting largely of Japanese, Malays, Cingalese, Pacific island- 
ers, and Australian aborigines, with specimens from nearly every 
Asiatic and European nationality, and some from America and Af rica> 
The Japanese predominate, their influx dating from 1891 ; and at 
present the industry is largely dependent on these Scotchmen of the 
Orient for its most skilful workmen. The heterogeneous national- 
ities, and the abundance of sand-flies, mosquitos, etc., make this island 
rather less desirable as a place of residence than it is interesting from 
a political and ethnological point of view. 

The Queensland fishery in 1905 employed 348 vessels, and yielded 
543 tons of shell, according to the government returns. In 1904, 353 
vessels were engaged, and the catch was 798 tons of shell. 

During the last fifteen years there has been a very steady decrease 
in the average catch of pearl-oysters per boat in the Australian fish- 
ery. The average catch in the Queensland fleet in 1890 approxi- 
mated 7 tons per boat; from 1898 to 1903 it was about 3 tons annually; 
in 1904 it was only 2]/^ tons, and in 1905 a trifle more than ij/^ tons. 
The yearly increasing number of boats would naturally lower the 
average, but the decrease is generally ascribed to the denudation of 
the reefs, due to close working for thirty-five years without giving 
them a chance to recuperate. 

The small yield in Queensland in 1904 and 1905 was due largely tO' 
the extended rough weather and the accompanying thick or muddy 
water, which presented an obstacle to the prosecution of the work. 
Mr. Hugh Milman, the government resident at Thursday Island, 
states that each year the beds in the more sheltered spots have been 
extensively fished, rendering it necessary for the fleet to go farther 
afield in places where the depth of water is greater, and where the ves- 
sels are more exposed to the full force of the southeast winds which 
prevail for about seven months of the year, and which were unusually- 
severe in 1905.^ The general denudation of the beds is not the prin- 
cipal cause of the decreased take. An additional cause for the falling- 
ofif in 1905 was the deflection of a large percentage of the fleet to new 
fields of operation, no vessels leaving for the Aru Islands in the 
Arafura Sea, when the season was about half finished. 

For vessels using diving apparatus, the season continues through- 
out the year, but it is frequently interrupted by storms, which may 
cause the boats to lie in harbor for ten days, or even two weeks at a 
time. The nude divers suspend work from December to March, and 
also during the season of gales. 

1 During the month of June, 1908, a severe storm destroyed a pearling fleet, with a loss of 

40 vessels and 270 lives. 


Each vessel is manned by a diver, his attendant, and a crew of four 
men, who in pairs take ahernate shifts at the manual pump for supply- 
ing air to the diver. The entire force of men take part in managing 
the vessel and in caring for the catch. The vessel is provided with 
full equipment and supplies of food, water, etc., to last two or three 
weeks, depending on the distance of the fishing-grounds from the 
shore station, or the frequency of trips made by a supply vessel. 

Except a number of owners and their representatives, there are now 
very few white persons engaged in pearling in Australian waters. 
Even the persons in charge of the vessels are largely natives of the 
Pacific Islands. Owing to the hardships encountered and the small 
remuneration, it is difficult to secure white labor; and aliens from 
Japan, the Philippines, Java, Singapore, India and New Guinea, are 

The divers are of many nationalities, principally Japanese and 
Malays, and the former are said to be the most efficient. Previous to 
1890, they were mostly whites, and were paid at the rate of £40 per 
ton of shells ; but increased competition and the influx of cheaper labor 
caused a considerable decrease in the rate of compensation, driving 
most of the white men out of the employment. At present the Japanese 
almost monopolize the business. Of the 367 divers licensed at Thurs- 
day Island in 1905, 291 were Japanese, 32 were Filipinos, 21 were 
from Rotuma Island, 16 were Malays, and 7 were of other national- 
ities; this shows how completely the white man has been driven out 
of this skilled.branch of labor. 

The oysters are so scattered that considerable walking is necessary 
to find them. They usually lie with the shells partly open, and in 
grasping them the fisherman must be careful not to insert a finger 
within the open shell, or a very bad pinch will result. The progress 
of the vessel must be adapted to that of the diver, and when a good 
clump of oysters is found it may even be desirable to anchor. If the 
current and wind are just right, the vessel may repeatedly drift over 
a bed, the diver ascending and remaining on board while the vessel is 
retracing its course to the windward side of the reef. On new 
grounds, the nature of the bottom is determined by casting the lead 
properly tipped with soap or tallow, and the prospects for oysters thus 
determined without descending. 

During good weather and in eight or ten fathoms of water, a 
diver can work almost continually, and need not return to the surface 
for two hours or more ; but as the depth increases, the length of time 
he may remain at the bottom in safety decreases almost in geometric 
ratio, and he comes to the surface frequently for a "blow" with helmet 
removed. Evidence secured by a departmental commission of the 


Queensland government in 1897, showed that in good weather at a 
depth of eight or ten fathoms, a diver works from sunrise to sunset, 
coming to the surface only a few times. In a depth of over fifteen 
fathoms the attendant usually has instructions not to let him remain 
longer than fifteen minutes at a time; yet a diver's eagerness in work- 
ing where good shell is plentiful sometimes impels him to order the 
attendant to disregard this rule. The very great pressure of the water 
— amounting to thirty-nine pounds or more to the square inch — is lia- 
ble to cause paralysis, and death occasionally results. In working at a 
depth of twenty to twenty-five fathoms, a diver is rarely under water 
longer than half an hour altogether during the day. The greatest 
depth from which shell is brought appears from the same evidence to 
be "30 fathoms and a little over"; but at that depth — where the pres- 
sure is seventy-eight pounds to the square inch — the fisherman re- 
mains down only a few minutes at a stretch, and should be exceedingly 
careful. The work is injurious, and even under the best conditions 
the diver not infrequently becomes semi-paralyzed and disqualified in 
a few years. Notwithstanding that the work is performed by men in 
vigorous health, nearly every year there are from ten to twenty-five 
deaths in the Queensland fleet alone;* three fourths of these are due 
to paralysis, and most of the remaining result from sufifocation, ow- 
ing largely to inexperience in use of gear. From five to ten years 
is the usual length of a man's diving career, although in the fleet 
may be found men who have been diving for twenty-five years or 

On the vessels manned by Japanese, commonly several members of 
the crew are competent divers and take a turn at the work, although 
only one license is secured. Such a vessel carries only one head-piece, 
but two otherwise complete suits, the helmet fitting either, so that as 
soon as one exhausted diver comes up to rest, a successor is ready to 
have the helmet screwed to his body-dress and descend without delay, 
thus saving about half an hour in the changing. 

The nude divers in the Australian pearl fisheries are mostly Malays 
and Australian aborigines. They work from dinghys operated from a 
vessel, each dinghy carrying six or eight divers, usually with a white 
man as overseer. The man in charge sculls against the tide to keep 
the boat stationary over the ground, and all the fishermen of a par- 
ticular dinghy descend together for greater safety from sharks, and 
to cover the ground systematically. On rising, each diver swims to 
the boat, throws his catch over the gunwale, and climbs in to rest for 
a few minutes. Sometimes two or possibly even three oysters may be 

^ "Report of Departmental Commission on Pearl Shell and Beche-de-Mer Fisheries," 

Brisbane, 1897. 


brought up at a single descent, but a diver is doing well if he brings 
up one oyster in ten descents. The average daily catch of each man is 
probably two or three oysters, but a fisherman has been known to bring 
up fifty in one day. On some vessels, those who fall behind in the 
catch are punished by extra duty aboard ship. 

The pearling industry has had a marked efifect on the industrial and 
social condition of the natives of the Australian coast and the adjacent 
islands. Many of these natives now have boats of their own, and 
others seek employment on other vessels. Law and order and decent 
respect for property have arisen, with schools and churches. The 
result is all the more remarkable when it is considered that scarcely 
more than a generation has passed since labor among the men was 
unknown, the women doing all the work necessary to meet their scanty 

As now carried on in Australia, pearling is a hard life, the men 
working for two thirds of the season in a dead calm and oppressive 
heat, while in the remaining months they are rolling day and night. 
The members of the crew are not allowed ashore without a written 
permission from the captain of the boat, and men and luggage are 
searched on leaving the vessel. In addition to these objections, life on 
board is not unusually made intensely disagreeable by the myriads of 
inch-long cockroaches, which are attracted by and multiply rapidly on 
the shreds of muscle left on the pearl shell stored in the hold. Storms 
are frequent on the coast. In February, 1899, three schooners and 
eighty smaller vessels were wrecked, and eleven white and four hun- 
dred colored men were drowned. 

At the end of each day's fishing, the oysters are cleaned of sub- 
marine growths. Sometimes this is by no means an easy task, as many 
of the shells are so covered with weeds, coral, and sponge as to bear 
little resemblance to oysters. After they have been scrubbed and the 
edges have been chipped, they are washed and stored on deck. Early 
the following morning they are opened and examined for pearls. 
This opening is done carefully to avoid injury to any pearl that may 
be within. The hinge of the shell is placed on the deck and a broad 
knife forced down so as to sever the adductor muscle, causing the 
shells to spring open and permitting the removal of the soft parts. 
The flesh is carefully examined, both by sight and by feeling, to locate 
all pearls, which are picked out by hand and placed in a suitable re- 
ceptacle. Within the adductor muscle are found seed-pearls and small 
baroques ; the large pearls are found embedded in the mantle, where 
their presence may be detected as soon as the shell is opened, the pearly 
gleam contrasting with the light blue of the mantle. Sometimes, 
though rarely, large pearls are found loose within the shell, whence 


they roll out when the shell is opened. Valuable pearls are occasionally 
removed from blisters on the surface of the shell, or from within the 
body of the nacre itself. Even when empty, these blisters are valuable, 
and are especially adapted for brooches and other ornaments requiring 
a broad and relatively flat surface. 

After the flesh has been carefully examined throughout, it is dis- 
carded, as it is not considered suitable for food, and the shell is dried 
for half a day or so to make the hinge brittle in order that it may be 
broken without injury to the mother-of-pearl. After the shell has 
been roughly cleaned, it is placed in the hold, if the vessel is operating 
from a shore station, as is commonly the case in Torres Straits. Since 
long exposure to the sun affects the quality of the mother-of-pearl, it 
is important that it be kept under cover. On returning to the station, 
it is thoroughly cleaned, assorted, dried, the dark edges clipped off, and 
the cleaned shell is packed in shipping cases, each containing from 250 
to 325 pounds. On the west coast, where the vessels at times .operate 
200 or 300 miles from port, the shell is cleaned, assorted and crated on 
the vessels; whence it may be delivered direct to the steamers. The 
Northwest shell is somewhat smaller than the mature shell of Torres 
Straits, averaging about 1 100 to the ton, whereas that of Thursday 
Island runs about 725 to the ton. 

It is very difficult to prevent the theft of pearls by the fishermen as 
they are hable to treat them as perquisites if not carefully watched. 
Indeed, on the Torres Straits vessels it has come about that pearls do 
not constitute a recognized source of income to the proprietors. There 
the fishery is now conducted almost exclusively for the shells, as the 
wage-earners secrete probably as many valuable pearls as they turn 
over to the rightful owners. The hot sun causes many of the oysters 
to open, and deft fingers quickly pick out such pearls as may be visible. 
An oyster may be induced to open its shell by being held near the 
galley fire on the lugger, and the insertion of a piece of cork holds it 
open while a pearl is shaken out or hooked out by means of a piece of 
wire. Then the cork is removed and the oyster closes again with no 
evidence of robbery. The proprietors of boats who themselves open 
the oysters almost invariably secure larger yields of fine pearls than 
those who depend on paid employees, who rarely have the luck to find 
choice pearls, judging from what they turn in. The government of 
Queensland has endeavored to put a stop to pearl stealing, and by en- 
actment^ of 1891, it restricted all selling or buying of pearls within the 
fishing region except through regularly licensed dealers, whose trans- 
actions are open to examination. 

But the fishermen seem to have little difficulty in evading the laws, 

' 55 Victorise, No. 29. 


and throughout the fleet the men have become so adept that they regard 
the pearls as their contraband perquisites. And the ease with which 
these may be secreted is surpassed only by the facility with which they 
may be sold, notwithstanding legislation to the contrary. Indeed, 
some employers make no claim to the pearls found, thus enabling them 
to secure fishermen at lower rates of wages. 

As previously noted, the pearls constitute only an incidental catch in 
(he fisheries on the Australian coast, but in the aggregate the yield is 
very large. The yield in the northwest Australian fishery in 1906 
is estimated at £50,000, local valuation; in the Queensland fishery 
£33,000; in that of South Australia £5000, a total of £88,000 or 
$440,000.' Relatively few seed-pearls are obtained, and some of the 
pearls are of great size. Some beautiful specimens have been found, 
but usually they have less luster and are more irregular in form than 
the Persian or the Indian output. 

Among the remedies suggested for improving the condition of the 
Australian pearl reefs may be mentioned the establishment of six 
inches as the minimum size of the shell that may be taken ( five inches is 
now permitted in Queensland, and there is no restriction in Western 
Australia), the closure of certain areas for stated periods from time 
to time, and a limit on the number of vessels employed. The govern- 
ment resident at Thursday Island, Mr. Hugh Milman, who has had 
long acquaintance with the industry, strongly recommends the adop- 
tion of a system of artificial culture; and in the meantime, to foster the 
industry, "licenses should be granted to a reduced number of boats and 
certain sheltered areas should be closed altogether for a few years 
to give the beds time to recover. This latter procedure, however, the 
pearlers themselves are not in favor of, as they are of the opinion that 
the weather conditions against which they have to contend are sufficient 
protection to prevent the denudation of the principal grounds." 

A few years ago certain areas in Torres Straits were proclaimed 
closed for a period against the removal of pearl shell ; but, owing to the 
want of effective patrol, the shell was poached to a very large extent, 
and consequently the good that should have resulted from the experi- 
ment was not apparent. Owing to the impracticability of continuous 
patrol, and the want of proper legislation to bring die offenders to 
book, it was decided to remove the restrictions. 

The Sharks Bay fishery, to which we have previously referred,^ is 
prosecuted by means of small sail-boats using light dredges, except in 
the case of the very shallow or "pick-up banks," where the oysters are 
commonly removed by hand. Some years ago this fishery was of 

' To this should be added the output of Sharks Bay, amounting to £2000 in 1906, 
making a total of $450,000. " See pp. 70 and 200. 


much local importance; but the developing scarcity of the oysters, 
and the present low value of this grade of shell in Europe, due to the 
competition with Mississippi shell, have resulted in a great 
reduction. In 1905, the industry gave employment to 17 small 
boats and 42 men, of whom 18 were Europeans, 13 Asiatics, 
and 1 1 aboriginal natives. The yield of pearls, according to ofificial re- 
port of the government of Western Australia, approximated £2000 in 
value, and of pearl shell there was 88 tons, with a declared value of 
£607. In 1896 the government of Western Australia surveyed the 
Sharks Bay reefs, and opened them to preemption in small areas for 
cultivating this species of pearl-oyster. At present they are mostly 
held under exclusive licenses for a period of fourteen years. The busi- 
ness is under an elaborate system of regulations; but as appears from 
the above figures the results have not been important. 

Pearls are more numerous in this pearl-oyster than in the two other 
Australian species. In removing them from the flesh, a modification 
of the Ceylon process is adopted. The mollusks are opened by means 
of a knife, and the contents of the shells are placed in vats or tubs — 
known locally as "poogie tubs"; and, exposed to the hot sun, are al- 
lowed to putrefy. Sea-water is added, and the putrid mass stirred; 
after several days the water and the thoroughly disintegrated flesh 
tissues are decanted, leaving the pearls at the bottom. The odor from 
a number of these "poogie tubs" is said to almost rival that of the 
"washing toddies" at Marichchikadde. 

The Sharks Bay pearls are commonly yellowish or straw colored, 
and sometimes have a beautiful golden tinge. Although obtained 
from small shells, they are sometimes of considerable size — twenty 
grains or more in weight, and fine specimens sell for several hundred 
dollars each. China and India furnish better markets for them than 
Europe or America. 


]My thoughts arise and fade in solitude ; 
The verse that would invest them melts away 
Like moonlight in the heaven of spreading day. 
How beautiful they were, how firm they stood, 
Flecking the starry sky like woven pearl. 

Shelley, My Thoughts. 

For nearly four hundred years, pearls and pearl shells have been the 
most beautiful objects which have reached the outside world from the 
many islands of the Malay Archipelago, On his visit to this part of 

eighing, and packing muther-of-pearl, uff the cuast uf Au&lra 


the world in 1520, Pigopitta, a companion of Magalhaes, reported 
pearls among the prized possessions of the natives. The fisheries have 
never been of great importance, although the reefs are widely scattered 
throughout the archipelago, and the possibilities seem favorable for 
very great development. Thomas de Comyn stated a century ago, that 
pearl fisheries had been undertaken "from time to time about Min- 
danao, Zebu, and some of the smaller islands, but with little success 
and less regularity, not because of a scarcity of fine pearls, but on ac- 
count of a lack of skill of the divers and their well-established dread 
of sharks."^ 

Giacinto Gemmi," writing of Philippine pearls, repeats a strange 
tale from the "Storia de Mindanao" by the Jesuit father. Combes, to 
the effect that in a certain spot, under many fathoms of water, there 
was a pearl of inestimable value, as large as an egg ; but, although the 
king's ministers had made every effort to have it secured, they had al- 
ways been unsuccessful. 

During the last thirty years, pearls and pearl shells have been 
secured from most of the inshore waters of Malaysia, but the output 
has not been so regular or so extensive as the conditions seem to war- 
rant. Our observation leads to the conviction that this is not due so 
much to lack of skill on the part of the divers, or to their dread of 
sharks, mentioned by Comyn ; but to the fact that foreign capital, at- 
tracted to this part of the world, has found more security and profit in 
developing plantations, and the natives have not had sufficient enter- 
prise to systematize and develop the fishery resources. 

Throughout Malaysia, including the Philippine Islands, the pearl is 
known as nmtya, mootara, or a similar name, closely resembling the 
Sanskrit miikta or the Cingalese niootoo, indicating the source of the 
influence originating the fishery and trade. 

The most widely-known pearl fisheries of Malaysia are in the Sulu 
Archipelago, a group of islands comprising about 1000 square miles 
in area, and containing a population of 100,000. The beautiful yellow 
pearls shared with the many acts of piracy in attracting attention to 
this group previous to 1878, when the islands were brought under the 
influence of Spanish rule; and since the Spanish- American War, pearl 
fishing has been the leading industry, though it has received less atten- 
tion from outside sources, perhaps, than has the existence of slavery 
and harems as part of the social system. 

Writing in 1820, John Crawfurd stated that the annual export of 
pearls from Sulu Islands to China approximated 25,000 Spanish dol- 
lars in value, and the mother-of-pearl similarly exported was worth 

' ComjTi, "State of the Philippine Islands," '"Storia Naturale delle Genime," Naples, 

London, 1820, pp. 38, 39- I730. Vol. I, p. 461. 


70,000 dollars. "Considering the turbulent and piratical habits of the 
natives of the Sulu group, it is certain that a greater share of skill and 
industry than can at present be applied to the fisheries, would greatly 
enhance the value and amount of their produce." ^ 

In the Sulu Archipelago, the pearl-oyster reefs exist from Sibutu 
Pass to Basilan Strait, and roughly cover an estimated area of 15,000 
square miles ; that is, in the most favorable localities throughout 
this area, pearl-oysters occur to a greater or less extent. The fish- 
eries are prosecuted by Malays and Chinese, and are largely centered 
at Sulu. 

Pearl-oysters occur about many other islands. They exist at 
Maimbun and Parong; and also off the island of Tapul and its neigh- 
bor Lagos, both southwest of Maimbun. In the channels among these 
islands, on the rocky gravelly bottom where there is a good current, 
oysters are commonly found. They also occur off Laminusa, north- 
east of Tawi-Tawi, at Cuyo Island, and in the waters about Malam- 
paya and Bacuit. 

The large mother-of-pearl oyster (Margarififera inaxima) known 
locally as concha de nacr, is by far the most abundant. When full- 
grown in this region it is ordinarily between ten and thirteen inches 
in diameter. The young oyster attaches itself to the bottom by means 
of the green byssus ; but after attaining a weight of one pound, it is 
too heavy to be easily moved by the tide, and the ligature gradually 
disappears. The Australian "black lip" (Margaritifera margari- 
tifera), known here as concha de nagra, is also found. In these waters 
it attains a diameter of about eight inches, but most specimens are con- 
siderably smaller. 

There is another pearly shell in the Philippines, a spiral gasteropod 
known locally as caracoles, which is ordinarily five or six inches in 
diameter, and has a beautiful pearly surface. This yields very few 
pearls ; it is sought for pearl-button manufacture, selling for about the 
same as the concha de nagra. 

Streeter states that it is declared by the natives of the Sulu Archi- 
pelago that pearls of a yellowish hue have been found in the pearly 
nautilus (Nautilus pompilius) , one of the group of cephalopodous mol- 
lusks. As, however, there is a superstition that they bring ill luck, the 
natives say that they throw them away, believing that any one who 
should fight while wearing one of these pearls in a ring, would cer- 
tainly be killed. If we consider the habits and organism of this remark- 
able animal, and the splendid nacreous coating of its shell, the assertion 
that pearls are found in it seems quite natural. Indeed, the occur- 
rence of pearls in the pearly nautilus is generally recognized. 

* Crawfurd, "History of the Indian Archipelago," Edinburgh, 1820, Vol. Ill, p. 445- 


For many years the successive sultans of Sulu exercised authority 
over the fisheries and— in addition to exacting certain percentages and 
presents from the fishermen— claimed as their perquisites all pearls 
exceeding a designated weight. The fisheries were prosecuted by 
nude divers, of whom there were a large number. A Chinese com- 
pany had been particularly fortunate in its relations with the Sulus, 
and had an extensive equipment in the fishery, consisting of a number 
of small vessels, each carrying a crew of seven men, who used diving- 
suits. In addition to these, some of the native Moros owned boats 
from which diving-suits were employed. 

Following the Spanish-American War and the transfer of the Phil- 
ippine Islands to America, several vessels proceeded to engage in the 
fisheries without previously consulting the representatives of the Sul- 
tan of Sulu. This called forth from that official an appeal to the Ameri- 
can authorities for protection in his claims. He gave an account of the 
pearl fishery in this interesting document, which we quote at length — 
through the courtesy of the American Bureau of Insular Affairs — be- 
cause of the light it throws, not only on the industry, but also on the 
characteristics of these people with whom the American government is 
now dealing. 

(Forwarded by the Governor of Moro Province.) 

[Translation.] (Seal of the Sultan.) 

No date. 

I beg to inform my father, the civil governor, Major Scott, as you want to 
know about the mother-of-pearl shell, why it is the right of all Sulu people, 
above all my own right, this is the reason : 

The forefathers of the Sulu people used to take the mother-of-pearl shell 
from the downs because the mother-of-pearl shell belonged to the downs, and 
they took them to eat the oyster with other food ; of the shell they made plates 
and saucers to put the food on, and the pearls they used to make a hole through 
and put them on a string as necklaces for their children. This was at a time 
when no other nation had come to Sulu to buy the mother-of-pearl shell. 

Later, a big boat, called the Samfyang, wandered from China to Sulu ; there 
were on board many people, all Chinese ; it was loaded with merchandise. The 
people came ashore and saw the mother-of-pearl shell which the Sulu people 
were carrying. The captain of the boat said : "Have you many more of these 
things?" and the people answered. "Plenty; this is what we take from the 
downs to eat with other food." The Captain said. "Gather me plenty. I will 
buy them from you. The people went and gathered them and bartered them 
for plates and saucers. When all the shells from the downs were finished they 


looked into the deep, and that is how they found the pearHng grounds, and the 
people noted them, and remembered them. This is what they agreed upon ; 
whoever finds pearling grounds they belong to him from generation to genera- 
tion. That is what they agreed upon. That is the reason why the Sulu people 
have the right, and that they came to make the dredge (badja) to get the 
mother-of-pearl shell from the deep, because they can not see them. 

Later Salips came from Mecca of the Arab nation ; they came to Sulu to 
convert the people into Mohammedans, as they had no religion. And when the 
Sulu people, including the islanders, adopted the faith, then they agreed to 
have a sultan and they elected Saripul Hassim to be sultan. Saripul Hassim 
said: "I don't want you to make me your sultan if I do not know what the 
rights of the sultan are, and who I have to govern over, because this is not my 
country, this is your country." 

And this is how everybody agreed to accept him as sultan over Sulu and all 
the islands; this is how he became Sultan and governed over all, and this is 
how Saripul Hassim accepted to be the sultan of Sulu, to have full power over 
land and sea, and the people's rights, where they got their living from on land 
and sea, were left to them, because they were the means of their getting their 

But a law was made, if they found valuables in the sea, such as pearls, tor- 
toise shell, ambal or anything extraordinary, they have to show it to the sultan, 
and if the pearls weigh six chuchuk or over they become the share of the sul- 
tan; if they do not have that weight, the people can do with them as they 
please and sell them. If the sultan wants them, he will buy them according to 
custom. As to tortoise shell, if they weigh two kettles, they go to the sultan, 
and as to the ambal, whether it is much or little, it falls to the sultan. Whoever 
finds it must take it to the sultan. Whoever of his subjects violates this law 
as agreed upon, the sultan can punish him as he pleases. 

They accepted this law as agreed upon, to be carried out by them (sultan 
and people), and their descendants, and not to be changed; but they asked of 
the sultan not to let any other nation take a share in this industry ; it is enough 
for them ; and the sultan agreed to this because they did not know how to earn 
their living otherwise. This is what the sultan and his subjects agreed to be- 
cause the Sulu had no other treasures on land beyond the cultivation ; the trea- 
sures came from the sea only, therefore other people are forbidden because this 
is the property of all my subjects, and especially my own. 

Recently, in my time and in the Spanish time, there came to me Captain 
Tiana ; he wanted to dive for pearl shells. I said "I cannot give you my con- 
sent at once because since our forefathers (sultan and people) we have an 
agreement, I will confer with my people." I sent for the chiefs and the dattos 
and I told them about it, that Captain Tiana came to me and asked to dive for 
pearl shells. They said it cannot be done, because there is an agreement be- 
tween our forefathers that other nations cannot join in this industry of the 
Sulu seas, because there is no other means of earning a living for your sub- 

I informed Captain Tiana of it. He said: "Allow me to dive for pearl 

Muru bu^ts, used aiiiuiiy the puart i^la[llis ut the !Mj|j,y ArLliipcl-igu 

R.ttt usfil Ii>r pearl fishin^i in the Malay Arcliipelj)^!) 


shells, I will give toll to you as sultan and I will also give toll to the owners of 
the pearl grounds according to what we agree upon."' 

So I informed all the owners of the pearling ground, and they said, "If he 
is really in earnest to give toll to us owners of the ground according to what 
we agree upon, if we don't agree, we will not allow him to fish." Thereupon 
Captain Tiana and I went to the Spanish governor to bear witness. The gov- 
ernor said: "All right; anything you agree upon; I cannot change the law of 
the Moro people, and I will not interfere." 

That is how I allowed Captain Tiana to fish, and I gave him a letter of 
the truth according to agreement. Therefore if any person of other nation 
wants to fish for mother-of-pearl shell, he will have to do as Captain Tiana 
did, and ask me for a letter of truth, and if he has no letter and does not pay 
toll to the owners of the ground, and especially to me, he cannot dive, and if 
he violates this and if anything befalls him, I am not responsible and do not 
want to be held, responsible, because the mother-of-pearl shells are like the 
property in our boxes given to us by God. They do not go away from the 
places where they are put, they are not like fish that go about. Therefore, we 
forbid it. It is our heritage from our forefathers. 

(Signed) Hadji Mohamad Jamaul Kiram, 

Sultan of Sulu. 
[Seal of the Sultan.] 

Following these representations, the legislative council of the Moro 
province, by authority of the Philippine Commission, interdicted all 
fishing for pearl-oysters within three marine leagues of any land 
within the territorial limits of the Moro province, without license first 
obtained from the treasurer of the district within which the vessel 
carries on the major part of its operations.' No litense was to be 
issued to any vessel not owned in the Philippine Islands or in the 
United States, and not wholly owned by citizens of the United States, 
by natives of the Philippine Islands, or by persons who have acquired 
the political rights of natives," except that foreign vessels which for 
one year immediately preceding had actually engaged in pearl fishing 
might secure license to continue therein for a period of five years 

Licenses were of two kinds, according to the nature of the fishery. 
To engage in fishing with the aid of diving-suits, the fee was five 
hundred pesos annually, for each of the greatest number of divers 
beneath the surface of the water at any one time. For fishing with- 

' Act No. 51, June 7, 1904. province to amend the regulations so that. 

' A letter from the Bureau of Insular under certain restrictions, vessels of foreign 

Affairs, dated November 20, 1906, states: build may engage in pearl fisheries." 
"It is proposed by the officials of the Moro 


out submarine armor, the fee was five pesos annually, for each of the 
greatest number of nude divers to be employed by the vessel during 
any voyage, and the same sum for each of the greatest number of 
dredges or rakes to be employed beneath the surface at any one time; 
but this did not apply to vessels under 15 tons, owned and operated 
wholly by native Moros, until January i, 1906. 

It was also made unlawful to catch or to have in one's possession 
within the Moro province "any pearl shell or any bivalvular or lateral 
plate, or any pearl shell of less than 4^ inches in diameter, meas- 
ured with a flat, rigid measuring rod along the line of the 
ligament which joins one binocular or lateral plate to the other at 
the hinge, unless the lateral plate of such shell be more than 7 inches 
in diameter measured with a flat, rigid measuring rod from the outer 
edge of the horny lips to the center of the hinge, the rod being so 
placed as to form a right angle with the line of the hinge." ^ 

According to a report furnished by the Mining Bureau at Manila, 
there were seven vessels fishing with diving-suits in the Sulu Archi- 
pelago in 1905, each representing an investment of about 6000 pesos. 
In 1906 there, were ten vessels engaged in this industry, and the col- 
lection on licenses for that fiscal year amounted to 3375 pesos. These 
vessels are mostly small Moro craft which cannot venture upon distant 
cruises in the archipelago for prospecting purposes, and their opera- 
tions are confined for the most part to the immediate vicinity of 
Jolo. Each vessel carries one diver, a tender, a cook, and four sailors. 
In addition to food supplies, the sailors and the cook each receive 
twelve to fifteen pesos per month, the tender thirty to forty pesos per 
month, and the diver the same amount and in addition thereto a bonus 
of twenty cents for each shell secured. Near Jolo the vessels work 
throughout the year, but farther north very little fishing is done from 
December to April, when monsoons prevail. The man in charge 
of each vessel is obliged by law to keep an accurate record of the 
number and weight of shells found, and his figures are checked up 
by a customs official at either Jolo or Zamboanga, the ports of 

To enable them to secure pearl-oysters at depths of from twenty to 
forty fathoms, the Sulus have long made use of a dredge (badja) pecu- 
liarly constructed of native materials, and admirably adapted to the 
purpose. This consists of five or more long wooden teeth slightly 
curved and spreading outward, with an expanse at the ends of twenty 
inches or more. The dredge is properly balanced by two stones, and a 
bridle rope is so attached to it that, when thrown overboard and 
towed behind a canoe drifting with the current or the wind, the im- 

'Act No. 43, amended June 7, 1904. 


plement rests on the curve of the teeth, which are in almost a hori- 
zontal position. As the teeth enter the gaping shell of an oyster lying 
on the bottom, the animal instantly closes tightly on the intruder and 
effects its own capture. The principle is similar to that of the "crow- 
foot" dredge of the Mississippi River, although the design of the 
implement is radically different. A second rope is attached so as to 
raise and lower the implement and to detach it from corals, rocks, and 
other objects against which it may catch in its course on the bottom. 
This dredge is designed for very deep areas, where the bottom is 
relatively smooth. 

The Moros employ yet another method of fishing, using a mag- 
tung-tting or three-pronged catcher, which is let down by a rattan 
rope and by means of which individual shells sighted from the sur- 
face are obtained. When the water is perfectly clear this implement 
can be operated where the depth is fifteen or eighteen fathoms, but its 
use is impractical where the water is clouded or there is even a slight 
ripple on the surface. 

However, the bulk of the catch is made by the nude divers, of which 
there are hundreds at Maimbun, Tapul, Lugus and elsewhere. In their 
small boats these Moro fishermen visit the reefs, where the boats are 
anchored. Provided only with a short, heavy knife, with which to 
release the shells from the bottom or, perchance, as a weapon of 
defense against sharks and other fish, they enter the water feet first, 
but soon turn and descend head downward, precisely as on the Aus- 
tralian coast, swimming toward the bottom with bold strokes. The 
Sulu pearl-divers — and especially those at Parang, Patian and Sicu- 
bun — are among the most expert in the world. They easily penetrate 
to twelve fathoms and, if necessary, to eighteen or twenty fathoms. 
But they are not very industrious, and seldom descend more than 
twelve or fifteen times a day, preferring rather to go with their wants 
half satisfied than to satiate them by more active exertions. 

Many descents may be necessary to locate and obtain a single oyster, 
but when this is secured the shell alone may ordinarily be traded for 
sufficient to supply the fisherman's needs for several days, and there 
is always the chance of a pearl. After a short day of labor, the fisher- 
men return, and the oysters which they have secured are opened and 
examined for pearls. After the flesh has been carefully searched it is 
placed in the sun to dry and, later, to be used for food, and the shells 
are carefully cleaned and placed under cover until they may be barte'-ed 
or sold. 

The Sulu shell is characterized by a peculiar yellowish tint around 
the rim, by means of which it is readily distinguished. Its size and 
beautiful iridescence make it very attractive, and for choice individ- 


ual specimens high prices are received. It is the largest of the mother- 
of-pearl shells, single half-shells of "bold" size average one and one 
half pounds in weight, while some attain a weight of six pounds. The 
body of the shell furnishes the most beautiful of all mother-of-pearl, 
yet the necessity for discarding the yellow rim, or, rather, for using it 
%|Beparate from the rest, makes it unpopular with manufacturers. The 
annual product is estimated at 200 tons, valued in London and New 
York at $200,000, and of pearls about $30,000 worth. 

The Sulu pearls are frequently large and of choice quality, but they 
are far more inclined to a yellowish tint than those from Australian 
waters, 1300 miles southward. The sultans accumulated the finest col- 
lection of them, and some of these found their way into the markets 
from time to time as the condition of the exchequer ran low or royal 
emergency required, as in 1882, for instance, when it was necessary to 
defray the expense of Sultan Buderoodin's pilgrimage to Mecca. Dur- 
ing the last six or seven years, much has been heard of the present 
sultan's collection, which he largely inherited, and some fairly good 
specimens have been presented to prominent Americans. 

Pearl-oysters are among the important resources of the inshore wa- 
ters of the Dutch East Indies, including the surrounding seas of Su- 
matra, Java, Borneo, Celebes, the Aru Islands, the Moluccas or Spice 
Islands, and Papua or New Guinea. For very many years the natives 
have gathered pearl shell and pearls from these waters, and especially 
on the coast of the Aru Islands, at Gilolo or Halmahera, and the islands 
thereabout, on the east coast of Celebes, and about the Sunda group. 
The collections were made in the shallow waters by beach-combing and 
by nude diving, and were bartered with the Chinese and Arab traders 
sailing from Singapore, Macassar, and other ports. Occasionally a 
pearling vessel from Singapore or from Torres Straits would try its 
luck in these waters ; but, except for the work of the natives, the reefs 
were practically untouched previous to 1883. 

As the Australian fleet increased in size and the oysters became 
scarce in Torres Straits and on the northwest coast, some of the vessels 
occasionally visited the Aru Islands, the coast of Papua, etc. These 
met with considerable success and the number of trips increased, es- 
pecially in 1893, when oysters were unusually scarce in Australia. 

The following year, 1894, the government restricted the fishery to 
inhabitants of the Netherlands and of Netherlands India, or to com- 
panies established in those countries and operating under the Dutch 
flag. Owing to the activity of Dutch capital in coffee, tobacco and 
other plantation enterprises, the pearl resources received very little at- 
tention from them. The success of the Australian fishery encouraged 
the formation in 1896 of an Amsterdam company to exploit the Aru 

Pearling village, witli yuullitul fishermen. Sulu Islands 


Japanese diver in Dutch East Indies, come up tu " bluw " for a few minutes 


grounds ; but apparently without financial success, for it liquidated in 

In the meantime, residents of these islands paid more and more at- 
tention to the pearl fishery; also Europeans, Chinamen and Arabs 
arranged with the native chiefs for fishing in their territorial waters, 
paying therefor a fixed sum in cash or a percentage of the catch, which 
was permitted on approval by the governor general of Dutch India. 
The fleet continued to increase from year to year, and in 1905 there 
was a very large influx of vessels from the Australian fisheries, no 
luggers and 7 tenders coming from Thursday Island alone. 

The species are the same as occur on the northern coast of Australia, 
the "silver-edge" or "golden lip" (Margaritifera maxima) occurring 
in greatest abundance, and the "black lip" (M. margaritifera) to a less 

The shells are the principal object of the search, and the pearls found 
incidentally form an additional source of revenue. These shells divide 
with those of Australia the reputation of being the most valuable in 
the world. They are commonly known in the trade by the name of the 
port from which they are originally shipped, as Manila, Macassar, 
Banda, Ceram, Penang, Mergui, etc. Before the exploitation of the 
Australian grounds, they sold at very high prices, and $2000 or more 
per ton was sometimes realized for those of the best quality. Singa- 
pore is the headquarters for supplies for the industry in all this region, 
and it is from that port that the shells and pearls are mostly distributed. 

The pearls obtained in Netherlands India are of choice quality and 
of relatively large size, a considerable percentage of them weighing 
over eight grains, and fairly good pearls of fifty grains or more are 
occasionally reported. Colored pearls are rarely met with, nearly all 
of them being clear white, like the beautiful Macassar shell. 

At Pados Bay, island of Borneo, one hundred or more persons find 
employment fishing the Placuna oysters, selling the shells for about 
$2 per picul (139 pounds to the picul), the dried meats at $4 to $6 a 
picul, and the seed-pearls (selcesip) at about $2 per mayam. Many 
of these pearls are sold in the village of Batu Batu. When a fisherman 
buys his few necessaries at the Chinese shops, he pulls out his little 
package of seed-pearls and pays in that currency, the Chinaman mak- 
ing a good profit by the transaction. 







When I discovered the Indies, I said that they composed the rich- 
est country in the world. I spake of gold and pearls and precious 
stones, and the traffic that might be carried on in them. 

Extract from Columbus's Fourth Letter. 

THE Caribbean Sea furnishes one of the most interesting chap- 
ters in the history of the pearl fisheries. In no region of the 
world have these resources caused more rapid exploitation or 
aflfected the inhabitants to a greater extent than on the shores 
of Venezuela. 

Before the discovery of America, the natives of this region collected 
pearls from the mollusks which they opened for food in times of 
necessity, and also sought them for ornamental purposes. And al- 
though they had large collections which they used for personal orna- 
mentation and for decorating their temples, it does not appear that 
they prized them extravagantly, readily bartering them for small 

In Columbus's account of his third and fourth voyages to America, 
he repeatedly refers to pearls. On the third voyage, in 1498, after 
passing the mouth of the Orinoco River, he entered the Gulf of Paria, 
where the natives "came to the ship in their canoes in countless num- 
bers, many of them wearing pieces of gold on their breasts, and some 
with bracelets of pearls on their arms ; seeing this I was much delighted 
and made many inquiries with the view of learning where they found 
them. They replied that they were to be procured in their own neigh- 
borhood and also at a spot to the northward of that place. I would 
have remained here, but the provisions of corn, and wine, and meats, 
which I had brought out with so much care for the people whom I had 
left behind, were nearly wasted, so that all my anxiety was to get them 
into a place of safety, and not to stop for anything. I wished, how- 
ever, to get some of the pearls that I had seen, and with that view 
sent the boats on shore. I inquired there also where the pearls were 


obtained. And they likewise directed me to the westward and also to 
the north behind the country they occupied. I did not put this infor- 
mation to the test, on account of the provisions and the weakness of 
my eyes and because the ship was not calculated for such an under- 

In his letter to one of the queen's attendants, written in 1500, 
Columbus says, in justification of his conduct toward his miserable 
detractors: 'T believed that the voyage to Paria would in some degree 
pacify them because of the pearls and the discovery of gold in the 
island of Espaiiola. I left orders for the people to fish for pearls, and 
called them together and made an agreement that I should return for 
them, and I was given to understand that the supply would be abun- 

And again in the same letter, after speaking of a quantity of gold 
which mysteriously disappeared when Governor Bobadilla sent him 
and his brothers loaded with chains to Spain, he says: "I have been yet 
more concerned respecting the affair of the pearls, that I have not 
brought them to their Majesties. . . . Already the road is opened to 
gold and pearls, and it may surely be hoped that precious stones, 
spices, and a thousand other things will also be found." 

A more detailed account of Columbus's pearling adventures, and of 
the subsequent discoveries and explorations on the Caribbean coast is 
given by Francisco Lopez de Gomara in his "Historia general de las 
Indias," published in 1554, of which the following is a literal trans- 
lation slightly abridged : 

Since there are pearls on more than four hundred leagues of this coast 
between Cape Vela and the Gulf of Paria, before we proceed farther it is 
proper to say who discovered them. In the third voyage made by Christopher 
Columbus to the Indies, in 1498, having reached the island of Cubagua, which 
he called "Isle of Pearls," he sent a boat with certain sailors to seize a boat of 
fishermen, to learn what people they were and for what they were fishing. 
The sailors reached the shore where the Indians had landed and were watch- 
ing. A sailor broke a dish of Malaga ware and went to trade with them and 
to look at their catch, because he saw a woman with a string of rough pearls 
(aljofar) on her neck. He made an exchange of the plate for some strings of 
rough pearls, white and large, with which the sailors returned highly delighted 
to the ships. To assure himself better, Columbus ordered others to go with 
buttons, needles, scissors, and fragments of the same Valencian earthenware, 
since they seemed to prize it. These sailors went and brought back more 
than six marcs (forty-eight ounces) of rough pearls, large and small, with 
many good pearls among them. Said Columbus then to the Spaniards : "We 
are in the richest country of the world. Let us give thanks to the Lord." 
They wondered at seeing all those rough pearls so large, for they had never 
seen so many, and could not contain their delight. They understood that the 



Indians did not care much for the small ones, either because they had plenty 
of large ones, or because they did not know how to pierce them. 

Columbus left the island and approached the land, where many people had 
collected along the shore, to see if they also had pearls. The shore was cov- 
ered with men, women, and children, who came to look at the ships, a strange 
thing for them. Many Indians presently visited the ships, went on board and 
stood amazed at the dress, swords, and beards of the Spaniards, and the 
cannon, tackle, and arms of the ship. Our people crossed themselves, and 
were delighted to see that all those Indians wore pearls on their necks and 

8iin(& Martft 


^BWNQUtLL* .ip.\^^ 

Venezuela and Panama; the principal pearling regions of South America 

wrists. Columbus asked by signs where they fished them, and they pointed 
to the coast and island. 

Columbus then sent to the shore two boats with many Spaniards, for 
greater certainty of those new riches, and because they importuned him. 
The chief took them to a place where there was a circular building that re- 
sembled a temple, where presently much bread and fruits of different kinds 
were brought. At the end of the feast he gave them pearls for sweetmeats, 
and took them afterward to the palace to see the women and the arrangement 
of the house. Of the numerous women there, not one was without rings of 
gold and necklaces of pearls. The Spaniards returned to the ships, wonder- 
ing at such pearls and gold, and requested Columbus to leave them there. 
But he did not wish to do so, saying they were too few to settle. He hoisted 


sail and ran along the coast as far as Cape Vela, and from there came to Santo 
Domingo, with the intention of returning to Cubagua after regulating the 
affairs of the government. He suppressed the joy he felt at having found 
such treasures, and did not write to the king regarding the discovery of 
pearls, or at all events did not write it until it was already known in Castile. 
This was largely the cause for the anger of the king, and the order to bring 
Columbus a prisoner to Spain. They say that he did not so much intend to 
conceal this discovery from the king, who has many eyes, as that he thought 
by a new agreement to get this rich island for himself. 

Of the sailors who went with Christopher Columbus when he found the 
pearls, the greater number were from Palos. As soon as these came to 
Spain, they told about the country of pearls, displayed many, and carried them 
to Seville to sell, whence they went to the court and into the palace. Excited 
by this report, some persons there hurriedly prepared a ship and made Pedro 
Alonso Nifio its captain. He had from the Catholic king license to go in 
search of pearls and land, provided he should not go within fifty leagues 
of any discovered by Columbus. 

Niiio embarked in August, 1499, with thirty-three companions, some of 
whom had been with Columbus. He sailed as far as Paria, visited the coast 
of Cumana, Maracapan, Port Plechado, and Curiana, which lies united to 
Venezuela. There he landed, and a chief, who came to the coast with fifty 
Indians, conducted him amicably to a large town to take water, refreshments, 
and the barter he was in search of. He bartered for and secured fifteen 
ounces of pearls in exchange for pins, rings of horn and tin, glass beads, 
small bells, and similar trifles. The Spaniards stayed in the town twenty 
days, trading for pearls. The natives gave a pigeon for a needle, a turtle- 
dove for one glass bead, a pheasant for two, and a turkey for four. For that 
price they also gave rabbits and quarters of deer. The Indians asked to be 
shown the use of needles, since they went naked and could not sew, and were 
told to extract the thorns with them, for they went barefooted: Nirio brought 
to Galicia ninety-six pounds of rough pearls, among which were many fine, 
round, lustrous ones of five and six carats, and some of more. But they were 
not well pierced, which was a great fault. On the route a quarrel arose over 
the division, and certain sailors accused Nino before the governor in Galicia, 
saying that he had stolen many pearls and cheated the king in his fifth, and 
traded in Cumana and other places where Columbus had been. The governor 
seized Nino, but did not keep him in prison very long, where he consumed 
pearls enough.^ 

This expedition of Pedro Alonso Niiio was the first financially profit- 
able voyage to America. After his return, the Cubagua pearl fishery 
became the object of numerous speculations, and many other Spaniards 
fitted out voyages, most of them sailing from Hispaniola or Haiti, 
nine hundred miles distant. Owing to the ill treatment of the Indians 
and excessive cruelties toward them, much difficulty was experienced 

'"Historia general de las Indias," by Francisco Lopez de Gomara, i2mo, 1554, pp. 104- 106 b. 


Pan-American Exposition, 1901 


in securing divers. This was relieved in 1508 by transporting large 
numbers of Indians from the Lucayan or Bahama Islands and im- 
pressing them into the service. These were so expert in the work that 
individuals sold for upward of 150 ducats each.' With their aid the 
fishery prospered so greatly that in 15 15 a settlement, called New 
Cadiz, was established on Cubagua Island by the governor of Hispa- 
niola, Diego Columbus, son of the discoverer. This small island was 
dry and desolate, without water or wood, which were brought from 
the mainland twenty miles distant, or from Margarita Island about 
three miles to the northward. 

An interesting description of the manner of securing the pearls by 
these early adventurers was given by Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo 
y Valdes (1478-1557) in his "Historia natural y general de las In- 
dias," written less than thirty years after the discovery of the main- 
land of America. A translation of this book was published in 1555 
by Richard Eden in his "Decades of the New World"; from which 
we extract the following account, the retention of Eden's quaint 
phraseology seeming permissible owing to this being one of the very 
earliest books on America. 

Of the maner of fyshynge for perks 

The Indians exercise this kynde of fyschynge for the moste parte in the 
coastes of the North in Cubagua and Cumana. And manye of theym which 
dwell in the houses of certeyne particular lordes in the Ilandes of San Dom- 
inico and Sancti lohannis, resort to the Ilande of Cubagua for this purpose. 
Theyr custome is to go fyve, syxe, or seven, or more in one of theyr Canoas 
or barkes erly in the mornynge to sume place in the sea there about where it 
appearetli unto them that there shulde bee greate plentie of those shell fyshes 
(which sume caule muscles and sume oysters) wherein perles are engendered. 
And there they plonge them selves under the water, even unto the bottome, 
savynge one that remaynethe in the Canoa or boate which he keepeth styll in 
one place as neare as he can, lookynge for theyr returne owte of the water. 
And when one of them hath byn a good whyle under the water, he ryseth up 
and commeth swymmynge to the boate, enterynge into the same, and leav- 
ynge there all the oysters whiche he hath taken and brought with hym. For 
in these, are the perles founde. And when he hathe there rested hym selfe a 
whyle, and eaten parte of the oysters, he returneth ageyne to the water, where 
he remaynethe as longe as he can endure, and then ryseth ageyne, and swim- 
meth to the boate with his pray, where he resteth hym as before, and thus 
continueth course by course, as doo all the other in lyke maner, being all moste 
experte swymmers and dyvers. And when the nyght draweth neare, they 

'Herrera, "Historia general de los hechos de los Castellanos en las islas y Tierra Firme 
del Mar Oceano," Dec. iii, Book VII, ch. 3. 



returne to the Ilande to theyr houses, and presente all the oysters to the master 
or stewarde of the house of theyr lorde who hath charge of the sayde In- 
dians. And when he hath gyven them sumwhat to eate, he layeth up the 
oysters in safe custodie untyll he have a great quantitie thereof. Then hee 
causeth the same fyssher men to open them. And they fynde in every of 
them pearles other great or smaul, two or three or foure, and sumtymes five 
and syxe, and many smaule graines accordyng to the lyberalitie of nature. 
They save the pearles bothe smaule and great whiche they have founde : And 
eyther eate the oysters if they wyl, or caste them away, havynge so great 
quantitie thereof that they in maner abhorre them. Those oysters are of 
hard fleshe, and not so pleasant in eatyng as are owres of Spayne. This 
Ilande of Cubagua where this manner of fysching is exercised, is in the Northe 
coaste, and is no bygger then the Hand of Zelande. Oftentymes the sea en- 
creaseth greatly, and muche more then the fyshers for pearles wold, bycause 
where as the place is very depe, a man can not naturally rest at the bottome 
by reason of the aboundaunce of aery substannce whiche is in hym, as I have 
oftentymes proved. For althoughe he may by vyolence and force descende 
to the bottome, yet are his feete lyfted up ageyne so that he can continue no 
tvme there. And therefore where the sea is verye deepe, these Indian fyshers 
use to tye two great stoones aboute them with a corde, on every side one, by 
the weyght whereof they descend to the bottome and remayne there untyl 
them lysteth to ryse ageine : At which tyme they unlose the stones, and ryse 
uppe at their pleasure. But this their aptenesse and agilitie in swimming, is not 
the thynge that causeth men moste to marvaile : But rather to consyder how 
many of them can stande in the bottome of the water for the space of one 
hole houre and summe more or lesse, accordynge as one is more apte hereunto 
then an other. An other thynge there is whiche seemeth to me very straunge. 
And this is, that where as I have oftentymes demaunded of summe of these 
lordes of the Indians, if the place where they accustomed to fysche for pearles 
beynge but lyttle and narrowe wyll not in shorte tyme bee utterly without 
oysters if they consume them so faste, they al answered me, that although 
they be consumed in one parte, yet if they go a fyschynge in an other parte 
or on another coaste of the Ilande, or at an other contrary wynd, and continue 
fysshing there also untyll the oysters be lykewyse consumed, and then re- 
turne ageyne to the fyrste place, or any other place where they fysshed before 
and emptied the same in lyke maner, they find them ageine as ful of oysters 
as though they had never bin fysshed. Wherby we may judge that these 
oysters eyther remove from one place to an other as do other fysshes, or elles 
that they are engendered and encrease in certeyne ordinaire places. This 
Hand of Cumana and Cubagua where they fyshe for these perles, is in the 
twelfe degree of the part of the said coaste which inclineth toward the 

The cupidity of the proprietors of the fishery led to most cruel treat- 
ment of the divers and, if the accounts of the time are to be relied 
upon, a large percentage of them died under the harsh regime. About 


1515 the unfortunate natives obtained an earnest and influential ad- 
vocate in Bartolome de las Casas, who, in 15 16, prevailed upon the 
youthful Charles V to decree that the fishery should be prosecuted 
only in summer, that the divers should not be required to work more 
than four hours a day where the depth exceeded six fathoms, that they 
should receive good nourishment and half a quart of wine daily, 
should have hammocks or beds in which to sleep, and should be pro- 
vided with clothes to put on as soon as they left the water.' And by 
later ordinances it was stipulated that death should be inflicted on any 
one forcing a free Indian to dive for pearls. 

In 1528 the resources of Coche Island were exploited with so much 
success that within six months "1500 marcs ( 12,000 ounces) of pearls" 
were secured. Pearl banks were successively found at Porlamar, 
Maracapana, Curiano, and at various places on the coast from the 
Gulf of Paria to the Gulf of Coro, a distance of over five hundred 
miles, which became designated the "Pearl Coast." For a number of 
years previous to 1530, the output exceeded in value 800,000 piastres 
annually, approximating one half the produce of the American mines 
at that time." It was largely these pearls that enriched the cargoes of 
many of those famous caravels that crossed the Atlantic to Spain. In- 
deed, for several decades, America was best known in continental 
Europe as the land whence the pearls came. 

An interesting account of an early eft'ort to use dredges in the 
Cubagua pearl fishery was given by Girolamo Benzoni, who had lived 
in America from 1542 to 1555, and was familiar with the conditions. 
He states : 

At the time the pearl fishery flourished on this island there came here one 
Louis de Lampugnan with an imperial license authorizing him to fish such 
quantities of pearls as he pleased within all the limits and bounds of Cubagua. 
This man set out from Spain with four caravels loaded with all the necessary 
provisions and munitions for such an enterprise, which some Spanish mer- 
chants furnished him. He had made a kind of rake, the fashion of which was 
such that in whatever part of the sea it was used, not an oyster would escape. 
At the same time he would have raked and drawn out all that bore pearls if 
he had not been disappointed. But the Spaniards in Cubagua all banded 
against him in the execution of his privilege. They said the emperor was too 
liberal with other people's goods, and if he wished to give he might give his 
own as he wished. As for 'themselves they had conquered and kept that coun- 
try with great labor and at the peril of their lives, and there were far better 
reasons why they should enjoy it than a stranger. Poor Lampugnan, seeing 
that his patents did not avail him the value of a straw, and at the same time 
not daring to return to Spain, partly through fear of being ridiculed and 

' Herrera, "Descripcion de las Indias Occi- " Humboldt's "Personal Narrative," Vol. 

dentales," Dec. iv, Book VI, ch. 12. II, p. 273. 


partly on account of the money lie owed, was ruined. In fact, the business and 
its anxieties drove him crazy and he was exposed to the mockery of all the 
world as a lunatic. In the end, after dragging out five years in this miserable 
condition, he died in this isle of Cubagua."^ 

The average size of these pearls derived from the Venezuelan fish- 
eries was small, specimens rarely exceeding twenty grains. In 1577, 
Urbain Chauveton wrote : "The pearls of Cubagua are mostly 2, 3, 4, 
and 5 carats. Btit the quantity of them is so great that the fifth part 
which is paid to the king of Spain yields every year the value of more 
than 15,000 ducats; this besides the frauds committed and the pearls 
which stick to the fingers of those who manage the business, and who 
pilfer the most beautiful in great numbers, sending them here and 
there for sale. They place themselves in great danger if the facts be- 
come known, but they do it all the same."^ 

The enormous demands made by the Spaniards soon had its effect 
on the resources, for Chauveton adds: "It is apparent they decrease 
and not so many are found as in the beginning. The reason for this 
is that the Spaniards are so eager to gather large quantities of them 
quickly that they are not content to use their divers to search for them 
in the depths of the sea, but they have conceived and invented I know 
not how many machines of rakes and drags to scrape up everything. 
In fact they have at times collected them all so that another could not 
be found, and have had to abandon their fishing for a considerable time 
to give the oysters a chance to lay their eggs and grow their pearls."* 

The decrease noted by Chauveton was probably not very serious, 
for the Spanish historian, Jose de Acosta, reports that in 1581 he saw 
"the note of what came from the Indies for the king; there were 18 
marcs of pearles, besides 3 caskets ; and for private persons there were 
1265 marcs, and besides them, 7 caskets not pierced, which heretofore 
we would have esteemed and helde for a lie."^ Also the records show 
that in 1597 Spain received from the Venezuelan fisheries "350 
pounds' weight of pearls." It is to be regretted that the Spaniards so 
frequently reported the yield of pearls by potmds' weight, for — owing 
to the great variation in quality— this is about as unsatisfactory as to 
report the wealth of an individual by the pounds' weight of his title- 
deeds or of his stock certificates. The value of "350 pounds of pearls" 
might have been anywhere from twenty thousand dollars to as many 
millions. Assuming that all were two grains each in weight and of 

'Translated from "Historia del Mondo '/ftsd., fol. i68. 

Nuovo," Geneva, 1578. ' "Natural and Moral History of the In- 

' Translation of Chauveton's Notes to Ben- dies," Hakluj't Society, London, 1880, p. 228. 
zoni's "Historia del Mondo Nuovo," Geneva, 
1578, fol. 170. 


good quality, the total value would approximate $600,000 according 
to the valuation of that period ; and on a basis of eight grains each, it 
would be $9,600,000, or sixteen times as much. But as original parcels 
of pearls from the fisheries, these figures should be divided by three. 

Following 1597, the productiveness of the Cubagua beds rapidly 
decreased. By acts of cruelty and oppression the Spaniards had con- 
verted the surviving Indians into deadly foes, ready to take advantage 
of any opportunity to avenge themselves on their oppressors, and thus 
terrifying the settlers into abandoning the enterprise. Early in the 
seventeenth century the development of mining resources in Mexico, 
Peru, etc., attracted the adventurous Spaniards. A considerable de- 
crease in the value of pearls, brought about by the skilful manufacture 
of imitations at Venice, and elsewhere in southern Europe, also afifected 
the prosperity of the fisheries. As a result of these combined in- 
fluences, the output in Venezuela was greatly reduced, and it ceased 
long before the close of the following century. Thus ended an enter- 
prise which, for a number of years, represented the greatest single 
industry of the European people on the American continent. 

According to General Manuel Laudecta Rosales, the Venezuela 
archives contain no reference to any renewal of the fishery until early 
in the nineteenth century. At the time of Humboldt's visit in 1799, 
the fishery was entirely neglected around the islands of Margarita, 
Cubagua, and Coche, and the only evidence of pearls was a few very 
insignificant ones picked up about Cumana and sold among the natives 
at a piaster per dozen.' 

After the overthrow of Spanish authority on this coast, Messrs. 
Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, a firm of well-known goldsmiths of Lon- 
don, obtained, in 1823, from the government of Colombia, a ten-year 
monopoly of the fishery at several places on the coast of the new 
republic, in consideration of one fifth of the pearls secured.^ After the 
independence of Venezuela in 1829, the taxes imposed were so heavy 
that the industry languished, and about 1833 't was practically aban- 

Owing to the improved physical condition of the reefs, the fishery 
developed largely in 1845; ^"^ for several years an average of 1600 
ounces of pearls were secured, an ounce of good quality selling for 
150 to 500 bolivars (one bolivar = i9i/< cents), and the inferior 
quality at 80 to 100 bolivars.^ At that time there was a tax of sixteen 
bolivars per boat monthly. In 1853 this was increased to forty-eight 
bolivars per boat, and the use of dredges (arrastras) was interdicted, 

'Humboldt, "Personal Narrative of Trav- the Pacific Ocean," London, 1831, Vol. I, p. 

els to the Equinoctial Regions of the New 217. 

Continent, 1799-1804." ' Resales, "Gran Recopilacion de Vene- 

' Findlay, "Directory for the Navigation of zuela," Caracas, 1889. 


soon reducing the fishery to a very low stage. Subjected to frequent 
changes in regulations, and burdened by heavy taxes, the industry 
remained in poor condition until about 1895. Since then the enhanced 
value of pearls, and the increased industrial activity on the coast, has 
resulted in a very large development of the fishery. 

In recent years the government of Venezuela has granted conces- 
sions to individuals and to companies for the exploitation of defined 
areas for a limited period, exacting 10 per cent, royalty on the pro- 
ceeds of the enterprise. In granting these concessions, the govern- 
ment usually reserves the right to examine the books, and to intervene 
when necessary in any phase of the enterprise. For protecting its 
revenue, the government requires that shipments of the pearls must 
be signed by its agent, and bills of sale must be countersigned by the 
Venezuelan consul in the place where the sales are consummated. 

The Venezuelan pearl fishery now gives employment to about 350 
boats, manned by five or six men each, sailing from the ports of Juan 
Griego, Cumana, and Carupano. These are sail craft, measuring 
from two to fifteen tons each, and are licensed by the Venezuelan 
authorities at a charge of 15 bolivars ($2.92) each. Most of the boats 
use dredges, but some of them resort to nude diving, after the manner 
of the sixteenth century. Attempts have been made to use the scap- 
hander, or diving armor, but without success, owing largely to the 
difficulty in obtaining experienced workmen, and also to local prejudice 
against this form of fishery. It is claimed that in using the scap- 
hander, all oysters are removed from the reefs, whereas the arrastra 
or dredge spreads the oysters and thereby enlarges the reefs. This is 
the principal and, except those at Sharks Bay and the Sulu Islands, 
the only important pearl fishery in which the oysters are secured by 
means of dredges. These are made of iron and are similar to those 
implements used in the scallop fisheries of New York and Rhode 
Island. They are dragged over the beds, and when filled are lifted 
and their contents emptied into the boat, the fishermen culling out the 
desirable oysters from the mass and throwing the refuse material 

The pearl-oyster (Margarififera radiata) secured on the coast of 
Venezuela is closely related to the Ceylon species. It averages slightly 
larger in size, and there is a much greater range in coloration. The 
pearls are of good quality. In color they range from white to bronze, 
and occasionally a so-called black one is found. The total output is 
valued locally at about 1,750,000 francs ($350,000) per year. Most 
of them are sold in Paris. 

Owing to their small size and lack of thickness, the shells of the 
Venezuela pearl-oyster are of little or no value in the mother-of-pearl 


trade. Thousands of tons of them, the accumulations of scores of fish- 
eries, lie in heaps and ridges along the coast, as though in years long 
past vast armies of oysters, engaged in deadly combat, had left their 
innumerable myriads of slain comrades to bleach on the shores. 


The bordring Hands, seated here in ken. 

Whose Shores are sprinkled witli rich Orient Pearle, 

More bright of hew than were the Margarets 

That Caesar found in wealthy Albion. 

Robert Greene, Orlando Furioso (1594). 

Prom the point of view of the Spaniards of his day, the greatest result 
of Balboa's immortal journey in 15 13 across the Isthmus of Panama 
to the broad waters of the Pacific, was the discovery of the pearl 
resources of the Gulf of St. Michael, now known as the Gulf of 
Panama. Probably the best description of this is given by Lopez de 
Gomara in his "Historia general de las Indias," published in 1554, 
from which we translate the following account. 

After Balboa had reached the Pacific in 15 13, he proceeded a snort 
distance along the coast until he met with an Indian chief by the name 
of Tomaco. Being questioned about the gold and pearls which some of 
his people wore, Tomaco sent for some gold and 240 large pearls and 
a great number of small ones— a rich present, which filled the Span- 
iards with pleasure. Seeing the Spaniards so delighted, Tomaco or- 
dered some of his men to go and fish for pearls. These went and in a 
few days obtained 64 ounces, which also he gave them. The 
Spaniards were surprised to see such pearls, and that their owners did 
not value them ; they not only gave them away, but their paddles were 
decorated therewith, for the principal income and wealth of these chiefs 
was the pearl fishery. Tomaco told Balboa that these riches were noth- 
ing in comparison with those of Tararequi, which had pearls larger 
than a man's eye, taken from oysters the size of sombreros. The 
Spaniards wished to go there at once, but fearing another tem- 
pest, left it for their return. They dismissed Tomaco and rested 
in the country of Chiape, who, at the request of Balboa, sent thirty 
of his men to fish. These did it in the presence of seven Spaniards, 
who looked on and saw them take six loads of small shells. As it 
was not the season for that fishery, they did not go into very deep 
water where the shells were. Not only did they not fish in Sep- 
tember and the following months, but they did not even travel by 


water, on account of the stormy weather which then prevails in that 
sea. The pearls which they extracted from those shells were like 
peas, but very fine and white. Of those received from Tomaco, some 
were black, others green, blue, and yellow. 

On the return of Balboa's expedition to Darien in 15 14, the sight of 
the pearls and the wonderful reports made by the men, caused his 
successor, Pedrarias, to fit out another expedition, an account of 
which we likewise translate from Gomara. 

By command of Pedrarias, Caspar de Morales went in the year 1515 to 
the Gulf of St. Michael, with 550 Spaniards, in quest of the island of Tara- 
requi, which was said by Balboa's men to be so abundant in pearls and so near 
the coast. The chief of that island sallied forth with many people to prevent 
his entrance, and clamored and fought three times with our people on equal 
terms, but the fourth time he was defeated. He then made friends, carried 
the chief of the Spaniards to his house, which was a large and good one, gave 
him food to eat, and a basket of pearls which weighed no marcs [880 
ounces]. Tlie chief received for them some looking-glasses, stringed beads, 
bells, scissors, axes, and small wares of barter, which he valued more than he 
had the pearls. He promised to give as tribute to the emperor, in whose 
guardianship he placed himself, 100 marcs of pearls every year. With these 
the Spaniards returned to the Gulf of St. Michael and from thence to Darien. 

Tararequi is within five degrees of the equator. It possessed a great fish- 
ery for pearls, which are the largest and best of the new world. Many of the 
pearls which the cacique gave were like filberts, others like nutmegs, and there 
was one of 26 and another of 31 carats, pear-shaped, very lustrous, and most 
perfect, which Peter of the Port, a shop-keeper, bought of Gaspar de Morales 
for 12,000 castilians. The purchaser could not sleep that night for thinking on 
the fact that he had given so much money for one stone, and so he sold it the 
very next day to Pedrarias de Avila, for his wife Donna Isabel de Bovadilla, at 
the same price, and afterwards the Bovadilla sold it to Donna Isabella the 

Pedrarias, who delighted in such fishery, requested the cacique to make 
his men fish for pearls in the presence of the Spaniards. The fishermen were 
great swimmers and divers, and seemed to have spent all their lives in that 
employment. They went in small boats when the sea was calm, and not in 
any other manner. They cast a stone for an anchor from each canoe, tied by 
strong, flexible withes like boughs of the hazel. They plunged to search for 
oysters each with a sack or bag at the neck, and returned loaded with them. 
They entered four, six, and even ten fathoms of water, for the shell is larger 
the deeper they go, and if at times the larger ones come in shallow water it is 
through storms, or because they go from one place to another in search for 
food, and having found their pasture they stay there until they have finislied it. 
They perceive those who search for them, and stick so close to the rocks or 
ground, or one to another, that much strength is needed to detach them, and 
many times the fishermen cannot raise them and leave them, thinking they are 


Painting by Gonzales, in the Galeria del Prado, Madrid 
Most of these pearls were doubtless from the early American fisheries 


stones. In this fishery many persons are drowned, either by remaining too 
long at the bottom, or because they become entwined or entangled in the cord, 
or such carnivorous fish as the shark devour them. This is the manner of 
fishing pearls in all the Indies, and many fishermen die from the dangers 
aforesaid, and from the excessive and constant labor, the little food, and the 
maltreatment they have. The emperor was led to enact a law among those 
whom Blasco Nunez Vela brought, which imposed the penalty of death upon 
him who should forcibly compel any free Indian to for pearls. He thought 
more of the lives of the men than of his interest in pearls, though they were 
of great value. The law was worthy of such a prince and of perpetual mem- 

Gonzalo de Oviedo referred to the pearl resources of Panama in his 
"Historia natural de las Indias," Toledo, 1526, mentioned in the chap- 
ter on pearl fisheries of Venezuela. After describing the resources of 
Cubagua and Cumana on the Venezuelan coast, he states, according 
to Eden's quaint translation : 

Lykewise pearles are founde and gathered in the South sea cauled mare 
del sur. And the pearles of this sea [the Caribbean coast] are verye bygge. 
Yet not so bigge as they of the Ilande of pearles cauled de las perlas, or Mar- 
garitca, whiche the Indians caule Tcrarcqui, lying in the gulfe of saincte 
Michael, where greater pearles are founde and of greater price then in any 
other coaste of the Northe sea, in Cttmana, or any other porte. I speake this 
as a trewe testimonie of syght, havyng byn longe in that South sea, and mak- 
ynge curious inquisition to bee certenly informed of all that perteyneth to the 
fysshynge of perles. From this Ilande of Tararequi, there was brought a 
pearle of the fasshyon of a peare, wayinge xxxi carattes, which Petrus Arias 
had amonge a thousande and soo many poundes weight of other pearles which 
hee had when capitayne Caspar Morales (before Petrus Arias) passed to the 
saide Ilande in the yeare 15 15, which pearle was of great prise. From the 
saide Ilande also, came a great and verye rounde pearle, whiche I brought owte 
of the sea. This was as bygge as a smaule pellet of a stone bowe, and of the 
weight of xxvi carattes. I boughte it in the citie of Panama in the sea of Sur : 
and paide for it syxe hundredth and fyftie tymes the weyght therof of good 
gold,* and had it thre yeares in my custodie: and after my returne into Spaine, 
soulde it to the erle of Nansao, Marquisse of Zenete, great chamberleyne to 
youre maiestie, who gave it to the Marquesse his wyfe, the ladye Mentia of 
Mendozza. I thyncke verely that this pearle was the greatest, fayrest, and 
roundest that hath byn seene in those partes. For youre maiestie owght to 
understande that in the coaste of the sea of Sur, there are founde a hundredth 
great pearles rounde after the fasshyon of peare, to one that is perfectly 
rounde and greate. This Hand of Terarequi which the Christians caule the 
Ilande of pearles, and other caule it the Ilande of floures, is founde in the 

' Gomara. "Historia general de las Indias," ' iiiYz ounces of gold; present value about 

1554. PP- 268, 269 b. $2300. 


eyght degree on the southe syde of the firme lande in the provynce of golden 
Castyle or Beragua. (Arber, "The First Three Enghsh Books on America," 
Birmingham, 1885.) 

In addition to the gems noted by Oviedo, these waters furnished 
many other beautiful pearls in the sixteenth century, and added largely 
to the collections of the Spanish court and of the cathedrals of Seville, 
Toledo, etc. The Italian traveler, Gemelli-Careri, who visited the 
Panama fisheries in 1697, reported that they yielded pearls equal to 
those of Ceylon. He mentioned one weighing 60 grains, for which 
the owner — a Jesuit priest — refused 70,000 pesos. ^ 

In 1735, the Spanish admiral, Antonio de UUoa visited the Panama 
pearl fisheries and wrote an extended description of them.^ Accord- 
ing to his account the pearls were then found in such plenty that there 
were few slaveholders in the vicinity who did not employ at least a 
portion of their Negroes in the fishery. These were selected for their 
dexterity in diving, and were sent to the islands in gangs of from eight 
to twenty men each, under the command of an overseer. They lived 
in temporary huts on the shore, and visited the pearl reefs in small 
boats. Anchoring in eight or ten fathoms of water, the Negroes would 
dive in succession to the bottom, returning with as many oysters as 
possible. It was laborious work, attended with danger owing to the 
numerous sharks. 

Every one of these Negro divers is obliged daily to deliver to his master 
a fixed number of pearls ; so that when they have got the requisite number of 
oysters in their bag, they begin to open them, and deliver the pearls to the 
ofiScer, till they have made up the number due to their master ; and if the pearl 
be but formed, it is sufficient, without any regard to its being small or faulty. 
The remainder, however large or beautiful, are the Negro's own property, 
nor has the master the least claim to them, the slaves being allowed to sell 
them to whom they please, though the master generally purchases them at a 
very small price. . . . Some of these pearls, though indeed but few, are sent 
to Europe, the greater part being carried to Lima, where the demand for them 
is very great, being not only universally worn there by all persons of rank, 
but also sent from thence to the inland portions of Peru.^ 

During the hundred years following, the pearl reefs of Panama were 
not very productive, and relatively little attention was paid to them. 
The development of a market for the shells in the mother-of-pearl 
trade, about 1840, enhanced the profits of the few natives engaged in 

' Gemelli-Careri, "Giro del Mondo," Vene- ^ "Ulloa's Voyage to South America," 

zia, 1719, p. 240. translated by J. Adams, London, 1758. 

" Ulloa, "Relacion historica del viage a la 
America meridional," Madrid, 174S. 


pearling in a desultory manner, and led to an increase in the number 
of fishermen. During some years when industrial and market condi- 
tions were favorable, large quantities of shells were exported. In 
1855, for instance, 650 tons of these shells were shipped to England 
alone, and in 1859 the reported quantity was 957 tons. Those from 
the Island of San Jose, one of the Pearl Archipelago, were said to be 
the largest and choicest in the bay. Many of them were used in dec- 
orating the twin towers of the stately old cathedral at Panama. 

Since then the industry has fluctuated greatly, depending on the 
market for the shell. Many outsiders have experimented in the fish- 
ery, but most of these attempts have resulted in financial loss, through 
mismanagement, storms, sickness, or other causes. A story is told 
locally of a party of thirty men, principally from Scotland, who ar- 
rived at Panama equipped with a diving-bell and such necessary ma- 
chinery as air-pumps, windlasses, etc. Much was expected of their 
operations, but soon yellow fever broke out among them, and within 
six weeks two thirds of the members of the party had died. The re- 
maining members, becoming disheartened, and in fear of the dread 
disease, lost no time in leaving the country. The diving-bell and ma- 
chinery remained for several years as a curiosity at Panama, for no 
one returned to claim them, nor has the use of similar apparatus been 
attempted since then. 

The scattered pearl reefs extend from the east side of the Bay of 
Panama nearly to the Costa Rica boundary. However, this gives an 
exaggerated idea of their area, as much of this territory yields no 
pearl-oysters whatever. The principal reefs and the headquarters of 
the fishery are at Archipelago de las Perlas or Pearl Islands, which 
are from thirty to sixty miles southeast of the Pacific terminus of the 
projected Panama Canal. This archipelago contains sixteen small 
islands, on which are about twice that number of small settlements of 
Negro and Indian descendants, with a total population of perhaps one 
thousand. About half of these live on Isla del Rey, the largest island, 
about fifteen miles long and half that in width. The chief village, San 
Miguel, is the center of the pearling industry, and consists mostly of 
palm-thatched huts and a handsome stone church, more costly than 
all the remaining buildings of the town combined. While the soil is 
fertile and some vegetables are raised, the inhabitants depend almost 
wholly on the fisheries. 

In 1901, the Republic of Colombia invited bids for the right to 
operate the pearl and coral fisheries for a term of fifteen years, but 
nothing seems to have come of it, and the establishment of the 
Panama Republic in 1903 terminated the authority of Colombia in 
these resources. 


The Panama fisheries differ widely in their character from those of 
Venezuela. The mollusk is much larger, averaging about six inches 
in diameter when fully grown, thus furnishing a valuable quality of 
mother-of-pearl. The shell constitutes the principal object of the 
fishery; the pearls themselves are of incidental importance, but are 
always looked for and anxiously expected. 

The season extends from May to November, with a rest during the 
remaining five months of the year. The fishery is open to natives and 
to foreigners alike. While the leading fishermen employ diving-suits, 
which were introduced here about 1890, nude diving is yet practised 
to a considerable extent, the men descending in eight or ten, and some 
even in twelve fathoms of water. There is no restriction whatever on 
the nude fishermen, but for each machine diver an annual license fee 
of $125 United States currency is exacted. 

Owing to the low market price for Panama shell during recent 
years, the fishery has not been vigorously prosecuted, and it has even 
dwindled to low proportions. A letter from one of the leading pearl- 
ing companies in Panama states that the machine divers number 
about twenty, while there are about four hundred nude fishermen; 
and another firm likewise prominent, estimates these fishermen at 
twenty and three hundred respectively. 

Yet a third pearling company writes that there are fifteen machine 
divers and two hundred head divers ; and adds that the small demand 
for this quality of mother-of-pearl has made the condition of the in- 
dustry about as bad as it could be; many who have capital invested 
are getting out of the business, and unless the market improves, the 
industry may be abandoned. Probably with the introduction of new 
capital and methods in the infant republic, the pearl resources may 
receive greater attention and a large development ensue. 

The Panama pearls are of good quality and frequently of large 
size. In color they range from white to green and lead-gray, and 
frequently greenish black. Valuable pearls are not common, but oc- 
casionally the fisherman is amply rewarded. A letter from the Ameri- 
can consul at Panama states that in 1899 a native boy, fifteen years 
old, fishing in shallow water, as much for sport as for profit, found a 
pearl which he sold to a local speculator for 4000 silver dollars 
($1760) ; this speculator delivered the same pearl to a dealer in 
Panama for 10,000 silver dollars ($4400), and an offer of 30,000 
francs was refused for it later in Paris. A pearl worth $2400 was 
reported as found within half a mile of the steamship anchorage at 
Panama. A pearl from a giant oyster resembling Tridacna, was an 
absolute egg-shape, pure cocoanut white, and weighed 169 grains; it 
was 21 mm. at the longest and 16.5 mm. at the narrowest part. The 


surface showed very distinctly a wavy structure, occasionally with a 
tiny, brighter central point ; the surface under the glass resembling a 
honeycomb network. At the smallest point there was a radiated cen- 
ter with quite a brilliant field. It was worth only $100. 

Not always, however, does the poor, ignorant fisherman receive the 
full value of his find; and many a story is told of some thoughtless 
improvident native, who, for less than a mess of pottage, "like the 
base Indian, threw a pearl away, richer than half his tribe." 

Most of the Panama pearls are sold in Paris, relatively few of them 
coming to America direct. This is not because of any greater estima- 
tion of them in Paris or higher prices obtained ; but the trade relation 
has been long continued and the credits are well established. From 
Paris many of these pearls reach the American market. 


Then, too, the pearl from out its shell, 

Unsightly in the sunless sea, 
(As 't were a spirit, forced to dwell 

In form unlovely) was set free, 
And round the neck of woman threw 

A light it lent and borrowed too. 

Thomas Moore, The Loves of the Angels. 

Pearl-bearing oysters are found at various places on the Pacific 
coast of Mexico, and especially along the coast of Lower California, 
where extensive fisheries are prosecuted. The pearls are noted for 
the great variety of colors which they display. A large percentage 
are black, others are white, brown, peacock green, etc. Generally they 
are small and of irregular form, yet sometimes very large ones are 
secured, weighing 100, 200, and even 300 grains. 

European knowledge of the pearl resources of Mexico dates from 
the conquest of that country by Hernando Cortes about 1522. The 
diary of his lieutenant, Fortuno Ximines, tells of finding native chiefs 
living in primitive huts along the sea-shore, with quantities of beautiful 
pearls lying carelessly around. From a tribe near the present site of 
Hermosillo, in the State of Sonora, Cortes secvired great quantities of 
the gems. It appeared that the fishery had been in existence for cen- 
turies. The location of the pearl reefs was prominently noted on 
Cortes' map of this coast, made in 1535' ^ copy of which was procured 
by the Rev. Edward E. Hale when in Spain in 1883. 



Following Cortes' explorations of the Pacific coast of Mexico 
(1533-1538), a number of expeditions were fitted out for securing 
pearls by trading with the natives, by forcing them to fish, and by 
even more questionable means. Several of these expeditions found 
record in history either by reason of their vmusual success or through 
the extreme cruelty with which they were conducted. The contact of 
the Spaniards with the Indians resulted in very bitter feelings on the 
part of the latter, so that it became risky for small traders to venture 
among them. From time to time, successful expeditions were made, 
especially the one of 200 men sent in 1596 by the viceroy of Mexico 
to "the rich Isles of California," mentioned by Teixeira.^ Antonio 
de Castillo, a Spanish colonist, with headquarters south of Mazatlan, 
was one of the most successful of the early adventurers, and Iturbide 
Ortega and Jose Carborel were also among the fortunate ones of 
that period.- Ortega marketed his pearls in the city of Mexico, and 
the reported sale of one for 4500 dollars had considerable effect in 
stimulating the industry. 

The advent of the Jesuits to western Mexico in 1642, developed 
amicable relations with the Indians; and although the missionaries 
were agriculturists rather than fishermen, the restoration of harmony 
resulted in a more favorable prosecution of the fisheries. The col- 
onists of Sinaloa and Nueva Galicia, who had formerly, in small 
vessels and with great danger, made occasional visits to the pearl 
beds, built larger vessels and made more frequent visits without aj)- 
prehension. The skilful Yaqui and Mayo Indians were employed or 
impressed as divers, just as natives of the Bahamas had served in 
the fisheries of Venezuela. Great profits resulted from the operations. 
Venegas wrote that "it was certain that the fifth of every vessel was 
yearly farmed for 12,000 dollars."* 

So profitable was the fishery that the Spanish soldiers and sailors 
stationed in the Gulf of Cortes — as the Gulf of California was then 
called — were frequently charged with devoting more attention to 
pearling than to their official duties. In order to put a stop to this 
evil, in 1704, Father Silva-Tierra, who was in authority in that part 
of the country, ordered that no soldier or sailor should engage in the 
fishery. With a view to removing the demoralizing influences of 
promiscuous adventurers among the Indians, the industry was later 
restricted to persons specially authorized. 

Probably the most successful of the early pearlers was Manuel 

' Hakluyt's "Vo3'ages," Glasgow, 1904, Vol. 'Venegas, "Noticia de las Californias," 

IX, pp. 318, 319. Madrid, 1757, p. 454. 

" Clavigcro, "Storia della California," Ve- 
nezia, 1789, Vol. I, p. 161. 



Osio, who is credited with having marketed "127 pounds' weight of 
pearls in 1743," and "275 pounds' weight" in 1744.* He operated in 
the vicinity of Mulege and northward, employing the Yaqui Indians ; 

Gulf of California and the pearling territory of western Mexico 

and through his pearling interests is said to have become the richest 
man in Lower California. 

The revenue from the royal fifth, somewhat later, was reported by 

' Clavigero, "Historia de la Baja antigua Mexicana de Geographia y Estadistica," Vol. 
California." Esteva, "Boletin de la Sociedad X, pp. 673-697. 


Alvarado^ at 12,000 dollars per year; but this was disputed by Jacob 
Baegert, a Jesuit priest. Baegert spent seventeen years in Mexico and, 
returning to Europe on the expulsion of his order from that country in 
1767, published a report in 1772, containing rather an unfavorable 
view of the fishery. He stated that each summer eight, ten, or twelve 
poor Spaniards from Sonora, Sinaloa, and elsewhere on the mainland, 
crossed the gulf in small boats to the California shore for the purpose 
of obtaining pearls. They carried supplies of Indian corn and dried 
beef, and also a number of Indians who served as divers, the Spaniards 
themselves showing little inclination to engage in the work when 
native fishermen could be employed so cheaply. Provided with a sack 
for receiving the oysters which they removed from the bottom, the 
fishermen dived head first into the sea, and when they could no longer 
hold their breath they ascended with the gathered treasure. The 
oysters were counted before opening ; and, when the law was complied 
with, every fifth one was put aside for the king's revenue. Most of 
the oysters yielded no pearls ; some contained black pearls, others white 
ones, the latter usually small and ill-shaped. If, after six or eight 
weeks of hard labor and deducting all expenses, a Spaniard gained a 
hundred American pesos, he thought he had made a little fortune, 
but this he could not do every season. "God knows," said Baegert, 
"whether a fifth of the pearls secured in the California sea yields to 
the Catholic king an average of 150 or 200 pesos in a year, even with- 
out frauds in the transaction. I heard of only two persons — with 
whom also I was personally acquainted — who had accumulated some 
wealth, after spending 20 or more years in the business. The others 
remained poor notwithstanding their pearl fishing."^ 

Father Baegert's statement of the returns seems to be substantiated 
by the reports of the royal fifth a few years later. For the period from 
1792 to 1796 this was placed at "2 lbs. 2 ozs." by some writers; and 
according to others, from 1788 to 1797 it amounted to only "3 lbs. 
9 ozs.," which is the quantity assigned by some accounts to 1797 alone.* 
These returns apparently indicate that a great decrease had occurred 
since the days of Osio ; but it seems very doubtful whether, under the 
conditions existing in Mexico at that time, the royal treasury received 
its due share of the proceeds. 

Shortly following the independence of Mexico in 1821, and after 
a period of little activity, several attempts were made to exploit the 
pearl resources. The great prosperity in England, ensuing upon the 

' Pedro Alvarado, "Historia California," ' Arch. Cal. Prov. St. Pap. xvi. Ben. Mil. 

Vol. I, p. 10. xvi, xvii, xviii. 

° Baegert, "Nachrichten von der Amerika- 
nischen Halbinsel Calif ornien," Mannheim, 


termination of the Napoleonic Wars, resulted in much speculation and 
the promotion of stock subscriptions in many visionary schemes. 
Among these was "The General Pearl and Coral-Fishing Association 
of London," which in 1825 equipped and sent out to Mexico, by way 
of Cape Horn, two vessels prepared to exploit the pearl resources by 
the use of diving-bells similar to those formerly employed in sub- 
marine construction. This expedition was under the direction of 
Lieutenant R. W. H. Hardy, whose report thereon presents an inter- 
esting exhibit of the condition of the pearl fishery at that time. 

Hardy found the fishery at a very low ebb, owing, largely, to the 
scarcity of oysters and the uncertainty of depending on the native 
divers. He adds with peculiar naivete: "I had almost forgotten to> 
mention a very curious circumstance with respect to the pearl-oyster,, 
namely that on the coast of Sonora there are none at all, except at 
Guaymas." He states also that to the northward of 28° 30' not the 
trace of a shell could be discovered on either side of the gulf. 

The center of the industry was then at Loreto, a village of 250 in- 
habitants; but another small station existed at La Paz. At Loreto 
six or eight vessels of twenty-five tons each were employed, each hav- 
ing three or four sailors and fifteen or twenty Yaqui Indians who 
served as divers. Head-diving was in vogue, the work proceeding 
from II A.M. to 2 P.M., and the depth ranging from three to twelve 
fathoms. The annual catch of pearls was "4 or 5 pounds' weight, 
worth from $8000 to $10,000."' After the government's claim of 
one fifth had been set apart, the owner and captain of the vessel re- 
ceived one half and the divers the other half. 

It was found impossible to use diving-bells when the sea was at all 
rough, and even during calm weather they were impracticable on ac- 
count of the unevenness of the ground and the strong undercurrents. 
An efifort was made to employ native divers, but owing to the dis- 
organized state of affairs only four could be secured. In the Gulf of 
Mulege a large number of oysters were collected, but when these were 
opened "six very small pearls" were all that could be found. After 
spending about three years on the coast, Hardy returned to England, 
and the company abandoned the enterprise. 

In the early history of the Mexican pearl fishery, the shells were of 
no market value ; but about 1830 a French trader named Combier made 
experimental shipments to France, securing cheap freight rates by 
using the waste shells largely as ballast for the vessels.^ The best 
quality sold for about 600 francs per ton, and the market was found 

'Hardy, "Travels in Mexico," London, d'AquicuIture," Paris, 189S, Vol. VII, pp. 
1829, pp. 231-238. 1-18. 

^ Diguet, "Bulletin de la Societe Centrale 


sufficient for regular shipments. The value gradually increased, and in 
1854 it approximated 2000 francs per ton in France, placing the in- 
dustry upon a very remunerative basis. This resulted in much activity 
in the fishery, and an increase in the number of boats and divers. 

In 1855, the fishery gave employment to 368 divers, and yielded 
$23,800 worth of pearls, and 350 tons of shells worth $13,500.^ It was 
estimated by Lassepas that from 1580 to 1857, inclusive, 95,000 tons of 
oysters were removed from the Gulf of California, yielding 2770 
pounds of pearls, worth $5,540,000.^ 

For protection of the reefs, the Mexican government in 1857 divided 
the Gulf of California into four pearling districts, and provided that 
only one of them should be worked each year, and then only in areas 
leased for the season to the highest bidders, thereby permitting the 
reefs successively to remain undisturbed for three years. 

The yield of pearls in 1868 approximated $55,000, and that of shells 
$10,600 in value; while in 1869 these items were given as $62,000 and 
$25,000, respectively.* The local prices ranged from $15 per ounce 
for seed-pearls to $1500 for a choice gem. 

At that period the fishery was carried on from shore camps or from 
large vessels, each carrying twenty to fifty divers, who were mostly 
Yaqui Indians from the eastern shore of the gulf. The camp or vessel 
was located in the vicinity of the reefs or beds, and the fishing was 
prosecuted from small boats, each carrying three or four nude divers. 
Fastened to the waist or suspended from the neck was a net for the 
reception of oysters, and each diver carried a short spud or stick with 
which to detach them from the bottom, and to some extent for use as 
a weapon of defense against sharks and similar enemies. The diving 
progressed mostly in the morning, when the sea was unruffled by the 
breeze which usually begins shortly after noon. The season lasted 
from May to late in September, when the water became too cold for 
further operations. 

The divers were paid a definite share of the catch, and kept in debt- 
bondage by means of advances and supplies. Little clothing was neces- 
sary, and the provisions consisted principally of corn, beans, and sun- 
dried beef. Luxuries were added in the form of tobacco, and of mescal 
distilled from the maguey plant, indulgence in these constituting the 
chief remuneration for the season's labor. The finding of an un- 
usually choice pearl brought to the lucky fisherman a gratuity of a few 
dollars, and shore leave for several days in which to spend it. Dress- 

'- Esteva, "Memoria sobre la Pesca de la ' Pujol, "Estudio Biologico sobre la ostra 

Perla," "Boletin de la Sociedad Mexicana Avicula margaritiferus." "Boletin de la So- 

de Geographla," Vol. X, pp. 681-688. ciedad de Geographia," Epoc. 2, Vol. Ill, 

'Lassepas, "Historia de la Baja Califor- p. 139 et seq. 
nia," Mexico, 1859, p. 65. 


ing in his best calico garments, he hastened to the nearest town to in- 
dulge in release from restraint, in drunkenness and debauchery — the 
highest dreams of happiness of a Yaqui Indian — thoughts of which 
served to bring him to the fishery each year from his home across the 

From the Spanish conquest until 1S74, the Mexican pearl fishery 
was conducted exclusively by nude divers. The experiments with the 
diving-bell in 1825 had been without favorable result, and also an 
attempt by an American in 1854 to use a diving-suit with air-pump, 
etc., this failure being credited to imperfection of apparatus. In 1874, 
through the influence of European pearl merchants, two schooners, 
each of about 200 tons' measurement, one from Australia and the 
other from England, visited the Mexican grounds, with a dozen boats 
fully equipped with scaphanders or diving armor, including helmets, 
rubber suits, pumps, etc. Owing to their working in deeper water 
than the nude divers were able to exploit, their success was remark- 
able, and they secured upward of a hundred thousand dollars' worth 
of pearls and shells during the first season. 

The hitherto somnolent inhabitants of Lower California were 
amazed at seeing their resources thus easily removed, and were 
awakened to the opportunities afl^orded them to acquire the wealth 
which nature had scattered at their very doors. With this object- 
lesson before them, companies were formed for raising sufiicient 
capital for the business, and the leading operators equipped their men 
with scaphanders, to the great annoyance of the would-be independent 
fishermen, who had not sufficient means to purchase the costly equip- 
ment. Many of these continued to employ nude divers, but after 1880 
this method of fishery was subordinate to the use of diving apparatus. 
The change was accompanied by many accidents, and rarely did a 
month pass without the loss of a man, due in most cases to faulty 
apparatus or to inexperienced management. 

In 1884 President Gonzalez inaugurated the policy of granting ex- 
clusive concessions to the pearl reefs. On February 28 of that year, 
five concessions were granted to as many persons, giving them and 
their associates and assigns the exclusive right to all shell fisheries in 
their respective zones of large area, for a period of sixteen years, 
in consideration of a royalty and export duty, amounting altogether to 
about $10 per ton of shells exported in the first three years, and $15 
per ton for the remaining thirteen years of the term. Immediately 
these five grants were consolidated, forming the Lower California 
Pearl Fishing Company ("Compania Perlifera de la Baja Cali- 
fornia"), incorporated under the laws of California with an invested 
capital of $100,000. 


Other concessions were given covering the ocean shore of Lower 
Cahfornia, the eastern side of the gulf within the States of Sonora and 
Sinaloa, and the ocean shore of Mexico southward from Sinaloa. In 
addition to these, certain territorial rights of fishing are claimed 
through grants dating back very early in the history of the country. 
So eagerly have these concessions been sought in recent years, that 
there is now little pearling ground on the coast which is not under 
corporate or private claim. And, owing to speculation in these con- 
cessions and in the formation of companies to develop them, it is some- 
what difficult to obtain wholly reliable data relative to the condition 
and extent of the industry. 

Two species of pearl-bearing mollusks occur on the Mexican coast. 
The principal one is the M. margaritifcra inaaatlanica, known locally 
as the concha de pcrla fina. This species is closely related to the "black 
lip shell" of the Australian coast. It is considerably larger than the 
Venezuelan oyster, averaging four or five inches in diameter and at- 
taining an extreme diameter of seven or possibly eight inches. It 
occurs to some extent all along the Pacific coast of Mexico, in detached 
beds intercalated in places. The principal reefs, which have been ex- 
ploited for nearly four centuries, are in the shallow waters of the 
Gulf of California and especially within the 300 miles between Cape 
San Lucas and Mulege Bay. The fisheries have centered about the 
islands of Cerralvo, Espiritu Santo, Carmen, and San Jose, and in the 
bays of Mulege, Ventana, and San Lorenzo. The depth of water on the 
reefs ranges from two to twenty-five fathoms, with an average of 
probably six or eight fathoms. The species is generally isolated, and 
firmly attached by the byssus to the bottom rocks or the stone corals, 
from which it may remove in case of necessity, though it probably does 
not do so frequently. 

The second species is known locally under the name concha nacar, 
and has been named Margaritifera (Avicula) vinesi (Rochebonne).^ 
It occurs only in the northern part of the gulf near the mouth of the 
Colorado River. Formerly it was abundant in that region, occurring 
in large areas, but it has become much reduced and is now little 
sought after. It is claimed that this species is far more productive of 
pearls than the M. margaritifera, and that it yielded the large quan- 
tities obtained by Osio in the eighteenth century. Although irides- 
cent, the shell is so thin and convex that it is without commercial- value. 

The headquarters of the Mexican pearl fishery are at La Paz, the 
capital of Lower California, 240 miles northwest of Mazatlan and 150 
miles north of Cape San Lucas. This "Mantle of Peace"— the literal 
translation of La Paz — contains about 5000 inhabitants, nearly all of 

' Diguet, "Bulletin de la Societe Centrale d'AquicuIture," 1895, Vol. VII. 


Ornamented with American gems and fresh-water pearls, rock crystal, gold quartz and agatjzed wood 

Top of vase and side view 

Now in ^,he Metropolitan Museum of Art 


whom are more or less dependent on the pearl fishery. It presents an 
attractive picture, with the cocoanut-palms extending down almost to 
the water's edge, and the high mountains forming a background. The 
low, stone houses, the tile roofs, the plaza with tropical trees, and the 
beautiful flower beds under perennial sunny skies, give it a quaint ap- 
pearance. The most conspicuous objects from the harbor are the large 
old warehouses, with thick walls and iron-barred windows, for the 
storage of the pearls and the shells. During the season, from April to 
November, the arrival and departure of the pearling vessels presents a 
scene of great animation. 

The present methods of the fishery on the Mexican coast are quite 
dififerent from those of thirty years ago when nude diving was the only 
method in vogue. Instead of the haphazard work, largely in shallow 
water, the industry is conducted systematically, and the hmit of depth 
is increased, much of the diving being in depths of ten to fifteen 
fathoms. The fishermen operate either from a large vessel making a 
cruise two or three months in length, or from a camp on the shore near 
the reefs. A vessel visits them frequently to furnish supplies and to 
transport the catch to La Paz. The fishing boats are undecked craft, 
each equipped with an air-pump and a crew of six men: a diver, acabo 
de vida or life-line man, who is usually the captain, two homberos at 
the air-pump, and two rowers. 

The greatest depth at which armored diving is attempted in Mexico 
rarely exceeds twenty fathoms ; twenty-five fathoms is fully as deep as 
it is practicable to go, and it is not advisable to remain at that depth 
more than a very few minutes. At fifteen fathoms a diver may remain 
half an hour or more, and at six or eight fathoms he may work unin- 
terruptedly for several hours. When the water is very cold, the diver 
comes up frequently to restore his numbed circulation by vigorous 
rubbing. The occupation is especially conducive to rheumatism, and 
paralysis is more or less general, due, not only to the compressed atmos- 
phere, but to the abrupt changes of temperature. The work is very 
debilitating, with particular efifect on the nerves, and partial deafness 
is common. It is important that the diver be careful about overeating 
before descending, as heavy foods, and meats especially, make respira- 
tion difficult ; therefore, breakfast consists of little more than bread 
and coffee. The risks and dangers from sharks, devil-fish, etc., have 
greatly diminished since the introduction of scaphanders ; for a stout 
diver in his waterproof dress, with leads on the breast, shoulders, and 
shoes, and on his head a massive helmet containing great gaping win- 
dows for eyes, is enough to cause even a hungry shark to hesitate and 
to seek a more digestible meal. 

There are yet many nude divers in Mexico, who operate in shallow 


waters, their cheap labor making them successful competitors of the 
armored divers. In arranging with these, the pearling company com- 
monly grub-stakes a crew, pays a stipulated sum per hundredweight 
for the shells, and bargains for the pearls, li the fishermen are not 
satisfied with the price offered for these, they are at liberty to sell to 
other buyers under certain restrictions. 

Nude diving is confined to the warm months, beginning about the 
middle of May and continuing until October. Owing to the cloudy or 
muddy condition of the water in the gulf, the nude diver can not in- 
spect the bottom from the surface and select the best oysters before 
descending, nor can he work satisfactorily at depths greater than seven 
or eight fathoms. While the work is hard, it is more remunerative 
than the average branch of labor in this region. 

Each day tlje boats deliver their catch of oysters at the fishing-camps 
or on board the receiving vessels. After they have been freed from 
marine growths and refuse, the mollusks are opened and searched for 
pearls. This operation is performed by trusted employees, usually 
elderly men who have become physically disqualified for diving, and 
who, seated together at a low table, work under the watchful eyes of 
overseers. A knife is introduced between the valves of the oyster, the 
adductor muscle is severed, and the valves are separated by breaking 
the hinge. The animal is removed from the shell and carefully exam- 
ined with the eyes and the fingers, and then squeezed in the hands to 
locate any pearl which may be concealed in the organs or tissues. The 
debris is passed to other persons, who submit it to further examina- 
tions. A man may work all day long and find only a few seed-pearls, 
but occasionally there is the excitement of discovering a beautiful gem. 

In some localities the flesh of the pearl-oyster is a source of profit 
through its sale to Chinamen, who dry and otherwise prepare it for 
sale among their countrymen in Mexico and America, as well as in the 
Orient. Frequently the large adductor muscle is dried for food, mak- 
ing excellent soup-stock, and, indeed, it is quite palatable when stewed. 

It is difficult to approximate the output of the Mexican pearl fish- 
eries, other than the pearl shell, because the dealers place a merely 
nominal value on the pearls in their invoices when sending them to 
Europe, an invoice of $500 sometimes representing gems valued in 
Paris at several thousand dollars. Furthermore, it is difficult to ob- 
tain satisfactory information from the pearling companies, owing, 
presumably, to the fear of developing greater competition. Ac- 
cording to the estimates at La Paz, the local value of the pearl-yield 
now approximates $250,000 annually, and the value of the same over 
the counters in Europe and America probably exceeds one million 


Some remarkably large pearls have been secured in the Mexican 
fisheries, especially considering the small size of the oysters. In 1871 
a pearl of 96 grains, pear-shaped and without a flaw, sold at La 
Paz for 3000 pesos. In March, 1907, a beautiful pinkish white one, 
found near the lower end of the peninsula, sold for 28,000 pesos or 
$14,000. One of the best years for choice finds was 1881, when the 
scaphanders were first employed to their greatest efficieiycy. A black 
pearl was then secured which weighed 112 grains, and which brought 
40,000 francs in Paris. In 1882 two, weighing 124 and 180 grains 
respectively, sold for 1 1,000 pesos. In the following year a light brown 
pearl, flecked with dark brown, and weighing 260 grains, sold for 7500 
pesos. These are the prices which the La Paz merchants received for 
these pearls, and not the much greater amounts for which they were 
finally sold by the jewelers. 

One of the finest pearls was found in 1884 near Mulege. This 
weighed 2;j2 grains. The Indian fisherman is said to have sold it for 
$90; the purchaser declined an oft'er of 1000 pesos, and also a second 
offer of 5000, and soon sold it to a La Paz dealer for 10,000 pesos. Its 
value in Paris was estimated at 85,000 francs. Probably the most 
famous of all pearls obtained from these grounds was "the 400-grain 
pearl" found near Loreto, and "which is now among the royal jewels 
of Spain." It is said that this was offered by the lucky fisherman to 
the Mission of Loreto, and by the Director of Missions in Lower Cali- 
fornia was presented to the Queen of Spain.' 

As in every other fishery, one hears in Mexico of fishermen who 
have grasped a prize only to lose it through inexperience or improvi- 
dence. The account given above of the sale of the 372-grain pearl 
found near Mulege furnishes an instance of this. It is related in La 
Paz that in 1883 an Indian sold for ten pesos a gem weighing 128 
grains, for which the purchaser received 27,500 francs in Paris. On 
another occasion a Mexican sold two pearls, easily worth $4000, for 
$16 worth of groceries. 

In the eighteenth century, the Notre Dame de Loreto possessed a 
remarkable collection of Mexican pearls, which had been presented 
from time to time by the fishermen. During the regime of the Jesuits, 
it was customary to devote the proceeds of the last day of the fishery 
to the decoration of the altar of that mission. After the expulsion of 
this religious order in 1767, the mission was pillaged and the collection 
dissipated. From the old aristocracy of Mexico, family heirlooms of 
many choice pearls were placed on the European market during the civil 
wars in Mexico to contribute to the support of the contending armies. 
One lady in Sonora is said to have disposed of her collection for 

'Lassepas, "Historia de la Colonizacionde la Baja California," Mexico, 1859. 


550,000 francs. A fine collection of these pearls, accumulated from 
1760 to 1850, and showing them in a great variety of colors, shapes, 
and sizes, was in Chihuahua until recently. 


And my pearls are pure as thy own fair neck, 
With whose radiant light they vie. 

Whittier, The Vaudois Teacher. 

The most recently developed pearl fisheries are within the limits of the 
United States, in the rivers and fresh-water lakes, and especially those 
in the Mississippi Valley. As an important industrial enterprise, these 
fisheries are less than two decades old, yet they are very productive, 
yielding annually above half a million dollars' worth of pearls, many 
of which compare favorably in quality with those from oriental seas. 

The prehistoric mounds in the Mississippi Valley present evidence 
of the estimation in which pearls were held by a race of men who 
passed away ages before America was first visited by Europeans. In 
some of these mounds, erected by a long-forgotten race, pearls have 
been found not only in hundreds and in thousands, but by gallons and 
even by bushels. Some of these equal three quarters of an inch in 
diameter, and in quantity exceed the richest individual collections of 
the present day. Damaged and partly decomposed by heat and 
through centuries of burial, they have lost their beauty, and are of 
value only to the archaeologist and to indicate the quantity of pearly 
treasures possessed by these early people. 

Owing to the great wealth of pearls which had been uncovered on 
the Spanish Main, at Panama, and in the Gulf of California, Eldo- 
rado explorers, in the sixteenth century, were particularly eager in 
searching for them within the present limits of the United States ; in 
the reports of their wanderings, much space is given to these gems, 
and these reports aided largely in inducing and encouraging other ex- 
peditions. Some of these accounts read like the marvelous stories of 
Sindbad the Sailor, quantities of pearls — hundreds of pounds in some 
instances — being secured by the exchange of trinkets and by more 
questionable means. It would be easy to bring together numerous 
accounts of apparently reliable authorities to show that in the six- 
teenth century pearls were obtained here in far greater quantities than 
were ever known in any other part of the world; but this conclusion 
seems not wholly correct. 

The unfortunate wanderings of Hernando de Soto from 1539 to 



1542 gave rise to most of the reports of rich pearl finds within the Hm- 
its of this country. Of this voyage there are three principal accounts. 
The first was by Luis Hernandez de Biedma, who had accompanied De 
Soto as factor for Charles V of Spain. His brief report was presented 
to the king in 1544, although it was not published until 1841, nearly 
three centuries later, when it appeared in a French translation.' The 
second, and in our opinion the most reliable account,^ published at 
Evora in 1577, was by an unnamed Portuguese (in English editions, 
commonly spoken of as the Gentleman of Elvas), who was a member 
of the expedition. The third account,^ by far the longest and most 
widely known, but which was not written until 1591, was by Garcilasso 
de la Vega, who represented that his information was from a Spanish 
cavalier who had accompanied De Soto. 

The only reference made to pearls in Biedma's report seems to be 
his allusion to the large quantity secured at the village of Cofaciqui, on 
the east bank of the Savannah River. He states : "When we arrived 
there, the queen . . . presented the governor with a necklace of pearls 
of five or six rows, procured for us canoes to pass the river, and as- 
signed the half of the village for our quarters. After having been in 
our company three or four days, she escaped into the forest ; the gov- 
ernor caused search to be made after her, but without success ; he then 
gave orders to break open a temple erected in this village, wherein the 
chiefs of the country were interred. We took out of it a vast quantity 
of pearls, which might amount to six or seven arrobas,* but they were 
spoiled by having been underground."^ 

The Portuguese narrative alludes to the pearls at Cofaciqui, stating 
that the queen "took from her own neck a great cordon of pearls, and 
cast it about the neck of the governor. . . . And the lady, per- 
ceiving that the Christians esteemed the pearls, advised the governor 
to search certain graves in the town, where he would find many; and 
that if he would send to the abandoned towns, he might load all his 
horses. He sought the graves of that town and there found four- 
teen rows of pearls, and little babies and birds made of them."* 
This account makes no further mention of pearls, except to state 
that at the battle of Mavilla this great collection was burned, and 
that when the Queen of Cofaciqui escaped from the Portuguese she car- 
ried with her a little chest full of unbored pearls, which some of the 

' "Recueil des pieces sur la Floride," Paris, ' "La Florida del Ynca," Lisbon, 1605. 

1841. 'One arroba = twenty-five pounds' weight. 

^"Relagam verdadeira dos Trabalhos q ho ""Discovery of Florida," Hakluyt Society, 

gouernador do Fernado de Souto e certos 1831, Vol. IX, p. 181. 

fidalgos Portugueses passarom no descobri- " Ibid., p. SO. 
meto da provincia da Frolida. Agora noua- 
mente feita per hu fidalgo Deluas." 


Spaniards thought were of great value ;^ and further, that on one or 
two other occasions a few pearls were received from the Indians as 

The account of De Soto's wanderings, given by Garcilasso, the 
Peruvian historian, contains many references to pearls, which read 
more like romance than reality. With his knowledge of the jewels, 
temples, etc., in Mexico and Peru, and recognizing some similar- 
ities in the manners of the people of those countries and the ones 
with whom De Soto came in contact, Garcilasso was easily led to state- 
ments which, though possibly true in the one case, seem fictitious in 
the other. 

He gives the story of the Queen of Cofaciqui, with some additional 
particulars. The string of pearls which she presented to the governor 
made three circuits of her neck and descended to her waist. In his 
account, the graves in Cofaciqui became a temple containing, among 
other riches, more than a thousand measures of pearls, of which they 
took only two. Near Cofaciqui was the temple of Talomeco, over a 
hundred steps long by forty broad, with the walls high in proportion. 
Upon the roof of the temple were shells of different sizes, placed with 
the inside out, to give more brilliancy, and with the intervals "filled 
with many strings of pearls of divers sizes, in the form of festoons, 
from one shell to the other, and extending from the top of the roof 
to the bottom." Within the temple, festoons of pearls hung from the 
ceiling and from all other parts of the building. In the middle were 
three rows of chests of graded sizes, arranged in pyramids of five or 
six chests each, according to their sizes. "All these chests were filled 
with pearls, in such a manner that the largest contain the largest 
pearls, and thus, in succession, to the smallest, which were full of 
seed-pearls only. The quantity of pearls was such, that the Spaniards 
avowed, that even if there had been more than nine hundred men and 
three hundred horses, they all together could not have carried off at 
one time all the pearls of this temple. We ought not to be too much 
astonished at this, if we consider that the Indians of the province con- 
veyed into these chests, during many ages, all the pearls which they 
found, without retaining a single one of them."^ In the armory at- 
tached to this temple were long pikes, maces, clubs, and other weapons 
mounted with links and tassels of pearls. 

Garcilasso has an interesting story of an incident, said to have oc- 
curred a few days after leaving Cofaciqui, when the troops were pass- 
ing through the wilderness. 

' "Discovery of Florida," Hakluyt Society. nando de Soto and Florida from 1512 to 
1851, Vol. IX, p. 60. 1568," Philadelphia, 1881, 8vo, p. 364. 

'Bernard Shipp, "The History of Her- 


Negro pearling camp on bank of an Arkansas ri\-er 

■^ -rS-it- . 

lirnu|. "1 Ark.,n-,i» ptarl ti~luriii.ri , lih-i- .;;r,i|.ln;d shortly after the woman in the i .jiUi 
of the group had found a pearl for which she received $Soo 


Juan Terron, one of the stoutest soldiers of the army, to^vard noon, drew 
from his saddle-bags about six pounds of pearls, and pressed a cavalier, one of 
his friends, to take them. The cavalier thanked him and told him that he 
ought to keep them, or rather, since the report was current that the general 
would send to Havana, send them there to buy horses and go no longer afoot. 
Ofifended at this answer, Terron replied that "these pearls then shall not go any 
farther," and thereupon scattered them here and there upon the grass and 
through the bushes. They were surprised at this folly, for the pearls were as 
large as hazel-nuts, and of very fine water, and because they were not pierced 
they were worth more than six thousand ducats. They collected about thirty 
of these pearls, which were so beautiful that it made them regret the loss of the 
others, and say, in raillery, these words, which passed into a proverb with 
them, "There are no pearls for Juan Terron." ^ 

At the capital of Iciaha, De Soto received from the cacique or chief, 
a string, five feet in length, of beautiful and well matched pearls as 
large as filberts. Upon De Soto's expressing a desire to learn how the 
gems were extracted from the shells, the chief immediately ordered 
four boats to fish all night and return in the morning. 

In the meantime they Ijurnt a great deal of wood upon the shore, in order 
to make there a great bed of live coals, that at the return of the boats they 
might put thereon the shells, which would open with the heat. They found, at 
the opening of the first shells, ten or twelve pearls of the size of a pea, which 
they took to the cacique, and to the general who was present, and who found 
them very beautiful, except that the fire had deprived them of a part of their 
lustre. When the general had seen what he wished, he returned to dine ; and 
immediately after, a soldier entered, who instantly said to him that, in eating 
oysters which the Indians had caught, his teeth had encountered a very beauti- 
ful pearl of a very lively color, and that he begged him to receive it to send to 
the governess of Cuba. Soto politely refused this pearl, and assured the 
soldier that he was as obliged to him as if he had accepted it; and that some 
day he would try to acknowledge his kindness, and the honor which he did his 
wife; and that he should preserve it to purchase horses at Havana. The 
Spaniards valued it at four hundred ducats; and as they had not made use of 
fire to extract it, it had not lost any of its lustre.^ 

Notwithstanding the strong indorsement given to Garcilasso's nar- 
rative by Theodore Irving and some other writers, his tendency to 
exaggerate depreciates greatly the historical value of his account, and 
it seems wholly unreliable as an authority relative to early resources 
in America. We may reasonably doubt whether De Soto's expedition 
came in contact with more pearls than those mentioned by Biedma and 
the Portuguese writer. 

'Bernard Shipp, "The History of Her- ' Ibid., p. 372. 

nando de Soto and Florida from 1512 to 
1568," Philadelphia, 1881, 8vo, p. 369- 


The account of the first voyage along the coast of the United 
States, that of the Italian, Juan Verrazano, in 1524, contains no refer- 
ence to pearls, although he penetrated into the interior a score or two 
of miles, and was frequently in contact with the natives, who lived 
largely by fishing, and who prized many ornaments of different colored 
stones, copper rings, etc. 

The first expedition which went far into the interior was the ill- 
fated one under command of Panfilo de Narvaez in 1528. A thrilling 
account^ of this journey was written by Cabeza de Vaca, who was one 
of the four survivors, after eight years' wandering through America 
to Mexico. Cabeza had been controller and royal treasurer of the 
expedition, and in that position it was his particular duty to acquaint 
himself with all the pearls, gold, and similar riches found by the party. 
Notwithstanding his tradings with the Indians and their efforts to 
gain his friendship by means of presents, his account makes no men- 
tion of pearls, except to refer to a statement made by some Indians 
that on the coast of the South Sea there were pearls and great riches. 

Hernando D'Escalante Fontaneda, who was shipwrecked on the 
Florida coast about 1550, and was detained there a prisoner for seven- 
teen years, wrote : 

"Between Abolachi [Appalachicola] and Olagale is a river which the In- 
dians call Guasaca-Esqui, which means Reed River. It is on the sea-coast, and 
at the mouth of this river the pearls are found in oysters and other shells ; 
from thence they are carried into all the provinces and villages of Florida."^ 

The European narrators also reported great stores of pearls along 
the Atlantic seaboard. Among the first of these may be mentioned 
David Ingram, who is represented as traveling by land from the 
Gulf of Mexico to the vicinity of Cape Breton in the years 1568 and 
1569. As it appeared in the first edition of Hakluyt's Voyages, this 
relation states : 

"There is in some of those Countreys great abundance of Pearle, for in 
every Cottage he founde Pearle, in some howse a quarte, in some a pottel [half 
a gallon], in some a pecke, more or less, where he did see some as great as an 
Acorn; and Richard Browne, one of his Companyons, found one of these 
great Pearls in one of their Canoes, or Boates, wch Pearls he gave to Mouns 
Campaine, whoe toke them aboarde his shippe."^ 

Estimation of Ingram's wonderful relation is decreased by Pur- 
chas's comment : 

' "Relation of Alvar Nunez Cabeqa de ' Hakluyt, "The Principall Navigations, 

Vaca," translated by Buckingham Smith, Voiages, and Discoveries of the English 
New York, 1871. Nation," London, 1589. 

" Bernard Shipp, "History of Hernando de 
Soto and Florida," Philadelphia, 1881, p. 586. 


As for David Ingram's perambulations to the north parts, Master Hakluyt, 
in his first edition printed the same ; but it seemeth some incredibihties of his 
reports caused him to leave him out in the next impression ; the reward of 
lying being, not to be believed in truths.* 

Even the members of Raleigh's Roanoke Colony of 1585 reported 
pearls. Hariot stated: 

Sometimes in feeding on Muscles we found some Pearle : but it was our 
happe to meet with ragges, or of a pide colour : not having yet discovered 
those places where we heard of better and more plenty. One of our company, 
a man of skill in such matters, had gathered from among the Savage people 
about five thousand : of which number he chooses so many as made a faire 
chaine, which for their likenesse and uniformity in roundenesse, orientnesse, 
and piednesse of many excellent colours, with equality in greatnesse. were very 
faire and rare : and had therefore been presented to her Majesty, had we not by 
casualty, and through extremity of a storme lost them, with many things els 
in coming away from the countrey.- 

So far as we can learn, there is no evidence to show that, during the 
sixteenth or the seventeenth century, any pearls of value were re- 
ceived in Europe from within the present limits of the United States, 
as was the case with the resources of Venezuela, Panama and Mexico. 
Many of the accounts quoted above seem wholly fictitious, some of 
them possibly drawn up for the purpose of promoting exploring expe- 
ditions. It is also probable that knowledge of the enormous collections 
at Venezuela and Panama misled some of the narrators into recogniz- 
ing as pearls the spherical pieces of shell or even the cylindrical wam- 
pum which the Indians made in large quantities and used as money. 

However, it is unquestionable that pearls of value were in the pos- 
session of some of the wealthier tribes. Biedma's account of the 150 
pounds or more of damaged pearls in the graves at Cofaciqui seems 
wholly reliable, and likewise many other statements ; and it is an inter- 
esting problem to determine the source from which the Indians ob- 
tained them. 

Most of the narratives refer to the pearls as coming from the coast 
of the South Sea or Gulf of Mexico. The evidence of Fontaneda, who 
had spent seventeen years in the country, throws some light on this. 
He states that pearls were obtained at the mouth of Reed River near 
Appalachicola, whence they were distributed throughout Florida. 
This seems to indicate that on the west coast of Florida there might 
have been extensive reefs of pearl-bearing mollusks, which have since 
become extinct, although existing shell-heaps do not confirm this. 

' "Purchas's Pilgrims," London, 1625, Vol. ' Hakluyt's "Voyages," Glasgow, Vol. 

IV, p. 179. VIII, p. 357. 



While it is possible and even probable that many of these pearls in 
the possession of the Indians came from the Gulf of Mexico or even 
from the Caribbean Sea, it seems much more likely that they came 
largely from the Unios of the inland lakes and rivers. 

The voyages of Narvaez, Ayllon, De Soto, Ribault, etc., had been 
so unfortunate that for a century little exploration was made in the 
territory of the southern part of the United States. When this terri- 
tory was again invaded, little was seen in the way of pearls. 

Iberville, who established the French settlement near the mouth of 
the Mississippi in 1699, was specially directed to look for them. His 
instructions state: "Although the pearls presented to his Majesty are 
not fine either in water or shape, they must nevertheless be carefully 
sought, as better may be found, and his Majesty desires M. d'Iberville 
to bring all he can ; ascertain where the fishery is carried on, and see 
it in operation." ^ Pearls were found in the territory of the Pasca- 
goulas, but they were not worth the trouble of securing them. It ap- 
pears that from these the Pearl River in Mississippi derived its name. 

The only reference to pearls in the seventy-one volumes of Travels 
and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France, from 1610 
to 1 791, is a note by Father Gravier stating that he saw no choice 
pearls : "It is true the chief's wife has some small pearls ; but they are 
neither round nor well pierced, with the exception of seven or eight, 
which are as large as small peas, and have been bought for more than 
they are worth. "^ 

Daniel Coxe's description, in 1722, of pearl resources in America, 
is of special interest because of the extended experience of his father 
as a trader in the country. He states : 

Pearls are found to be in great abundance in this country ; the Indians put 
some value upon them, but not so much as on the colored beads we bring them. 
On the whole coast of this province, for two hundred leagues, there are many 
vast beds of oysters which breed pearls, as has been found in divers places. 
But, which is very remarkable, far from the sea, in fresh water rivers and 
lakes, there is a sort of shell fish between a mussel and a pearl oyster, wherein 
are found abundance of pearls, and many of an unusual magnitude. The In- 
dians, when they take the oysters, broil them over the fire till they are fit to eat, 
keeping the large pearls they find in them, which by the heat are tarnished and 
lose their native lustre; but, when we have taught them the right method, 
doubtless it would be a very profitable trade. There are two places we already 
know within land, in each of which there is a great pearl fishery. One about 
one hundred and twenty leagues up the River Meschacebe [Mississippi], on 
the west side, in a lake made by the river of the Naches, about forty miles 

' P. F. X. de Charlevoix, "History of the Country of Illinois to the Mouth of the 
New France," New York, igoo, p. 129. Mississippi," Cleveland, 1900, p. 141. 

^Voyage of Father Gravier in 1700 From 


Pan-American Expositiun, lyoi 


from its mouth, where they are found in great plenty and many very large. 
The other on the River Chiaha, which runs into the Coza or Cussaw River (as 
our English call it), and which comes from the northeast, and, after a course 
of some hundred miles, disembogues into the Gulf of Florida, about one hun- 
dred miles to the east of the Meschacebe.^ 

It is interesting to note that the first place mentioned by Coxe as the 
location of a great pearl fishery is not far from one of the most pro- 
ductive pearling regions of the last fifteen years, vis., the eastern 
part of Arkansas. The second place noted by him appears to be 
identical with the Iciaha, where, nearly two centuries before, the 
Indians exhibited the methods of their fishing to De Soto and his com- 

Excepting Coxe's notice, for 250 years following 1600, little was 
heard of the occurrence of pearls within this country. This does not 
indicate necessarily that the gems were absent from the waters; but, 
not using the Unios for food as did the aborigines, the residents had 
little occasion to open them and in this way learn of their con- 
tents. And even where pearls were occasionally found in mollusks 
opened for fish-bait, the people were in few instances informed as to 
their market value, and did not attempt to sell them, although the most 
attractive ones may have been treasured as ornaments or as keepsakes. 
This was paralleled in the diamond fields of South Africa, where gems 
worth thousands of dollars were used as playthings by the farmers' 
children. A jewel, like a prophet, is frequently without honor in its 
own country until the residents of that country learn of the great es- 
teem in which it is held elsewhere. 

And yet, in some localities a few pearls were collected from time 
to time. The Moravians — familiar with the pearls of their native 
streams in Europe — gathered many from the Lehigh River near Beth- 
lehem, Pennsylvania, over a century ago;^ and from Rhode Island and 
elsewhere a few were obtained. 

The first awakening to a realization of the value of fresh-water 
pearls in America occurred fifty years ago, when several beautiful 
gems were marketed from the northern part of New Jersey. The 
story of this find has been frequently told. A shoemaker named 
David Howell, who lived on the outskirts of Paterson, occasionally 
relieved the monotony of his trade by a fishing excursion to some neigh- 
boring stream, where he would usually collect a "mess" of mussels. 
Returning from one of these visits to Notch Brook in the spring of 

' Coxe, "A Description of the English Meschacebe or Missisipi," London, 1722, pp. 

Province of Carolana, by the Spaniards 82, 83. 

call'd Florida, and by the French La Louisi- " ".Mlgemeine Handelszeitung," Leipzig, 

ane, as also of the Great and Famous River April, 1789, p. 218. 


1857, the mussels were fried with the usual abundance of grease and 
heat. After this preparation, one of them was found to contain a large, 
round pearl weighing "nearly 400 grains," which possibly might have 
proven the finest of modern times, had not its luster and beauty been 
destroyed by the heat and grease/ Had the pearl been discovered 
in time, its value might have exceeded $25,000, thus making poor 
Howell's fried mussels one of the most expensive of suppers. 

Hoping to duplicate his wonderful find, Howell collected and 
searched other mussels, and his example was followed by several of 
his neighbors. Within a few days a magnificent pink pearl was found 
by a Paterson carpenter named Jacob Quackenbush. This weighed 
ninety-three grains, and was bought by the late Charles L. Tififany 
for Messrs. Tiffany & Co., New York City, for $1500. Mr. Tififany 
later described with much interest the feelings he experienced after 
making the purchase. Said he: "Here this man finds a pearl within 
seventeen miles of our place of business ! What if thousands should 
be found, and many perhaps finer than this one ! However, we risked 
buying the pearl, and as no one in New York seemed interested in it, 
we sent it to our Paris house for sale, and a French gem dealer ofifered 
for it a very large advance on the original price, paying 12,500 
francs." From this dealer it passed into the possession of the young 
and beautiful Empress Eugenie, from whom and from its great luster 
it derived the name "Queen Pearl." Its present market value would 
doubtless amount to $10,000 or more. 

When news of the very large price received for Quackenbush's find 
became public, great excitement developed in the vicinity of Notch 
Brook. Persons came from all directions to search in the shallow 
streams for valuable pearls. Farmers of the neighborhood tried their 
luck, and also mechanics and other residents of the adjacent villages 
and towns, and even some from Newark, Jersey City, and New York. 
An old resident, who was an eye-witness, describes the scene as one of 
great animation, the crowds of people and the horses and wagons 
alcHig the shore giving "an appearance of camp-meeting time." At 
least one schoolmaster in the vicinity is said to have closed his school 
to give his pupils an opportunity to engage in the hunt. 

With trousers rolled up, the people waded into the shallow water 
and sought for the mussels in the mud and sand on the bottom. Many 
pearls were secured, but none approached in size or value the two 
above noted.^ During 1857, the New York City market received about 
$15,000 worth of pearls from these waters, and in addition many were 

'"Frank Leslie's Magazine," New York, 1892. pp. 211-257. "The Fresh- Water Pearls 

May 23, 1857, Vol. Ill, pp. 384-386. of the United States," Washington, 1898, 50 

° "Gems and Precious Stones of North Amer- pages and plates, 
ica," by George F. Kunz, New York, i88g- 


sold locally or retained as souvenirs of the hunt. At the low price of 
pearls existing then, this figure would mean possibly ten times as much 
at present, or $150,000. 

The active search soon depleted the resources of the little stream, 
so that in the following year the reported value of the yield was only 
a few thousand dollars. The decrease continued until in a few years 
practically every mussel was removed, and at present scarcely a single 
Unio is to be found in these waters. 

The interest in pearling extended far from the place of the original 
find; and in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and even as far away as Texas, 
search was made in the streams. In the Colorado and its tributaries, 
about 20,000 were found in a short while. Most of these were small 
and unattractive, but a considerable nuiTiber were reported "as large 
as pepper-corns" and a few "the size of a small rifle ball," the number 
decreasing with the increase in size. A correspondent in the "Neue 
Zeit" wrote: 

Sometimes they are round, sometimes cylindrical, elliptical, hemispherical, 
or of an altogether irregular shape. The finest have a milk-white, silvery 
sheen ; man)% however, are reddish yellow, bluish brown, or quite black ; the 
last naturally have no value whatever. As to their value, there is considerable 
uncertainty, and it can easily be understood that those who have a great num- 
ber of them in their possession greatly overestimate them. So far they are 
found principally in the Llano and the San Saba.' 

After the resources in northern New Jersey were depleted and the 
excitement had died out, little was heard of pearling in this country 
until 1878, when many were found in Little Miami River in southwest- 
ern Ohio. The fishing was carried on at low water, and principally by 
boys, who would wade out in the water and feel for the mollusks with 
their feet, and then bob under and pick them up with their hands. The 
senior author spent a day in this fishery with a party of six boys with 
some success. During 1878 about $25,000 worth of pearls were col- 
lected in the vicinity of Waynesville on that stream. Mr. Israel H. 
Harris, a banker of Waynesville, then began collecting these pearls ; 
and by purchasing during several years nearly every interesting speci- 
men found in the vicinity, he made his collection one of the largest and 
best known in the country. When sold in 1888, it contained several 
thousand pearls, mostly of small size, averaging in weight little more 
than one grain each. A large portion of this collection was exhibited 
in the American section of the Paris Exposition of 1889, and was 
awarded a gold medal. Included in this exhibit was a series of orna- 
ments in which the gems were arranged according to color, so that in 
one the pearls were green, in another purplish brown, in another pink, 

" "Neue Zeit," in Ausland, 1858, No. 8, p. 192. 


in another waxy white, and in one a cream white. It also contained 
a button-shaped pearl weighing thirty-eight grains and several pink 
ones almost translucent. A pink pearl of eight grains was admired by 
all who saw it; by reflected light this had the color and translucency 
of a drop of molten silver. Many of the pink pearls found in the 
Little Miami and its tributaries were of the most beautiful rose-petal 
pink; pearls of this peculiar color have never been found in any other 

From Ohio the industry gradually extended westward and south- 
ward, and new fields were developed, pearls to the value of about 
$10,000 annually coming on the market from such widely separated 
States as Vermont, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Texas, Washing- 
ton, etc. However, little general interest was taken in fresh-water 
pearls, and few choice ones were found until the magnificent resources 
of the upper Mississippi Valley were discovered. Owing to the ease 
with which the mollusks may be collected by wading, it was in the 
relatively shallow tributaries that the fishery first developed, rather 
than in the deep channels of the main stream and of the large afiluents. 

The first region in the Mississippi Valley to attract attention was 
southwestern Wisconsin. Early in the summer of 1889, many beauti- 
ful pearls were found in Pecatonica River, a tributary of Rock River, 
which in turn empties into the Mississippi. Within three months, 
$10,000 worth of gems were sent from this region to New York City 
alone, including one worth $500, which was a very considerable sum 
for a fresh-water pearl at that time. The interest quickly spread to 
neighboring waters, and within a short time pearls were found also in 
Sugar River, in Apple River, in Rock River, in Wisconsin River, and 
in the Mississippi in the vicinity of Prairie du Chien. The fact that 
little experience and no capital was required for the business drew 
large numbers of persons to the newly-found Klondike ; and the finds 
were so numerous and of such high quality that about $300,000 worth 
of pearls were collected before the end of 1891, greatly exceeding all 
records for fresh waters. 

The Wisconsin pearls are remarkable for their beauty, luster, and 
diversified coloring, and some lovely shades of pink, purple, and espe- 
cially metallic green have been found. Several of them have weighed 
in excess of fifty grains each, and some individual values ran well into 
four figures. One shipment made from Sugar River to London in 
September, 1890, contained ninety-three pearls, weighing from four 
to twenty-eight grains each, for which £11,700 was received in pay- 
ment. In the limits of one county in the following year, pearls to the 
value of nearly $100,000 were secured. 

Shortly following the outbreak of pearling in Wisconsin came the 


Paris Exposition, 1900 


development of interest in certain parts of Tennessee. For many 
years pearls had been secured from the Cumberland and Tennessee 
rivers and their tributaries, especially Caney Fork, Duck, Calf Killer, 
and Elk rivers, the headquarters of the fishery and the local markets 
being Carthage, Smithville, Columbia, and Arlington. The search 
had been conducted in a moderate way by pleasure parties in the sum- 
mer, and by farmers after the crops had been laid aside. 

In 190 1 pearling excitement developed in the mountain regions of 
eastern Tennessee, especially in Clinch River. These newly-discovered 
resources proved so valuable that the local interest became very great. 
Vivid and picturesque accounts published in the local papers reported 
hundreds of persons as camping at various points along the streams, 
some in tents and some in rough shanties, and others going from shoal 
to shoal in newly-built house-boats. They were described as easy- 
going, pleasure-loving people, the men, women, and children working 
hard all day, subsisting largely on fish caught in the same stream, 
and dancing at night to the music of a banjo around the camp-fires. 
The center of the new industry was Clinton, the county seat of Ander- 
son County, whither the successful hunters betook themselves each 
Saturday, the preferred time for selling the catch. 

The next outbreak of pearling excitement was in Arkansas, in the 
region referred to by Daniel Coxe two centuries ago as the location of 
great pearl resources.^ Although in recent times little had been heard 
of pearls in Arkansas previous to 1895, they were not unknown in that 
State. For years they had been picked up by the fishermen, and used 
as lucky stones or given to the children for playthings. Some had 
come into the possession of persons acquainted with their value. 
About 1875, a few pearls were collected by a party of men engaged in 
cutting cedar poles on White River; in 1888, a brilliant pear-shaped 
pink pearl of twenty-seven grains was secured from the same river, 
and sold to a prominent resident. Little had been said about these 
finds, and in general the people of Arkansas had slight idea of the 
occurrence or the value of pearls in those waters. 

In 1895, a surveying party on White River found pearls in the Unios 
of that stream, and collected them to the value of about $5000. News 
of this discovery attracted attention to the resource, and other persons 
sought for the gems in the White River and its tributaries, in the 
St. Francis and the Arkansas rivers. The unusually low water in 
1896 facilitated the fishery, and resulted in the discovery of many 
large and valuable gems. The interest developed rapidly, and within 
twelve months nearly every stream of water in Arkansas yielded 
pearls, with the finds most extensive and valuable in White River and 

' See p. 258. 


its tributary the Black River, which has proved to be the richest pearl- 
ing region in America. The industry centered at Black Rock, more 
than a thousand persons fishing within twenty miles of that place. It 
is estimated that within three years following the development of this 
fishery, this State yielded pearls to the value of more than $500,000. 

When the Arkansas fishery was at its height, it was reported that 
ten thousand persons were employed therein. The fishermen were 
from nearly every class and condition in the State. Women were not 
absent; even children participated in the industry, and some proved 
more fortunate than the older hunters. It was not uncommon to see 
several hundred persons congregated at one bar or in one stretch of 
the river, all intent on making a fortune, and all occupied in fishing 
or in opening the shells. So complete was the absorption of the people 
in this pursuit, and so many of the farm-hands were occupied in the 
eager search for anticipated fortunes, that the local papers reported 
much apprehension and difficulty in harvesting the cotton and other 

Within the main channel of the Mississippi, the relative scarcity of 
pearls in the Unios, and the greater preparation required for collecting 
the mollusks in the deep waters, retarded the fishery until the estab- 
lishment of button manufacture afiforded a market for the shells, this 
originating in 1891. The industry developed rapidly, and for several 
years has consumed about 35,000 tons of shells annually, obtained 
principally in the Mississippi between Quincy and La Crosse, and to 
a much less extent in other streams in this valley. This is more than 
twice the total product of mother-of-pearl shell in all parts of the 
world. However, the value per ton is very much less than that of the 
best grade of mother-of-pearl ; that from Australia, for instance, com- 
monly selling for $1200 per ton, whereas the Mississippi shell usually 
sells for less than $20, although the very choicest may bring upward 
of $50 per ton. 

The gathering of shells for manufacture has extended to many of 
the large tributaries of the Mississippi, especially the Arkansas, the 
White, the St. Francis, the Ohio and the Illinois rivers, and this in- 
dustry has added largely to the pearl yield in these waters. 

In the last three years, the scenes of greatest activity have been the 
Wabash River and its tributaries, where shell-collecting developed in 
1903, and the Illinois River, where the industry was of little impor- 
tance previous to 1906. On the Wabash, camps were established at 
almost every town, from the mouth up to St. Francis, Illinois, and 
about one thousand persons found employment. Some of the most 
beautiful American gems have come from this river. They are 
usually silvery white in color and of the sweetest luster. A single 


pearl weighing only ten grains has been sold at the river for $1000; 
but it is frequently the case that a fine gem will sell for more at the 
place where found than in the great markets. During the spring of 
1907, three pearls were found in the Wabash near Vincennes, which 
weighed forty-one, fifty-one, and fifty-three grains respectively. One 
of these was white, one faint pink, and the third was yellow. The 
finest pearls have been reported from the vicinity of Mount Carmel 
near the lower end of the river. Very large quantities of baroques or 
slugs are found in the Wabash and the Illinois ; 30,000 ounces were 
reported from those rivers and their tributaries in 1907, for which the 
fishermen received a total of $50,000. A large symmetrical pearl 
found during 1907 weighed a trifle under 150 grains, and a slug was 
found which weighed fully one ounce, or 606 grains. 

The pearl-hunting excitement has been felt even on the Atlantic 
seaboard, as a result of the publication of the discoveries in the Missis- 
sippi Valley. In Maine many pearls have been reported, especially in 
the vicinity of Moosehead Lake. In 1901 over one hundred were 
found in that vicinity ; most of them were of little value, but more than 
a dozen were worth $10 or $15 each. Three found by Kineo guides 
were sold for an aggregate of $300. The choicest one reported in that 
year weighed twelve and one half grains and sold for $150 ; had it been 
perfect in form and luster its value would have been several times that 
amount. Most of these pearls were found by Moosehead guides, who 
found purchasers among the visiting fishermen and hunters. 

Since 1901 many farm-boys as well as guides have devoted much 
attention to the business, some of them deriving as large a revenue 
therefrom as from the use of the rifle. Good finds have been made, 
during the last year or two especially. In 1906, one choice pearl sold 
for $700, and many have sold for $10 to $75 each. The search has 
proven so alluring that returning visitors have complained that some 
of the guides care to do little more than search every rill, brook, and 
creek they come across looking for the mollusks. Just at present the 
principal attention seems to be directed to the streams in the western 
part of Maine, where the river-beds are more sandy and the shell-fish 
more abundant than in the northern and eastern part of the State. 

In Massachusetts pearls have been collected from many of the ponds 
and brooks. In Nonesuch Pond in Weston, the Unio complaiiata has 
yielded many small ones of attractive appearance, but not of sufficient 
size or luster to sell for more than $10 each. Ponds in the town of 
Greenwich and also in Pelham in Hampshire County are among the 
best in Massachusetts for pearls. The Sudbury River above Concord 
also yields many. Relatively few of the Unios contain pearls, and the 
gem-bearing individuals seem to be grouped in special localities. Out- 


side of these places, thousands of mussels may be opened without re- 
vealing a single gem. A collection of small Massachusetts pearls was 
brought together a few years ago by Mr. Sherman F. Denton of 
Wellesley Farms, who has devoted much time to exploring the inland 
waters of Massachusetts. 

Connecticut also has had a slight touch of the pearl fever. In 1897, 
Mr. C. S. Carwell of Ledyard, explored the headwaters of Mystic 
River, and in a few weeks collected a number of pearls, one of which 
he is reported as having sold for $500, and two others were estimated 
at $400 each. And from the other end of the State, along the Shepaug 
River, is reported a similar account of the success of Mr. Arlo Kinney 
of Steep Rock. Attracted by these reports, crowds of seekers have 
proceeded in the usual reckless inanner to make wholesale destruction 
of the mollusks. The finds have been especially large and valuable in the 
lakes and streams of Litchfield County, particularly in Bantam Lake. 

In New York State, pearls have been found in the swift shallow 
streams in the Adirondack region, and in several of those entering the 
St. Lawrence, particularly the Grass River in St. Lawrence County. 
Pearls were first reported from this region in 1894. In i8g6 the 
Grass yielded one pearl weighing fifty-eight grains, worth $600 
locally; and in 1897 one weighing sixty-eight grains was found, the 
fisherman selling it for $800. A resident of Russell township devoted 
most of his time to pearling in Grass River during 1896 and 1897, 
from which he is said to have realized $2000. In this region the mus- 
sels are found by wading in the shallow water and scanning the bottom 
through a water-telescope. Most of the pearls are of slight value, 
but many individuals are reported as worth from $30 to $60 each. 

Pearl River in Rockland County, New \'ork, has furnished a num- 
ber of brown pearls. These are commonly small, weighing from one 
eighth to one half grain each, although some weigh seven or eight 
grains each. Most of these are not lustrous, but occasionally a bright 
brown or a bright copper-brown specimen of from one to four grains 
is met with. At the Paris Exposition, in 1900, were exhibited one 
hundred of these pearls, with an aggregate weight of 281 grains; 
these now form part of the Morgan-Tiffany Collection, in the Ameri- 
can Museum of Natural History. 

Even in the rich coal regions of Pennsylvania pearls are found. 
Possibly the most productive section in that State has been the head- 
waters of the Schuylkill River in the vicinity of Tamaqua, Quakake, 
and Mahony City. Of the tributaries of the Schuylkill, those con- 
tributing largely to the yield have been Lewiston, Nipert, Still, Locust, 
and Hecla. These rise in the mountains and are rivulets of fair size 
by the time they reach their common outlet. 



From the Mississippi Valley 
The upper pictures show the two valves of the same shell, and the pearl is detachable 



*■ i. 


The original pearl finds in the Schuylkill date from half a century 
ago, when they were secured by farmers who used the mussel shells 
in removing hair from the hides of slaughtered pigs. During the 
Mississippi pearling excitement in 1897, several persons from New 
York, who were summering in Schuylkill County, searched the small 
streams for pearl-bearing mussels with such success that within a short 
while many farmers became enthusiastic hunters during their spare 
time. Half a dozen or more men did very well, their catch amounting 
to thousands of dollars' worth. Mr. Frank M. Ebert, of Quakake, 
has put most of his spare time in the business in the last ten years, and 
has secured many good pearls. It is estimated that the total catch in 
Schuylkill County alone approximates $20,000 at local values. So 
actively has the search been conducted 'that at present few adult mus- 
sels of the pearl-bearing species remain, and a day's work may result 
in finding less than a dozen. 

The best price reported as received by a local fisherman was $200 
for a twenty-grain pearl in the year 1904. Many individual specimens 
have been sold at prices ranging from $100 to $175. It is claimed that 
a pearl sold by a fisherman in Schuylkill for fifty cents was later mar- 
keted in Philadelphia for $125, and with slight mounting was ulti- 
mately sold for $1600. The most attractive weigh from ten to twenty 
grains each ; larger ones have been found, weighing up to thirty-eight 
grains, but as a rule the luster is not so good as that possessed by 
pearls of medium size. The common colors are dark blue, pink, lav- 
ender, and white. A few are black and some are brown. The brown 
pearls are seldom of value, owing to deficiency in luster. 

In Maryland pearls have been collected from the brooks near 
the head of Chesapeake Bay, and especially in Kent and Cecil counties. 
These are of almost every conceivable color, ranging from a clear 
white to a dainty pink, and to very dark colors, especially bronze and 
copper. Most of them are too small for commercial value, and only 
a few reach sufficient size to command more than $5 or $10 each, but 
single specimens have sold as high as $50. 

Georgia has yielded some pearls, chiefly in the vicinity of Rome, at 
the junction of the Etowah and Oostanaula rivers. This is believed 
to be the site of the Indian town Cofaciqui, where, in his memorable 
expedition of 1 540-1 541, De Soto found the natives in possession of so 
many pearls. The general news of finds in the Mississippi Valley 
stirred up local interest in this region in 1897, and when the streams 
were low and clear in the autumn many persons engaged in hunting 
the mussels. An ex-sheriflf of Rome is reported as having secured 
about fifty pearls, lustrous but irregular. A few miles above Rome, 
a farmer made a trial on Johns Creek, a tributary of the Oostanaula; 


and from a basketful of Unios he reports finding several marketable 
pearls for which he received $i8o from a Baltimore jeweler. Others 
followed, and many fine specimens were secured. Unios are especially 
abundant in the Flint, Ocmulgee, and Oconee rivers, and it seems prob- 
able that many pearls might be found in these streams. 

Florida has not yet been actively exploited, but it may prove a pro- 
ductive region ere long. The reports of De Soto's expedition make 
special reference to the size and beauty of the pearls found at a point 
where he crossed the Ocklocknee River about thirty miles above its 
mouth, near the present site of Langston, Wakulla County. And 
there seems little doubt that pearls may be found in the Ocklocknee 
and also in its affluent, the Sopchoppy River. The banks of these 
streams are full of shells, and pearls of choice color have been sent 
from there. 

It is unnecessary to refer in detail to the origin of pearling in each 
of the States. The general interest in this industry from 1889 to the 
present time has resulted in the examination of most of the rivers and 
creeks, and in few has the search been entirely unrewarded, although 
the finds have been relatively much greater in some waters than in 
others. As a rule, pearl-bearing Unios are most numerous in clear, 
swift streams, with sandy or gravelly bottoms and which flow through 
calcareous rocks. With pearlers as with miners, there is a stampede 
to the places where a good find is reported, since the rivers are free 
for all; consequently, there is much variation from year to year in the 
amount of attention which the individual streams and localities receive. 

While many of the pearlers operating in the Mississippi River are 
professional fishermen or rivermen, most of those in the smaller 
streams have had no previous experience in similar work. Frequently 
whole families come twenty or thirty miles, and even greater distances, 
and camp on the river bank. In many instances farm-hands are there 
who have abandoned their crops, mechanics who have left steady jobs, 
railway men who have taken a lay-off, teachers, merchants, all eager 
and expecting to find a fortune. In some localities, pearl fishing has 
been used as an attraction in big picnic advertisements, and has drawn 
larger crowds than a public orator. 

The mollusks are removed from the river bottoms in various ways 
and by many forms of apparatus. In the shallow streams the fisher- 
men simply wade out in the water and pick up the shells by hand. If 
not readily visible from the surface, the shells may be located with the 
bare feet or by the use of a water-telescope. Where the water is too 
deep for wading, the fishermen work from small boats, and use garden 
rakes or other convenient inplements. 

Where pearling has developed into more of an industry, special 


forms of rakes and drags are employed. A shoulder rake, with a 
handle twelve to twenty feet in length, is used extensively under the 
ice in frozen rivers, and in lakes and other places where the water is 
still and from eight to fifteen feet in depth. This is simply an over- 
grown or enlarged garden rake, armed with twelve or fifteen iron teeth 
about five inches in length. A wire scoop or basket is attached to re- 
ceive the catch as it is pulled from the bottom by the teeth, and when 
this scoop is well filled it is lifted and the contents dumped on the ice 
or into the skifif. This method is laborious, and is employed only 
where the water is shallow and the moUusks are abundant. Scissor 
tongs — similar to those used by oystermen on the Atlantic coast — are 
also employed in some localities, especially in Arkansas, where it is 
estimated that 1700 pairs were manufactured and sold in 1899 ^^^ 
1900, at about $7 each. 

In the large streams of the Mississippi Valley, with their slow and 
steady currents, and where the Unios are taken largely for their shells 
to be used in button manufacture, the most popular form of apparatus 
since 1896 has been the crowfoot drag. This ingenious contrivance 
consists of a crossbar of hollow iron tubing or common gas-pipe, six 
or eight feet long, to which are attached, at intervals of five or six 
inches, stout twine or chain snoods or stagings, each about eighteen 
inches in length. To each of these are attached three or four prongs 
or "hooks," about six inches apart. These "hooks" are four-pronged, 
and are made of two pieces of stout wire bent at right angles to each 
other. According to the depth of the water, from twenty-five to 
seventy-five feet of three quarter inch rope is attached to the drag 
for the purpose of towing it behind the boat, which is permitted to 
drift down the stream with the current. This contrivance costs about 
$3, and each fisherman generally has at least two of them, as well as a 
wide flat-bottom boat costing $5 or $10. 

Sometimes, when the current is light, the fisherman prepares a 
"mule" to assist the boat in towing the resisting drag. This "mule" 
consists of a wooden frame, hinged in V shape, and is fastened several 
feet in advance of the boat with the V end pointed down the stream. 
It sinks low in the water, and the current pressing against the angle 
carries it along, and thus tows the skiff and the resisting drag at a uni- 
form rate of speed. When there is not sufficient current even for 
this contrivance, as in the wide reaches and in the lakes, oars, sails, and 
even power engines may be used for propelling the boat. 

As the crowfoot drag is slowly drawn along the bottom, it comes in 
contact with the mollusks feeding with open shells. When a hook or 
other part of the drag enters an open shell, the mollusk immediately 
closes firmly upon the intruding object and clings thereto long enough 


to be drawn up into the boat. In this way, where the Unios are thick, 
nearly every hook becomes freighted, and some may have two or three 
shells clinging thereto. It is easy to collect fifty mollusks in passing 
over a length of two hundred feet. Two drags are carried by each 
fisherman, and the second one is put overboard as soon as the first one 
is ready to be raised. This is suspended with the bar across two up- 
right forks on either side of the boat with the prongs swinging freely, 
and the mussels are removed therefrom. When this operation is com- 
pleted, the drag is put overboard and the other one is ready for lifting. 
This apparatus is very efifective, and as much as a ton of shells has 
been taken by one man in twelve hours, but the average is very much 
less, probably not over four or five hundred pounds. Objection is 
made to this manner of fishing, since many mollusks not brought to 
the surface are so injured that they die. 

A cruder implement of similar type has long been employed on many 
logging streams. The weighted branch of a tree is dragged on the 
bottom behind a raft of logs, and the mussels attach themselves to the 
twigs in the same manner as on the crowfoot hooks. 

During the pearling excitement in Arkansas, a considerable portion 
of the choice pearls were found, not in the mussels, but lying loosely in 
the mud of the shores, indicating that under some circumstances, as 
agitation by freshets or floods, the loose pearls are shaken out from the 
Unios. In some instances, indeed, the pearls were found upon or in 
the soil at some distance from streams or lakes. It is reported that in 
October, 1897, Mr. J. W. Mcintosh, of the northern part of Lonoke 
County, while digging post-holes in the old bed of Cypress Bayou, 
found a number of pearls, some "as large as a 44-caliber Winchester 
ball," lying within the shells at a depth of a foot and a half below the 
surface. This peculiar occurrence is partly explained by the wide 
extension of the waters in flood times over the low region, and by the 
shifting of streams and the isolation of cut-offs. 

Stray pearls have been found in many other odd places, as in 
the viscera of chickens and ducks, in the stomachs of fish, and even 
within a pig's mouth. It is not an uncommon scene in the pearling re- 
gion to see men raking over the muck in hog-pens along the river banks, 
hoping there to find a stray pearl lost from the mussels with which 
the animals had been fed by persons who had indeed "cast pearls before 
swine." It is related that a Negro near Marley, Illinois, in this way 
secured a pearl weighing 118 grains, for which he received $2000 
from a St. Louis buyer, and which was ultimately sold to a New York 
dealer for $5000. 

During the height of the Arkansas pearling excitement in 1897, the 
speculative spirit was so rife that many persons — unwilling to engage 


Pearling scene on Wh::' 1' ■!, \rkansas 
The fislieriiieii are using scissor- 1011;,^ Iroiii l1at>buttoin skiffs 

Pearling camp on upper Mississippi River 
Crowfoot drags are shown on the flat-bottom skilTs at the river-bank 


in the labor of fishing — purchased unopened mussels from the fisher- 
men in the venture for aleatory profits. The price for these ranged 
from twenty-five cents to $2 per hundred, and fluctuated rap- 
idly, according to the immediate results, increasing several hundred 
per cent, in a few minutes under the influence of a valuable find. One 
fisherman sold mussels to the value of $28 in one .day, and thought he 
had made an excellent bargain until over $1000 worth of pearls were 
revealed when the shells were opened. 

While some pearlers work in southern streams throughout the year, 
generally the season is coincident with warm weather, when the water 
is low and the work may be conducted with comfort. In the vicinity 
of Muscatine and Rock Island about twelve years ago, large quantities 
of Unios were taken during the winter when the river was frozen 
over, the men working with long rakes from the surface of the ice. 

When only a few mollusks are taken, they are readily opened with 
a knife to permit a search for the pearls. But where there are many, 
as in the Mississippi River, the opening is facilitated by heating. After 
a sufificient catch has been obtained, they are subjected to the action of 
steam in a box, or they are heated in an ordinary kettle ; a few minutes 
of steaming or cooking are sufficient to cause the shells to spring open. 
The fleshy parts are removed and thoroughly searched, the interior 
surfaces of the shells are likewise examined for attached pearls, and 
the liquid at the bottom of the vessel is strained so that nothing of 
value may escape. 

This cooking is a convenient method of opening the shells, but un- 
questionably it injures the quality of many pearls. In some instances 
when the shells open, the pearls fall out and descend to the heated iron 
bottom, where they are quickly injured. The surface of one exposed 
too long to the heat shows numerous minute cracks, which increase in 
number and size when subjected to changes of temperature. Some 
choice gems have in this manner been rendered almost valueless. If 
a jacket boiler, or one with a double bottom, were used, there would be 
less danger of injuring the pearls ; or a similar result could be accom- 
plished by placing a wire screen a few inches above the bottom. 

Several fishermen have endeavored to devise mechanical methods 
for removing the pearls and thus avoid the painstaking search among 
the flesh tissues now necessary; but these contrivances have not proved 
satisfactory, and have not been employed except experimentally. 

In the Mississippi and its tributaries, where the fishery is very ex- 
tensive, after the pearls have been secured, the shells are sold to button 
manufacturers and to exporters at prices ranging from $4 to $40 per 
ton, according to species, quality, and market conditions. This pro- 
vides a fairly remunerative income to the fishermen even if no pearls 


whatever are found. But in the small tributaries and where the mol- 
lusks are less numerous, the shells are of little value owing to the 
expense of bringing them together and conveying them to market. 

Not every mollusk contains a pearl, and the village belle, intent on 
her evening toilet, need not buy a bushel of clams with the pleasant 
anticipation of finding a sufficient number of gems for a necklace. 
Small and irregular pearls are not at all uncommon, but choice ones 
are decidedly scarce, and each one represents the destruction of tens 
of thousands of mollusks. Quantities of irregular and imperfect 
nodules known as slugs are collected, which sell for only a few dollars 
per ounce. In some sections of the Mississippi, the slugs are so very 
numerous that their aggregate value exceeds that of the choice pearls. 

In the Mississippi, the percentage of pearls found in a definite quan- 
tity of mollusks is less than in the tributary streams, yet the much 
greater quantity of shells collected raises the total yield to a very con- 
siderable amount. Pearling is subordinate and incidental to gathering 
the shells for manufacture. In that length of the river from St. Paul 
to St. Louis, a fair average yield to the fishermen is about fourteen 
dollars' worth of pearls and slugs to each ton of shells. Of course, 
this is not the individual experience, for a single Unio may contain a 
gem worth $5000, and on the other hand several tons of shells may 
yield only a few cents' worth of baroques. The market for the shells 
places the Mississippi fishing upon an industrial basis, and guarantees 
a substantial income to every fisherman even when no pearls whatever 
are found. 

Unios from the upper part of the Mississippi yield a much greater 
percentage than those from below Davenport. In 1904, for instance, 
from the 4331 tons of shells taken in Wisconsin the fishermen secured 
pearls which they sold for $91,345, an average of $21 per ton; from 
the 822 tons in Minnesota the average was $16 per ton; in Iowa the 
average was $12 for each of the 7846 tons; in Illinois, $5 per ton for 
the 2364 tons, and in Missouri less than $1 worth of pearls was secured 
by the fishermen for each ton of shells which they took in the year 
named. A large number of choice pearls weighing over thirty grains 
each were found in the vicinity of Prairie du Chien and McGregor. 
Within a river length of one hundred miles in that region, the fisher- 
men in 1904 gathered pearls which ultimately sold for $300,000. It 
is therefore apparent that the returns vary greatly in the difl:"erent 
regions; nevertheless, even in the less productive localities fine pearls 
are sometimes found, which contribute to make the industry a profit- 
able one. 

Success in pearling is like that in mining. In the White River in 
Arkansas, for instance, one man found $4200 worth in one month. 


Another discovered a $50 pearl in the first shell he opened. A Negro 
found an $85 pearl the first day he worked, while another fisherman 
worked seven months and secured less than $10 worth. It is a ques- 
tion of finding or not finding; the finding brings riches sometimes, and 
though the failures reduce the average profits as low as in other local 
ventures, the big prizes affect the mind, and the average is lost to sight. 
Taking the country as a whole, it is probable that the total find has 
been sufficient to pay the average fisherman little if any more than $1 
for each day's work. 

The fresh-water pearls range in size from that of the smallest seed 
to that of a pearl weighing several hundred grains. There is relatively 
only a small quantity of seed-pearls, especially when compared with 
the output in the fisheries of Ceylon and Persia. Possibly this is due 
largely to a scarcity of the parasites which seem to perform so im- 
portant a function in the regions noted. A further reason may be 
found in the manner in which the mollusks are opened and searched. 
Were the Ceylon method of opening employed here — which, however, 
is not at all practicable — it seems probable that the quantity of seed- 
pearls found in this country would be greatly increased. 

The pearls from the tributaries of the Mississippi are noted for their 
great range of coloration. From a dead white, the color is gradually 
enhanced to faint shades of pink, yellow, or salmon tints, then to a 
more decided form of these. From the light shades, the range extends 
to purple and to bright copper red, closely resembling a drop of molten 
copper. Some are very light green; others rose, steel blue, or russet 
brown, while purplish and very dark brown are not uncommon. White 
pearls are probably the most numerous ; but pink, bronze, and lavender 
are by no means rare. 

A large percentage of the Mississippi River pearls are very ir- 
regular in form, many of them resembling dogs' teeth, birds' wings, 
the heads or bodies of different animals, etc. 

As a rule the fresh-water pearls do not rank so high in value as 
those from oriental seas, since ordinarily they are not so lustrous. 
However, some of them have sold at very high figures. A round pearl 
weighing 103 grains, found in Black River, Arkansas, in 1904, was 
eventually sold for $25,000; and one of 68 grains, found, in 1907, on 
the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River, was recently marketed at 

One of the largest American pearl necklaces, brought together in 
1904, consisted of thirty-eight pearls weighing 1710 grains in the ag- 
gregate, an average of 45 grains for each pearl. The central gem 
weighed 98 >^ grains and those on the left of it respectively 85%, 
79^. 65>4, 59^. 49H> 46M. 45^. 43%. 4r>^, 40>^, 40^, SSH^ 



3i^> 30, 2$%, 22^4, 20}i, and 19 grains. The pearls on the right 
were graduated as follows: 851^, 761^, 64%, 591^, 47%, 46, 45 >^, 
44>^, 42>4, 41M. 38^ 37%, 36, 35, 34%, 29}^, 2514, 21, and 20^ 
grains. This necklace was exhibited at the St. Louis World's Fair. 
It was sold to a London merchant, who in turn sold it to a Parisian 
dealer, and it was finally purchased by a Spanish nobleman at a price 
said to be about 500,000 francs. 

Another necklace shown at the St. Louis World's Fair, was of 
American fresh-water pearls from the rivers of Arkansas. The total 
weight of these pearls, sixteen in number, was 861% grains, an aver- 
age of 613^ grains for each pearl. Of these one drop pearl weighed 
yy grains, and two others each 65^ grains. A round pearl of 70 
grains completed the adornment of the pendant. The circlet consisted 
of ten round pearls alternating with precious stones. The central 
pearl weighed 983/2 grains and on each side were two of 61 grains, 
then two of 56 grains, two of 54%, and two of 48 grains, one of 45% 
grains being at the back of the necklace. 

In the early days of pearl hunting in American streams, the fisher- 
men had little idea of their value, and sold choice gems for insignificant 
sums. In 1887, a fisherman on Rock River, Illinois, found a 40- 
grain pearl which he carried in his pocket for several months. Show- 
ing it one day in Davenport, he was offered $20 for it. He quickly 
accepted the offer, and on his return home told his friends about "the 
sucker who gave $20 for the shell slug." At present this "shell slug" 
is worth more than one hundred times that amount. Numerous in- 
stances of a similar nature occurred until the average fisherman lost 
all confidence in his judgment as to the values, and extravagant ideas 
prevailed regarding even almost worthless nacreous concretions. 
Thus, when a choice pearl is found, an exorbitant price is set upon it 
and the seller feels for the market value by repeated dickerings with 
several buyers. And unless one is an expert, he is quite likely to pay 
two or three times as much for a pearl at the river bank as in a metro- 
politan market. Some of the fishermen collect everything in the shape 
of nacreous concretions, and very often pearl buyers in New York and 
elsewhere receive packages which are not worth the postage ; in many 
other packages nine tenths of the lot is worthless ; and the practical 
joker and the swindler have solicited bids on bright marbles, rounded 
pieces of pearl shell, and even sugar-coated pills. 

While many pearls of fine luster and beautiful and regular form 
have been derived from these fisheries, it occasionally happens, in the 
case of pearls consigned to the city pearl dealer, that cracks, breaks or 
marks, which might detract from their value, are closed or removed, 
either by means of water or oil, the pearls having been kept in 



one or the other until a few moments before they were shown to the 
merchant. Pearls worth hmidreds of dollars have sometimes shown 
breaks, and in one instance a pearl valued at $7000 showed these cracks 
even a very short time after the sale. 

In many of the pearling regions of the Mississippi Valley, inquiry of 
almost any fisherman will result in his bringing forth from an inside 
pocket a small box padded with raw cotton and containing an assort- 
ment of pearls and slugs. Most of the slugs he will sell at prices rang- 
ing from fifty cents to $5 per ounce, for several of the small pearls 
he will likely ask from $2 to $20 each, and one or two of the largest 
he may value at $50 or more. At very rare intervals, a choice pearl 
will be found, for which he may expect anywhere from $200 to $5000. 

While the highest prices are not received by the fishermen, there are 
many who have been so fortunate as to obtain $1000 or more for a 
single pearl, and several have received double that amount. Probably 
the highest figure obtained by the original finder was $3800, notwith- 
standing exaggerated stories of enormous five-figure prices. Recently 
the press credited a lad sixteen years of age with securing $20,000 for 
a pearl he had found. 

A particularly striking yarn relative to a so-called "Queen Mary" 
pearl went the rounds of the press some time ago. According to the 
newspaper report, this pearl was found by the wife of a fisherman who 
was a cripple or something equally pathetic, and, fortunately, when 
the family resources were at the lowest. With tears of joy, the fisher- 
man embraced his wife and told her it was her very own and she should 
wear it. However, by means of a check for $17,500, he was induced 
to part with it, but only on condition that it be named Queen Mary in 
honor of the hard-working wife. The report continues that the ori- 
ginal buyer sold it for $25,000, and at last accounts it was held by a 
Chicago dealer who had "refused $40,000 and probably would not 
accept $50,000 for it." The facts seem to be that this pearl, which was 
found near Prairie du Chien in igoi and weighed 103 grains, was 
originally sold for $250, and the local buyer sold it in Chicago for 
$550, where for many months it was offered at $1000. 

All sorts of stories of valuable finds are told in the pearling regions: 
stories of mortgages that have been released, of homes bought, of col- 
lege educations secured from the proceeds of a single gem ; but these 
tales are offset by the untold stories of the undermining of fine, strong 
character in awaiting the turn of fortune which never comes. The 
public is quickly apprised of the valuable finds, but it does not hear of 
the time and labor lost by the hundreds who are unsuccessful. Pearl- 
ing excitement has many of the features of a mining craze. While a 
few are benefited, hundreds are made poorer, and in many instances 


reduced to absolute want. Persons have given up their estabhshed 
business to devote their time to pearHng, staking all on the aleatory 
profits, and have squandered days and months in the hope that one 
great, immense, all-rewarding find will be made. The monotony 
of continued disappointment is occasionally brightened by the news 
that some one— possibly a near neighbor— has made a lucky find, and 
then the work is continued with renewed enthusiasm. A spirit akin to 
that which dominates the gambler takes possession of the fisherman, 
and the days go on and the seasons go by while the gem that is to bring 
the fortime still eludes him. In many localities the pursuit yields far 
less profit than pleasure, and many a man who spends a summer in 
pearling is in a fair way to spend the winter at the expense of some 
one else. 

The pearls are collected for the trade by a score or more of buyers, 
who visit the fisheries at intervals and purchase of the individual fisher- 
men by personal dickering and bargaining. The buyers endeavor to 
keep informed of all choice pearls discovered, and when an especially 
valuable find is reported each one endeavors to have the first chance to 
secure it. The principal local centers of the pearling industry and 
marketing are Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin; McGregor, Clinton, and 
Muscatine, Iowa; Newport, Black Rock, and Bald Knob, Arkansas; 
Clinton, Carthage, and Smithville, Tennessee; St. Francisville, Illinois; 
and Vincennes and Leavenworth, Indiana. 

However, a large number of the pearls from American rivers are 
consigned by the finders to well-known gem dealers, the owners de- 
pending for fair treatment on the integrity and high standing of these 
experts. An interesting story is told of the pearl and the accompany- 
ing shell in which it was found, which was sent to a New York dealer 
by a poor woman. The price she received pleased her immensely ; and 
in writing her appreciation, she added that she was especially gratified 
at receiving so good a price because it enabled her to send her boy to 
school. The dealer sent another check as a gift, and a few days before 
the next Thanksgiving Day a thirty-five-pound turkey was received 
by the four-score-year-old jeweler as an evidence of the mother's 

The outbreak of pearl hunting in various parts of the country is 
frequently chronicled by the newspapers. These despatches are much 
alike, usually telling how some fisherman discovered a beautiful pearl 
which he sold to some responsible jeweler for an amount varying from 
$ioo to $2000. The despatches generally state further that the effect 
of the find has been remarkable; the whole region is seized with the 
fever, and into the rivers and creeks swarm the hunters of both sexes, 
of all ages, and from all classes of the community. Factory-men 

Paris Exposition, 1900 


leave their mills, fanners their crops, and merchants their stores, and 
with the members of their families join in searching for the gems. 
The mussels are secured by whatever means is most convenient. If 
valuable finds continue, thousands and thousands of mollusks are de- 
stroyed in the search, and when the efiforts begin to prove futile the 
excitement subsides almost as quickly as it began. In very many 
localities the industry has run the whole gamut of the feverish excite- 
ment of its beginning, the humor and romance of its existence, and 
the pathos of its ending. 

If disturbed labor conditions at the height of the excitement were 
the only disagreeable attendant, these pearling furors could be viewed 
more favorably. But, unfortunately, in many localities, especially in 
shoal waters of restricted area, the fishery has been prosecuted so 
vigorously that it appears probable the resources will be very ma- 
terially impoverished if not ruined in a few years, unless prompt 
and decisive protective measures are adopted. In some waters the 
crowds engaged in the search have removed practically every mussel 
without regard not only to protecting the immature mussels, but even 
to the necessity for preserving breeding mollusks. Many ponds and 
small river basins have been so denuded that not for many years, if 
ever, can they recover their former wealth of pearl-bearers. 

This state of affairs has not come about without opposition on the 
part of those interested in the industry and the general welfare of the 
localities. Intelligent and well-directed efforts have been made to pro- 
vide a system of regulations for protecting the mussels so that the 
maximum yield of pearls may be secured. But this is a very difficult 
problem to deal with. It involves not only the methods of fishery, but 
the question of sewage disposal by the cities and the large factories, 
through which great quantities of mussels have been destroyed. 

Undoubtedly it will be difficult to devise regulations that will be sat- 
isfactory alike to the fishermen, the button manufacturers and the 
farmers. The great desideratum in the pearl fisheries — of the seas 
as well as in the fresh-water streams— is a restriction of the gath- 
ering to such mollusks and to such seasons and periods of years as 
produce the largest results with the least injury to the permanency of 
the resources. 

It is generally agreed that the young or immature mollusks should 
be protected ; but it is not easy to determine what is an immature Unio, 
as some species never grow large. Likewise, the beds should not be 
disturbed when the mollusks are loaded with young, but it is difficult 
to select particular months which would be better for close season than 
any others. The propositions which seem to be most actively advo- 
cated impose restrictions on the number and size of the mussels to be 


taken, a cessation of fishing from January i to May 31, closing certain 
areas when partly depleted, and prohibiting the use of especially in- 
jurious forms of apparatus. But whatever is done should be done 
without delay, before the pearl hunters and the button manufacturers 
kill the goose which for some years has been laying the golden eggs/ 


The deep's wealth, coral, and pearl, and sand 

Like spangling gold, and purple shells engraven 
With mystic legends by no mortal hand. 

Shelley, The Revolt of Islam. 

The beautiful pearls of the conch {Stromhus gigas) are sought for 
in the West Indies and on the neighboring continental coasts. They 
are found most abundantly about the Bahamas, a group of more than 
four hundred islands off the Florida coast, where many of the fisher- 
men devote a considerable portion of their time to collecting them. It 
is from this industry that the beach-combers of this group of islands, 
as well as those of the Florida reefs, have received the designation 

Near the shores, where they formerly abounded, a few conchs are yet 
picked up by wading fishermen. In waters of medium depth they are 
secured either by diving or by means of a long pole with a hook at the 
end. In great depths, the mollusks are located by means of a water- 
glass similar to the type employed in the Red Sea or among the South 
Sea Islands. 

The animal is readily removed from the shell after crushing the tip 
end of the spire where the large muscle is attached. The flesh forms 
an important article of food to the fishermen and to the residents of the 
outlying islands. It is said that a "Conch" can make a visit to Nassau 
of a week or ten days, and subsist almost entirely on this dried meat, 
with which he fills his pockets on starting. A large demand exists for 
the beautiful shells for ornamenting flower-beds, garden-walks, etc. 
Many of them are burned into lime for building purposes. Formerly 
several hundred thousand shells were exported annually to England 
for use in porcelain manufacture. 

The pearls are generally found embedded in the flesh of the mollusk; 
quite often they are in a sac or cyst with an external opening, from 
which they are sometimes dislodged b}' the muscular movement of the 

'Illinois State has passed a bill to regulate pearl fishing. See Addendum on p. 513. 


animal. The yield is small, a thousand shells in many cases yielding 
only a very small number of seed-pearls or perhaps none at all. Most 
of them are oval, commonly somewhat elongated. The usual size is 
about one grain in weight, but some of them weigh over twenty, and 
a very few exceed fifty grains each. These pearls are generally of a 
deep pink color, shading toward whitish pink at each end. While this 
is the usual color, yellow, white, red, and even brown conch pearls are 
occasionally obtained ; these are not so highly prized as the pink ones. 
Conch pearls present a peculiar wavy appearance and a sheen some- 
what like watered silk, a result of the reflections produced by the 
fibrous stellated structure. While many are beautifully lustrous, they 
are commonly deficient in orient, and the color is somewhat evanescent. 

Most of the Bahama conch fishermen sell their catch of pearls at 
Nassau. According to the late Mr. Frederick E. Stearns, there are in 
Nassau four dealers who have an arrangement with Paris and London 
houses, to whom they can ship pearls in any number and draw against 
them with a bill of lading. In addition to these, there are a dozen 
dealers in Nassau who buy what pearls they can secure and offer them 
for sale. 

The value of conch pearls is as variable as their form, color, and size, 
and they are sold by the fishermen at prices ranging from twenty-five 
cents to one dollar or more each. Those weighing from three to ten 
grains, and of good color and luster, but not quite regular in form, sell 
for about $10 per grain ; those of exceptional perfection in color and 
form, and of about the same weights, sell for from $15 to $30 per 
grain. In other and exceptional cases, where the size is very large, the 
form perfect, and the color and luster choice, the value is enhanced to 
several hundred and even several thousand dollars each. A perfect 
conch pearl is among the most rare and most valuable of gems. An un- 
usually choice one has sold in New York City for more than $5000. 
The yield fluctuates considerably, but perhaps averages about $85,000 
in value annually. One of the finest conch pearls ever found is shown 
on the plate with the conch shell. 

There are two important materials that have occasionally been sold 
and mistaken for the conch pearl. First, the pale Italian, Japanese, 
or West Indian coral, with a color very closely approaching that of 
the pearl. By means of a lens it can readily be seen that the coral is 
in layers, and does not possess the concentric structure of the pearl, or 
the peculiar interwoven structure, with its characteristic sheen, so 
frequent in conch pearls. Secondly, the pink conch shell in which the 
pearl itself is found; this is frequently cut to imitate the pearl and 
sold as such in the West Indies and elsewhere. This can also be de- 
tected by the fact that the layers are almost horizontal and the struc- 


ture is not concentric or interwoven, as it is in the conch pearl, while 
the luster is more like that of the shell than that of the pearly nacre. 

Streeter relates that many years ago an ingenious American turned 
out some bits of conch shell into the shape of pearls and placed them 
in the conch shells. A slight secretion formed over them, but it was 
not the true pearly secretion, and the layer was very thin, so that the 
deception was easily detected. 

Not the least interesting of the American pearl fisheries is that 
which has the abalones (Haliotis) for its object. These occur in 
many inshore tropical and semi-tropical waters, and particularly in the 
marginal waters of the Pacific. They attach themselves to the rocks 
by means of their large muscular disk-shaped foot, which acts like a 
sucker or an exhaust-cup. 

On the California coast the abalones are gathered in large quantities 
for the pearls, for the shells, and especially for the flesh, which is dried 
and used for food. The principal fishing grounds are at Point Lobos 
in Monterey County, and along the shores of Catalina and Santa Rosa 
islands in Santa Barbara County, with smaller quantities from Half- 
moon Bay and from the rocks along the shores of Mendocino County. 
At low tide the fishermen wade out in shallow water, and, by means of 
a knife, separate the mollusk from its resting-place. Unless this is 
done quickly and before the mollusk has time to prepare itself for the 
attack, it closes down on the rock by means of its sucker-like foot, from 
which it cannot be removed without breaking the shell. A story is told 
at Santa Barbara of a Chinese fisherman having been drowned ofif one 
of the outer islands by having his hand caught underneath the shell 
of an abalone. 

A few years ago, Japanese fishermen introduced the use of diving- 
suits in taking these mollusks in three fathoms of water ; but in March, 
1907, the California legislature interdicted this form of fishery. That 
legislature also interdicted the capture of black abalones measuring 
"less than twelve inches around the outer edge of the shell, or any 
other abalone, the shell of which shall measure less than fifteen inches 
around the outer edge." 

The animal is removed from the shell by thrusting a thin blade of 
soft steel between the flesh and the shell, and thus loosening the great 
muscle. The flesh is salted and boiled, and then strung on long rods to 
dry in the open air. When properly cured, the pieces are almost as 
hard and stiff as sole leather. Most of it is packed in sacks and ex- 
ported to China, but large quantities are sold on the Pacific coast at 
from five to ten cents per pound. The catch is much less than it was 
forty years ago. 

Many pearly masses are obtained from the abalones, and a few of 


From the coast of California 


these are of considerable beauty. Some are very large, measuring two 
inches in length and half an inch or more in width ; but they are rarely 
of good form, and their value is commonly far less than that of choice 
Oriental pearls. Owing to their irregularity in form, they are scarcely 
suitable for necklaces. One of the best necklaces of these pearls ever 
brought together sold a few years ago for $2000 ; but individual speci- 
mens have exceeded $1000 in market value. While abalone pearls are 
not on the market in any great quantities, one resident of Santa Bar- 
bara has a collection of more than a thousand specimens, ranging in 
value from several hundred dollars to less than one dollar each. Most 
of the objects sold in curio and jewelry stores on the Pacific coast as 
abalone pearls are simply irregular knots or protuberances cut from 
the surface of the shell. The California fishermen are credited with 
having received $3000 for the abalone pearls in 1904; but it is safe to 
say that this represents only a small fraction of their final sale value. 

In the river mussels of Canada, and especially in those from the 
Province of Quebec, and the Ungava Region, pearls are occasionally 
found. These are usually white and of good luster. They are not the 
object of systematic search, but in the aggregate many are secured by 
Indians and Eskimos, and some by the trappers and fishermen who op- 
erate from Quebec and Montreal. A number, weighing from one to 
sixty-five grains each, were shown at the Colonial Exhibition in Lon- 
don in 1886, and received favorable notice. Recently, tv,o beautifully 
matched pink pearls, weighing about fourteen grains each, were ob- 
tained from one mussel. A single pearl found in Canada has sold for 
$1000, but as a general rule they are of relatively little value. The 
Hudson Bay traders are represented as having secured a fair share of 
these pearls. 

During the last few years, many pearls have been found in the 
streams of Prince Edward Island and of New Brunswick Province, 
and also in those of Nova Scotia. Most of them are well formed, but 
their color is generally inferior and their luster deficient. Many of 
them are bufif or brown in color, some are bright and fairly good, a few 
are rose-tinted, and others are slate-colored and even almost black. 
Toronto jewelers report that many Canadian pearls are in the posses- 
sion of farmers and others in the lower provinces, held by them for 
higher prices than the jewelers are willing to pay. The Nova Scotia 
pearls are from a bivalve which has been identified as Alasmodon niar- 
garitifera. They are especially abundant in Annapolis and King 

Even in the streams of northern Labrador and of the Caniapuscaw 
watershed, pearls are obtained by the natives, and by the hunters and 
fishermen who resort to that desolate country. These closely resemble 



the pearls of Scotland in color, size, and luster. A story is told of a 
fisherman who by chance found in one shell two well-matched pearls, 
which he later sold for $150; so pleased was he with his success that he 
spent a fortnight in diligent search, but secured only half a dozen small 
ones, worth perhaps $3 for the lot. Most of these pearls are silvery 
white, but beautiful pink ones are not rare. An unusually choice 20- 
grain pearl from this region sold in 1905 for $1000. 

On the coast of Ecuador, pearl fisheries of minor importance have 
been prosecuted from time to time. Dr. H. M. Saville, of the Ameri- 
can Museum of Natural History, states that in his explorations in that 
country he frequently came across evidence of pearls and the informa-! 
tion that fisheries had existed on the coast centuries ago. 

An interesting letter from that world-wide traveler and interesting" 
writer, William E. Curtis, states that formerly there was a pearl fish- 
ery on the coast of Ecuador at the little town known as Manta, in the 
Province of Manabi ; but it had to be abandoned on account of a par- 
ticularly voracious species of fish called el manti, which abounds in 
that locality and gives the place its name. Pearls are said to be even 
more abundant at Manta than in Panama Bay. It is reported that this 
is the place where the Incas obtained those splendid gems which the 
Spaniards found in the palaces and temples of Peru. 

In the waters of Costa Rica, pearl-oysters are found, and at times 
the fishery has been of considerable local importance. Owing to fear 
of injury to the reefs, the use of diving machinery was interdicted 
there a few years ago; but in 1906 its employment was authorized 
under certain restrictions. Licenses good for six months were 
authorized for a maximum of thirty machines, which may work at a 
minimum depth of thirty-seven feet. 

On the coast of Colombia, South America, scattered reefs of pearl- 
oysters occur. A lease of the pearl fisheries and those for corals and 
sponges was granted July 2, 1906, but it is unknown what results have 
followed. This lease lasts five years, beginning August i, 1906. 

There is almost an absolute paucity of information in regard to the 
occurrence of fresh-water pearls in other parts of South America. The 
only data we have obtained are from Prof. Eugene Hussak of the 
Mining School of Sao Paulo, Brazil, who writes us that some pearls 
have been obtained from one of the Bahia rivers. Possibly, when the 
resources of the interior of that continent are better known, many 
pearls may be found. 





Some asked how pearls did grow, and where. 

Then spoke I to my girl, 
To part her lips, and show them there 

The quarelets of pearl. 

Herrick, The Quarrie of Pearls. 

THE great profit that would accrue from an increased output of 
pearls has long directed attention to the problem of bringing 
this about by artificial means. 
In his life of Apollonius of Tyana, Philostratus, a Greek 
writer of the third century, repeats a story afloat at the time, which 
credited the Arabs of the Red Sea with possessing some method of 
growing pearls artificially. The story as it reached Greece was that 
they first poured oil upon the sea for the purpose of calming the waves, 
and then dived down and caused the oysters to open their shells. Hav- 
ing effected this, they pricked the fiesh with a sharp instrument and 
received the liquor which flowed from the wounds into suitable molds, 
and this liquor there hardened into the shape, color, and consistence of 
the natural gems.* 

While the description given by Philostratus is charged with many 
improbable details, and could scarcely develop belief, even in the most 
credulous, as to the exact method of procedure, it seems that the story 
may not have been wholly without foundation, and that attempts were 
made at that remote date to stimulate the growth of pearls. 

In more modern times, the possibility of aiding or starting pearly 
formations in mollusks seems first to have been conceived by the 
Chinese about the fourteenth century. In 1736 there appeared in that 
storehouse of Oriental information, "Lettres edifiantes et curieuses 
ecrites des missions etrangeres,"^ a communication from F. X. de 
Entrecolles, dated Pekin, 4th November, 1734, which set forth that 
there were people in China who busied themselves with growing pearls, 

' Philostratus, "Vita Apollonii," Lib III. c. 57, edit. Olearii, p. 139. Also see Konrad 
von Gessner, "Historic natura," Lib. IV, p. 634. ' Vol. XXII, pp. 425-437. 



and the product was not only vastly superior to the imitations manu- 
factured in Europe, but were scarcely to be distinguished from the 
genuine. From Father Entrecolles's very detailed quotation of his 
unnamed Chinese authority, we condense this account. In a basin 
one half full of fresh water, place the largest mussels obtainable, set 
this basin in a secluded place where the dew may fall thereon, but 
where no female approaches, and neither the barking of dogs nor the 
crowing of chickens is to be heard. Pulverize some seed-pearls ( Yo 
tchu), such as are commonly used in medicine, moisten this powder 
with juice expressed from leaves of a species of holly {Che ta-kong 
lao), and then roll the moistened powder into perfectly round pellets 
the size of a pea. These are permitted to dry under a moderate 
sunlight, and then are carefully inserted within the open shells of 
the mollusks. Each day for one hundred days the mussels are nour- 
ished with equal parts of powdered ginseng, china root, pcki, which 
is a root more glutinous than isinglass, and of pecho, another medic- 
inal root, all combined with honey and molded in the form of rice 

Although extremely detailed in some particulars, the Chinese ac- 
count omits much to be desired as to the method in which the shells 
were opened to receive the pellets and the nourishment, and as to the 
importance of seclusion from females and loud noises. Admitting 
that it is "inaccurate and misleading," this letter seems to indicate very 
clearly that the Chinese had some method of assisting nature in grow- 
ing pearls in river mussels. 

The first person in Europe whose suggestion of the possibility of 
pearl-culture attracted general attention was Linnseus, the Swedish 
naturalist (1707-1778). In a letter to Von Haller, the Swiss anato- 
mist, dated 13th September. 1748, he wrote: "At length I have ascer- 
tained the manner in which pearls originate and grow in shells ; and in 
the course of five or six years I am able to produce, in any mother-of- 
pearl shell the size of one's hand, a pearl as large as the seed of the 
common vetch."^ There was much secrecy about Linnseus's discovery,, 
and even yet there is imcertainty as to the details of the method. 

The Linnean Society of London apparently possesses some of the 
very pearls grown by Linnseus, as well as several manuscripts which 
throw much light on this subject. It appears from the latter that, 
under date of 6th February, 1761, Linnjeus wrote that he "possessed 
the art" of impregnating mussels for pearl-production, and ofTered for 
a suitable reward from the state to publish the "secret" for the public 
use and benefit. A select committee of the state council of Sweden 
was appointed to confer with him, and on 27th July, 1761, the 

' Pulteney, "General View of the Writings of LinnKUs," London, 1805. 

Shell uf Dipsas plicatus, with attached metal figures of iiuddha coated with nacre 


Shell uf DipSiis plkatus, with attached porcelain beads coated with nacre 


naturalist appeared and verbally explained his discovery. After 
various meetings, the select committee approved the "art" and recom- 
mended a compensation of 12,000 dalars (about $4800). It does not 
appear that the award was paid, and the following year the secret was 
purchased by Peter Bagge, a Gothenberg merchant, for the sum of 
6000 dalars. On 7th September, 1762, King Adolph Frederick issued 
a grant to this merchant "to practice the art without interference or 
competition." ' 

Peter Bagge was unable to exercise the rights which he had ac- 
quired, nor was he able to dispose of them to advantage. On his death 
the memorandum of the secret became lost, and it was not found until 
about 1 82 1, when it was discovered by a grandson, J. P. Bagge. Un- 
der the date of 27th February, 1822, the King of Sweden confirmed 
to this grandson the privileges which his ancestor had purchased in 
1762. Fruitless efforts were again made to dispose profitably of the 
rights either to individuals or to the Swedish government. 

The details of Linnaeus's "secret" have never been published authori- 
tatively. In his "History of Inventions," Beckmann states that before 
the naturalist thought of the profits that might accrue from his discov- 
ery, he intimated the process in the sixth edition of his "Systema 
naturae," wherein he states: "Margarita testae excrescentia latere in- 
teriore, dum exterius latus perforatur."* "I once told him," says 
Beckmann, "that I had discovered his secret in his own writings; he 
seemed to be displeased, made no inquiry as to the passage, and 
changed the discourse."* 

In the second volume of his edition of "Linnaeus's Correspondence,"* 
Sir J. E. Smith remarks: "Specimens of pearls so produced by art in 
the Mya margarififera are in the Linnean cabinet. The shell appears 
to have been pierced by flexible wires, the ends of which perhaps re- 
main therein." Referring to this remark, J. P. Bagge comments: 
"This is the nearest I have seen any one come to truth, but still it will 
be remarked by reading the 'secret' that more information is required 
to enable persons to practice the art." 

After a thorough examination of the manuscripts and other mate- 
rial, Professor Herdman concludes that the essential points of Lin- 
naeus's process are to make a very small hole in the shell and insert a 
round pellet of limestone fixed at the end of a fine silver wire, the 
hole being near the end of the shell so as to interfere only slightly with 
the mollusk, and the nucleus being kept free from the interior of the 

^"Proceedings of the Linnean Society of "Beckmann, "History of Inventions," Lon- 

London," October, 1905, p. 26. don, 1846, Vol. I, p. 263. 

' Pearl : an excrescence on the inside of a ' London, 1821, p. 48. 
shell wlien the outside has been perforated. 


shell so that the resulting pearl may not become adherent to it by a 
deposit of nacre/ 

Shortly after Linnaeus communicated with the Swedish government 
and before his death, it was learned in Europe that the art of produc- 
ing "culture pearls" by a somewhat similar process had been practised 
by the Chinese for centuries.^ They used several forms of matrices or 
nuclei, but principally spheres of nacre and bits of flat metal or molded 
lead, which were not infrequently in conventional outline of Buddha. 
In the spring or early summer, these were introduced under the mantle 
of the living mollusk after the shell had been carefully opened a frac- 
tion of an inch, and the animal was then returned to the pond, or lake. 
The mollusk did its work in a leisurely way, like some people who 
have little to do, and many months elapsed before it was ready for 
opening and the removal of the pearly objects. 

The most satisfactory description we have seen of this process ap- 
pears to be that communicated nearly a century later to the London 
Society of Arts by Dr. D. T. Macgowan,^ through H. B. M. plenipo- 
tentiary in China, from which this account is abridged and modified. 

The industry is prosecuted in two villages near the city of Titsin, 
in the northern part of the province of Che-kiang, a silk-producing re- 
gion. In May or June large specimens of the fresh-water mussels, 
Dipsas pUcatiis, are brought in baskets from Lake Tai-hu, about thirty 
miles distant. For recuperation from the journey, they are immersed 
in fresh water for a few days in bamboo cages, and are then ready to 
receive the matrices. 

These nuclei are of various forms and materials, the most common 
being spherical beads of nacre, pellets of mud moistened with juice 
of camphor seeds, and especially thin leaden images, generally of 
Buddha in the usual sitting posture. In introducing these objects, the 
shell is gently opened with a spatula of bamboo or of pearl shell, and 
the mantle of the mollusk is carefully separated from one surface of 
the shell with a metal probe. The foreign bodies are then succes- 
sively introduced at the point of a bifurcated bamboo stick, and placed, 
commonly in two parallel rows, upon the inner surface of the shell; a 
sufficient number having been placed on one valve, the operation is re- 
peated on the other. As soon as released, the animal closes its shell, 
thus keeping the matrices in place. The mussels are then deposited 
one by one in canals or streams, or in ponds connected therewith, five 
or six inches apart, and where the depth is from two to five feet under 

'"Proceedings of the Linnean Society of auf das Jahr 1772," Leipzig, Vol. XXXIV, 

London," October, 1905, p. 29. pp. 88-90. 

' See Gril!, Abhandlungen der koniglichen ^ "Journal of the Society of Arts," Vol. II, 

Schwedischen Akademie der Wissenschaften pp. 72-75. 


If taken up within a few days and examined, the nuclei will be found 
attached to the shell by a membranous secretion; later this appears to 
be impregnated with calcareous matter, and finally layers of nacre are 
deposited around each nucleus, the process being analagous to the 
formation of calculary concretions in animals of higher development. 
A ridge generally extends from one pearly tumor to another, connect- 
ing them all together. Each month several tubs of night soil are 
thrown into the reservoir for the nourishment of the animals. Great 
care is taken to keep goat excretia from the water, as it is highly detri- 
mental to the mussels, preventing the secretion of good nacre or even 
killing them if the quantity be sufficient. Persons inexperienced in the 
management lose ten or fifteen per cent, by deaths; others lose virtu- 
ally none in a whole season. 

In November, the mussels are removed from the water and opened, 
and the pearly masses are detached by means of a knife. If the matrix 
be of nacre, this is not removed ; but the earthen and the metallic mat- 
rices are cut away, melted resin or white sealing-wax poured into the 
cavity, and the orifice covered with a piece of shell. These pearly 
formations have some of the luster and beauty of true pearls, and are 
furnished at a rate so cheap as to be procurable by almost any one. 
Most of them are purchased by jewelers, who set them in various per- 
sonal ornaments, and especially in decorations for the hair. Those 
formed in the image of Buddha are used largely for amulets as well as 
for ornaments. They are about half an inch long, and while in the shell 
have a bluish tint, which disappears with removal of the matrix. 
Quantities of them are sold as talismans to pilgrims at the Buddhist 
shrines about Pooto and Hang-chau. 

In some shells the culture pearls are permitted to remain by the 
Chinese growers, for sale as curios or souvenirs ; specimens of these 
have found their way into many public and private collections of 
Europe and America. These shells are generally about seven inches 
long and four or five inches broad, and contain a double or triple row 
of pearls or images, as many as twenty-five of the former and sixteen 
of the latter to each valve. That the animal should survive the intro- 
duction of so many irritating bodies, and in such a brief period secrete 
a covering of nacre over them all, is certainly a striking physiological 
fact. Indeed, some naturalists have expressed strong doubts as to its 
possibility, supposing the forms were made to adhere to the shell by 
some composition ; but the examination of living specimens in different 
stages of growth, with both valves studded with them, has fully dem- 
onstrated its truth. 

It is represented that in the northern part of the Che-kiang province 
about five thousand families are employed in this work in connection 



with rice-growing and silk-culture. To some of them it is the chief 
source of income, single families realizing as much as 300 silver 
dollars annually therefrom. In the village of Chung-kwan-o, the 
headquarters for culture pearls in China, a temple has been erected to 
the memory of the originator of this industry, Yu Shun Yang, who 
lived late in the thirteenth century, and was an ancestor of many per- 
sons now employed thereby. 

The method in vogue in China for so many centuries has been the 
starting-point for similar attempts in various other countries. Dur- 
ing the New Jersey pearling excitement in 1857, there were found 
several spherical pieces of nacre which had been introduced into Unios 
apparently for experimental pearl-culture; and in the collection of 
shells bequeathed to the United States National Museum by the late 
Dr. Isaac Lea, is a hemispherical piece of candle grease partly coated 
with pinkish nacre. Kelaart applied the Chinese method to the Ceylon 
pearl-oysters with much success in 1858. At the Berlin Fisheries 
Exhibition, in 1880, appeared the results of experiments in growing 
culture pearls in the river mussels in Saxony. Small foreign bodies 
had been introduced in the mantle, and others had been inserted be- 
tween the mantle and the shell. These nuclei consisted of shell beads, 
unsightly pearls from other mussels, etc. ; but unfortunately the shape 
of these was such that the mantle could not fit closely around them, 
consequently the result was so irregular as to be of no value except to 
show that German Unios as well as those of China could be made to 
cover foreign objects with pearly material. 

Professor Herdman notes that, between 1751 and 1754, an inspector 
named Frederick Hedenberg received an annual salary "to inoculate 
the pearl mussels of Lulea (in the northern part of Sweden) with 
'pearl-seeds' which he manufactured, and then to replant the mussels. 
Certain pearls were produced by the inspector, which it is recorded 
were sold for some 300 silver dollars."^ 

As noted by Broussonnet, in Finland artificial pearls were produced 
by inserting a round piece of nacre between the inner face of the shell 
and the mantle. The owner of the pearl fisheries at Vilshofen has 
succeeded in producing pearly figures by introducing into the mollusk 
flat figures of pewter, most of them representing fish in form. 

In 1884, Bouchon-Brandely made experiments in pearl production 
at Tahiti. Gimlet holes about half an inch in diameter were drilled 
throvigh dififerent places in the shells of pearl-oysters, and through 
each of these holes a pellet of nacre or of glass was inserted and held 
by brass wire passing through a stopper of cork or burao wood, by 
means of which each opening was hermetically closed, so that the 

' ''Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London," October, 1905, p. 28. 

Artificial rearing-puuds fur the development ot pearl-uysters uii the Island of Espiritii Santo, Gulf of California 

Trays containing small pearl-oysters prepared for placing at the bottom uf artificial 
rearing-punds at Espiritu Santo Island, Gulf uf California 


pellet was the only foreign substance protruding on the inside of the 
shell.' The oysters were returned to the sea without further in- 
jury, and after the lapse of a month the pellets were found covered 
with thin layers of nacre. 

Experiments in growing pearls in the abalone or Haliotis were made 
in 1897 by Louis Bouton, an account of which was given at the meet- 
ing of the Paris Academic des Sciences in 1898.^ The tenacity of life 
in this mollusk makes it especially desirable for experiments of this 
nature. Through small holes bored into the shell, pellets of mother- 
of-pearl were inserted and placed within the mantle, the small holes be- 
ing afterward closed up. Other nacreous pellets were introduced directly 
into the bronchial cavity. The objects were soon covered with thin, 
pearly layers, resulting in a few months in spheres of much beauty, 
resembling somewhat the pearls naturally produced by this mollusk. 
In six months, according to M. Bouton, the layers became of sufficient 
thickness to be attractive. Within limitations, the size of the pearl 
produced is in proportion to the length of time it is allowed to remain 
within the mollusk. The results of the experiments seem to encourage 
further efforts in this line, and possibly in course of time there may be 
a profitable business in growing pearls in abalones on the Pacific coast 
of the United States. Indeed, the experiments in transplanting and 
cultivating the pearl-oyster in Australia leads one to fancy that the 
culture of that species in the warm coastal waters of America is by no 
means an impossibility. 

Many other experiments along similar lines have been made more 
recently. An interesting feature of attempts made by Mr. Vane Sim- 
monds of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1S96-1898, is that in order to avoid 
straining the adductor muscles by forcibly opening the shell while the 
mollusk resisted the intrusion, each selected Unio was exposed in the 
open air and sunshine until the valves opened ; then a wooden wedge 
was carefully inserted in the opening, and the mollusk immediately 
immersed in water to revive it or to sustain life. After a few mo- 
ments of immersion, the operator carefully raised the mantle from the 
shell, inserted the pellet of wax or other small article to be covered 
with nacre, drew the mantle to its normal position, removed the wedge, 
and returned the mollusk to a selected place in the stream at sufficient 
depth to avoid danger of freezing in winter. 

Probably it would be more satisfactory to stupefy the mollusks by 
means of some chemical in order to insert the pellets. Marine mol- 
lusks have been successfully stupefied by slowly adding magnesium 
sulphate crystals to the sea water until the animals no longer respond 

' "La Peche et la Culture des Huitres Per- - "Comptes Rendus de TAcademie des 

lieres a Tahiti," Paris, 1885. Sciences," Vol. CXXVII, pp. 828-830. 


to contact. If treatment is not too prolonged, they may be returned to 
normal sea water with good prospects of recovery. To stupefy fresh- 
water mollusks, either chloral hydrate or chlorosone may be employed, 
although the latter is expensive to use in great quantity. Dr. Charles 
B. Davenport, of the Carnegie Institution, suggests that it might be 
well to experiment with pouring ether or chloroform over them. 

In Japan the production of these pearly formations in Margaritr 
if era martensi, which is closely related to the Ceylon oyster, has devel- 
oped into some prominence since 1890, and the results have been well 
advertised. The industry is located in Ago Bay, near the celebrated 
temple of Ise in the province of Shima, and gives employment to 
about one hundred persons. It is stated that the proprietor, Kokichi 
Mikimoto, has leased about one thousand acres of sea bottom, on 
which are a million oysters of this species, v/hich yield from 30,000 
to 50,000 culture pearls annually. 

As described by Dr. K. Mitsukuri, the shoal portions of this area 
are used for breeding the oysters and raising them to maturity, and 
in the deeper parts — covered by several fathoms of water — the 
oysters are specially treated for producing the culture pearls. In the 
former, the spat is collected on small stones, weighing six or eight 
pounds each, placed during May or June. The following November 
these stones, with the attached spat or young, are removed, for protec- 
tion from cold, to depths greater than five or six feet, where they re- 
main for about three years. At the end of that period, the growing 
oysters are taken from the water, the shells opened slightly, and 
rounded bits of pearl shell or nacre are introduced under the mantle 
without injury to the mollusks. About 300,000 are thus treated annu- 
ally, and placed in the deeper water at the rate of about one to each 
square foot of bottom area. After the lapse of about four years more, 
the oysters are removed from the water and opened, when a large per- 
centage of the pellets are found covered on the upper or exposed sur- 
face with nacre of good luster. 

Most of these culture pearls are button-shaped and weigh two or 
three grains each. Although somewhat attractive and superior to 
the culture pearls of China and other fresh waters, they by no mean's 
compare favorably with choice pearls. They are rarely, if ever, 
spherical, and only the upper surface is lustrous; consequently they 
serve only the purpose of half-pearls. A cross section shows the 
nacreous growth in a thin concentric layer, forming a fragile hemi- 
spherical cap, the concave wall of which is covered with a brownish 
granular secretion which prevents perfect adhesion. Compared with 
choice pearls, they are not only deficient in luster, but are fragile, and 
are beautiful only on the upper surface, and not available for neck- 


laces. Good specimens sell for several dollars each, and some indi- 
viduals reach $50 or more. Specimens exhibited at the Paris 
Exposition in 1900 were awarded a silver medal; at the St. Peters- 
burg Exhibition in 1902 they were awarded a gold medal ; at the Tokio 
Exhibition a grand prize, and a medal at the St. Louis Exposition in 
1904. The awards were given in the fisheries, and not the gem divi- 

The work of Mikimoto is not the only attempt now being made in 
Japan to produce pearls. A letter from Dr. T. Nishikawa, of the 
Tokio Imperial University, states: "It is a great pleasure for me to 
tell you that I am studying pearl formation and pearl-oyster culture 
in the university laboratory, and recently I have got my pearl labor- 
atory at Fukura, on the Island of Awaji, where I began the pearl cul- 
ture work this summer (1907). Fortunately, I found the cause of 
Japanese pearl formation, i.e., the reason why and how the pearl is 
produced in the tissue of an oyster. I made practical application of 
this theory with great prospects for producing the natural and true 
pearls at will." 

Among the most interesting of the pearl-culture enterprises are 
those of the Compaiiia Criadora de Concha y Perla, under the direc- 
tion of Sr. Gaston J. Vives, in the Gulf of California. This company 
has an extensive station at San Gabriel, near La Paz, where breeding 
oysters are placed in prepared chests or cages for collecting the spat 
on trays. After remaining there for several weeks or months, the 
young mollusks are removed to prepared places (viveros) for further 
growth. Experiments are now made in depositing them between a 
series of parallel dams alternately touching each shore of a lagoon, 
thus developing a current of water over the oysters for conveying 
food to them, and thus hastening their growth. 

In efforts to increase the output of pearls, attention has been given 
to the possibilities for extending the area and production of the reefs, 
and for stocking new areas and replenishing exhausted ones, thus 
bringing the pearl-bearing mollusks to maturity in greater abundance. 

Although theoretically it does not seem a very difficult undertaking 
to cultivate the pearl-oysters by methods somewhat similar to the culti- 
vation of edible oysters and clams, in no part of the world has this 
been successfully done on an extensive scale. While in certain minor 
cases, the areas of some species ol pearl mollusks have been extended 
indirectly through man's agency— as the range of the Red Sea pearl- 
oyster into the Mediterranean since the Suez Canal was opened — there 
is no well-known instance in which new areas have been abundantly 
populated through direct efforts. 

In the chapter on the pearl fisheries of Asia are noted the hitherto 


unsuccessful efforts made in Ceylon and India to preserve the young 
and immature oysters on the storm-swept reefs by reinoving them to 
less exposed areas. This has received close attention from the Ceylon 
authorities during the last two years. Other practical measures 
which are recommended for that region include "cultching," or the 
deposit of suitable solid material, such as shells or broken stone, to 
which the young oysters can attach themselves; thinning out over- 
crowded reefs, and cleaning the beds by means of a dredge, thereby 
removing starfish and other injurious animals. The attempts made 
by individuals and associations to extend the range of the reefs on the 
coast of Australia, among the Tuamotu Islands, in the Gulf of Cali- 
fornia, and some other localities, are noted in the appropriate chapters. 
But it may be stated that in most instances lack of adequate police pro- 
tection has been not the least of the difficulties with which these experi- 
ments have had to contend. 

Nor has much greater success followed upon efforts to prevent the 
exhaustion of the reefs and productive grounds through overfishing, 
except in those instances in which the government exercises a proprie- 
tory interest and determines the season, the area to be fished, and the 
quantity of mollusks to be removed. The most prominent instance of 
this is in Ceylon, where the fishery has been restricted to such seasons 
and periods as appeared to insure the maximum yield of pearls. 
Without restriction upon the fishery, the pearl-oyster in that populous 
region would doubtless become almost extinct in a few years. An- 
other instance of proprietory interest on the part of the government is 
in some of the German States, where pearl fishing has been regulated 
and restricted for centuries. But there the sewage from cities and 
factories has accomplished almost as effectively, if less rapidly, what 
unrestricted fishing: would have done. 

Much attention has been given to the subject of pearl-culture in 
Bavaria, where the government has granted a small subsidy to en- 
courage this industry, and a model pearl-mussel bank has been estab- 
lished in one of the brooks for the rational culture of the mussels. 

On the Australian coast, the only theoretical protection of conse- 
cjuence is the restriction on taking small or immature oysters; but, 
owing to the great area over which the fisheries are prosecuted there, 
it has not been possible to enforce the regulations. At some of the 
Pacific islands and elsewhere, interdictions exist as to use of certain 
apparatus of capture, but this is intended for the purpose of reserving 
the industry to dependent natives rather than for protecting the reefs. 
Several efforts have been made to insure adequate protection for the 
Unios in our American rivers, but nothing in this direction has yet 
been accomplished by legislative enactment, except in Illinois. 


Reference has already been made to the parasitic stage of Unios/ 
The attachment of the newly-hatched mollusks to the gills or fins of a 
fish is entirely a matter of chance, and unless this takes place they die 
within a few days. Under natural conditions the fish thus infected 
will rarely be found carrying as many of the parasitic Unios as they 
can without serious injury. If the fish are placed in a tank or a pond 
containing large numbers of newly-hatched Unios, it is possible to 
bring about the attachment of hundreds of them for every one that 
would be found there by chance of nature. A fish six inches in length 
may thus be made to carry several hundred parasitic Unios, and thus a 
thousand fish artificially infected may do the work of several hundred 
thousand in a state of nature. Experiments with small numbers of 
fish under observation in the laboratory indicate that their infection 
on a large scale is entirely possible, and the experiment by- Messrs. 
Lef evre and Curtis now in progress at La Crosse, Wisconsin, in which 
over 25,000 young fish have been infected, gives every indication that 
such work may be begun even with the scanty knowledge now pos- 

Since it has already been shown that the production of pearls is an 
abnormal condition, it does not follow that an increase in the quantity 
of mollusks would necessarily result in a corresponding increase in the 
yield of pearls. Indeed, it might even be that the artificial conditions 
bringing about an enhanced prosperity and abundance of the mollusks 
would result in a corresponding decrease in the product of gems, the 
improved surroundings impairing if not destroying the conditions to 
which the pearls owe their origin. This has resulted in directing ef- 
forts toward abnormally increasing the abundance of oearls in a defi- 
nite number of mollusks. 

The development of the parasitic theory of- pearl formation has 
naturally invited attention to the possibilities of increasing the yield 
of pearls by inoculating healthy mollusks with distomid parasites. It 
does not appear that this has yet advanced beyond the experimental 
stage, and virtually all that has been accomplished has been set forth 
in the chapter on the origin of pearls. It seems that there are great 
possibilities in the artificial production along these lines; and that 
under skilful management it could be made a profitable industry, espe- 
cially if carried on concurrently with the systematic cultivation of 
mother-of-pearl shells. 

Although there is scientific basis for the belief that it may be possible 
in time to bring about pearl growth in this manner, the public should 
not be too hasty in financing companies soliciting capital for estab- 
lishing so-called "pearl farms." Every once in a while announcement 

'See p. 7.3. 


is made in the public press of wonderful success which has been at- 
tained by some investigator, who surrounds his discovery with as much 
mystery as enveloped the Keeley motor, and who is as anxious to sell 
stock as was the owner of that mythical invention. A prospectus of 
one of these "pearl syndicates," which is now before us, claims to "in- 
crease and hasten pearl production by forcing the oyster, through doc- 
toring the water in which it is immersed and also by irritating the 
mollusk itself." So far as the writers are aware, aside from the inex- 
pensive but somewhat attractive culture pearls, no commercial success 
has yet followed the many attempts at artificial production. 

This chapter should not close without reference to the so-called 
"breeding pearls," probably the most curious of all theories of pearl 
growth, regarding which many inquiries have been made. Through- 
out the Malay Archipelago there exists a generally accepted belief that 
if several selected pearls of good size are sealed in a box with a few 
grains of rice for nourishment they will increase in number as well as 
in size. H examined at the expiration of one year, small pearls may 
be found strewn about the bottom of the box, according to the theory; 
and in some instances the original pearls themselves will be found to 
have increased in size. If again inclosed for a further period of a 
year or more, the adherents of the theory say, the seed-pearls will 
further increase in size, and additional seed-pearls will form. 
Furthermore, the grains of rice will present the appearance of having 
been nibbled or as though a rodent had taken a bite in the end of each. 

It is claimed that the breeding pearls are obtained from several spe- 
cies of mollusks, mostly from the Margaritifera, but also from the 
Tridacna (giant clam) and the Placuna (window shell). While 
cotton is the usual medium in which the pearls and rice are retained, 
some collectors substitute fresh water and yet others prefer salt water. 
It seems that rice is considered essential to success. 

The earliest account we have seen of this extraordinary belief was 
given by Dr. Engelbert Ksempfer,^ who was connected with the 
Dutch embassy to Japan from 1690 to 1696, and since that time it has 
been referred to by many travelers in the Malay Archipelago. 

A correspondent in the time-honored "Notes and Queries," 20th 
September, 1862, writes: 

Nearly five years ago, while staying with friends in Pulo Penang (Straits 
of Malacca), I was shown by the wife of a prominent merchant five small 
pearls, which had increased and multiplied in her possession. She had set 
them aside for about 12 months in a small wooden box, packed in soft cotton 
and with half a dozen grains of common rice. On opening the box at the ex- 
piration of that time, she found four additional pearls, about the size of a 
' Ksempfer, "History of Japan," London, 1728, Vol. I, pp. 110-112. 


small pinhead and of much beauty, which I saw and examined not long after 
ihe lady made the discovery. While my story may be received with laughter, 
I can most solemnly assure you of the truth of my having seen these pearls, 
and I have not the slightest doubt of the perfect truthfulness of the lady who 
possessed them. I questioned an eminent Malay merchant of Penang on this 
subject, and he assured me that one of his daughters had once possessed a sim- 
ilar growth of pearls. ' 

Notwithstanding the apparent absurdity of this pearl-breeding 
theory, belief in it appears to be not only sincere but wide-spread, as 
can be attested by any one familiar with affairs in the archipelago. A 
critical examination into the matter was made in 1877 by Dr. N. B. 
Dennys, curator of the Rafifles Museum at Singapore, the result of 
which was communicated to the Straits branch of the Royal Asiatic 
Society, 28th February, 1878." From his numerous quotations of per- 
sons who gave the results of their experiences we extract two in- 
stances. One gentleman had 120 small pearls in addition to the five 
breeding ones with which the experiment had started twenty years 
before, and during the entire period the box had not been molested ex- 
cept that it was opened occasionally for inspection by interested per- 
sons. Another experimentor inclosed three breeding pearls with a 
few grains of rice on 17th July, 1874 ; on opening the box on 14th July, 
1875, nine additional pearls were discovered, and the three original 
ones appeared larger. 

The belief has many curious variations. It is stated that in Borneo 
and the adjacent islands, many of the fishermen reserve every ninth 
pearl regardless of its size, and put the collection in a small bottle 
which is kept corked with a dead man's finger. According to Pro- 
fessor Kimmerly, nearly every burial-place along the Borneo coast has 
been desecrated in searching for "corks" for these bottles, and almost 
every hut has its dead-finger bottle, with from ten to fifty "breeding 
pearls" and twice that number of rice grains.* A correspondent at 
Sandakan, North Borneo, writes that at the time of his death at Hong- 
kong in 1 90 1, Dr. Dennys had in his possession a small box containing 
"breeding pearls"; but these disappeared after his death, and his 
brother, the crown solicitor, was unable to find them. This cor- 
respondent also states that the Ranee of Sarawak, a British protectorate 
in western Borneo, has a collection of "breeding pearls" numbering 
about two hundred, and that this is the only large collection known at 

' "Notes and Queries," 3rd Series, Vol. II, Royal Asiatic Society," Singapore, 1878, Vol. 
p. 228. I, pp. 31-37- 

^ "Journal of the Straits Branch of the ^ "Jewelers' Review," May 10, 1892. 


As contrasted with abundant and unquestionably sincere testimony 
that pearls do "breed," it may be stated that absolutely no result has 
followed one or two native experiments made under supervision. 
While it must be admitted that negative evidence is always weaker 
than positive, and twenty failures would be outweighed by one success- 
ful experiment, yet the scientific objections to the possibility of pearls 
"breeding" cannot be overcome. The phenomenon is doubtless one of 
those curiosities of natural history in which some important factor 
has been overlooked. 

Another curious theory is that peculiar pearls continue to grow 
after removal from the mollusk in which they originate. Quite re- 
cently it was reported from New Durham, North Carolina, that a 
pearl found there in 1896 had been growing continually since it was 
found and removed from the water. Unfortunately, it was weighed 
only when the last observation was made, and its increased size doubt- 
less existed only in the imagination of its possessor. 





Divers are the virtues of gems; some give favor in the sight of 
lords; some protect against fire; others make people beloved; others 
give wisdom ; some render men invisible ; others repel lightning ; 
some baffle poisons ; some protect and augment treasures, and others 
cause that husbands should love their wives. 

Arabic version of Solomon's writings. 

WHILE no special gems are mentioned in the tribute 
which the Arabs credit to Solomon, it seems that pearls 
must certainly have been included, for in nearly all 
countries where these gems have been prized and from 
the earliest period, they have been credited with mystic properties and 
healing virtues. 

In the first chapter of this book, reference was made to the Atharva- 
veda, dating from at least 2400 years ago, and its allusion to the use 
of an amulet of pearl shell and of pearls among the Hindus in bestow- 
ing long life and prosperity upon young Brahmanical disciples. As this 
amulet is fastened upon the youth, the following hymn is recited, ac- 
cording to this ancient Veda of the Atharvans : 

Born of the wind, the atmosphere, the lightning, and the light, may this 
pearl shell, born of gold, protect us froin straits ! 

With the shell which was born in the sea, at the head of bright substances, 
we slay the Rakshas and conquer the Atrins [devouring demons]. 
With the shell [we conquer] disease and poverty; with the shell, too, the 
Sadanvas. The shell is our universal remedy; the pearl shall protect us 
from straits ! 

Born in the heavens, born in the sea, brought on from the river [Sindhu], 
this shell, born of gold, is our life-prolonging amulet. 
The amulet, born from the sea, a sun, born from Vritra [the cloud], shall 
on all sides protect us from the missiles of the gods and the Asuras! 
Thou art one of the golden substances, thou art born from Soma [the 
moon]. Thou art sightly on the chariot, thou art brilliant on the quiver. 
(May it prolong our lives I) 


The bone of the gods turned into pearl ; that, animated, dwells in the 
waters. That do I fasten upon thee unto life, luster, strength, longevity, 
unto a life lasting a hundred autumns. May the amulet of pearl protect 
thee [^ 

The mystical Taoists, in their pursuit of immortality, made much of 
pearls as an important ingredient in formulae for perpetuating youth. 
According to an old Taoist authority, in preparing one of these elixirs, 
an extra long pearl which has been worn for many years is steeped 
in some infusion of malt, or a preparation of serpents' gall, honey- 
comb, and pumice-stone. When the pearl becomes plastic, it is drawn 
out to the length of two or three feet, cut into suitable lengths, and 
formed into pills, the taking of which renders food thenceforth un- 

The myth of the dragon and the pearl has been a far-reaching theme 
of the artists in Japan and China, whether in color, metal, or stone. 
There has been much written as to how the myth became so fixed in 
the minds of the Orientals, and Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, who has 
made an exhaustive study of the myth of the dragon in all its phases, 
has very courteously communicated to us the following facts. Per- 
sonally he had never been able to learn of a true or clear description 
of the origin of the myth other than the well-recorded legend given 
byLeggeinthe"SacredBooksof the East" (Vol. XL, p. 211), in which 
there is a quotation from Shuangtze, a writer of the fourth century 
before Christ, who says: "Near the Ho river there was a poor man, 
who supported his family by weaving rushes. His son, when diving 
in a deep pool, found a pearl worth a thousand ounces of silver. The 
father said: 'Bring a stone and beat it in pieces. A pearl of this value 
must have been in a pool nine khung deep and under the chin of the 
black dragon. That you were able to get it must have been owing to 
your having found him asleep. Let him awake, and the consequences 
will not be small.' " Prince Rupprecht says: 

This legend has nothing to do with the illustration to which you refer ; it 
belongs to a cycle of myths concerning a stone in the head of a serpent, or the 
crown of the king of the serpents or dragons ; myths which also exist in 
Germany since the days of old. I should rather be inclined to think that the 
commonly accepted pearl between the two dragons is not a pearl at all. At 
least this pearl is always surrounded by ornaments in the shape of flames or 
claws, and Professor Hirth discovered on such a representation in woodcut, 
an explanation of the flames by the sign for Yangsui, a very ancient kind of 
metallic mirrors, of concave form, that were used to produce the heavenly fire. 

'Bloomfield, "Hymns of the Atharvaveda," ^ Macgowan, "Journal of the Society of 

Oxford, 1897, p. 62. Arts," Vol. II, p. 73. 

Heber R. Bishop Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art 


This explanation is probably erroneous and due to a misunderstanding of 
the signs for flames. In my opinion, another explanation, that the pearl is not 
really a pearl but a spider, is nearer to the truth. As an argument in favor of 
this theory the following sentence may be quoted from an encyclopedia of the 
eleventh century ("Pieu-tzi-lei," chap. 223) : "The pearl of a fish is its eye, 
the pearl of a tortoise is its foot, the pearl of the spider is its belly." Pearl, as 
well as spider, are both called in Chinese by the same word but are written in a 
difterent way. 

I, for my part, believe that the pearl is the belly not indeed of a spider, but 
of Garuda, the eagle of Vishnu, known in the old Hindu mythology as the 
foe of the Vagas, beings with human bodies and the tails of serpents. At 
least, I found on an old Chinese gateway, dating back to the times of the 
Mongol emperors, a sculpture showing the contest between Garuda and the 
Vagas. On another sculpture of the late King epoch the Vagas are already 
changed into dragons, and the wings, the limbs and the head of Garuda have 
become quite insignificant, while his belly is prominent like a ball. 

A beautiful metaphor occurs in ancient Chinese writings, in the 
Book of the Later Han,* for instance, which regards this gem as the 
hidden soul of the oyster. 

Tliere is no end of legends and myths regarding the pearl in oriental 
literature. One fable credits it with a peculiar magical power: by 
speaking the right word, a spirit can be called therefrom which makes 
the owner a possessor of all the happiness of the earth. Browning 
notes this in two excjuisite stanzas, "A Pearl, a Girl," published on the 
day of his death in 1889, in which he compares this characteristic with 
a woman's love called forth by the mystic word. 

A simple ring with a single stone. 

To the vulgar eye no stone of price; 
Whisper the right w^ord, that alone — 

Forth starts a sprite, like fire from ice. 
And lo, you are lord (says an Eastern scroll) 
Of heaven and earth, lord whole and sole, 
Through the power in a pearl. 

A woman ('t is I this time that say) 

With little the world counts worthy praise ; 

Utter the true word — out and away 
Escapes her soul : I am wrapt in blaze. 

Creation's lord, of heaven and earth. 

Lord whole and sole — by a minute's birth — 
Through the love in a girl. 


' Pfirzmaier, "Kaiserliche .\kademie der Wissenschaften,"' Wien, 1868, Vol. LVII, p. 623. 



In the folk-song of Servia is a pretty little poem which testifies to 
the love they bear to pearls : 

A youth unmated prays to God, 
To turn him to pearls in the sea, 
Where the maidens come to fill their urns ; 
That so they might gather him into their laps, 
And string him on a fine green thread, 
And wear him pendant from the neck ; 
That he might hear what each one said. 
And whether his loved one spoke of him. 

His prayer was granted and he lay 
Turned to pearls in the dark blue sea, 
Where the maidens come to fill their urns ; 
Then quickly they gather him into their laps. 
And string him on a green silk thread. 
And wear him pendant from the neck ; 
So he hears what each one says of her own 
And what his loved one says of him.' 

In the days when romance and chivalry held sway in Europe, 
pearls and other favors were presented by ladies for the brave knights 
to wear at tournaments. And we are told in the Arthurian legends 
how Elaine, "the lily maid of Astolat," gave to Sir Lancelot "a red 
sleeve of scarlet, embroidered with great pearls," for him to wear 
on his helmet: and "then to her tower she climbed and took the shield, 
there kept it and so lived in fantasy" ; while he fought and won at the 
tilt, "wearing her scarlet sleeve, tho' carved and cut, and half the 
pearls away."" 

The sweet sentiment of purity associated with the pearl ennobles it 
above all other gems. Rabanus Maurus, archbishop of Mainz, wrote, 
about 850, that "mystically, the pearl signifies the hope of the King- 
dom of Heaven, or charity and the sweetness of celestial life."^ True, 
it was not among the twelve gems which adorned the breastplate of 
the high priest of the Temple, symbolical of the twelve apostles. A 
Father of the Church — St. Augustine, we believe — explains this by 
saying that it was reserved for a more sacred office, that of represent- 
ing Christ himself. 

Pearl signifies purity, innocence, humility, and a retiring spirit. All 
stones of the gray color of the pearl have the significances which are 
given to this beautiful gem.* 

' Translated from Klenn, "Culturge- ' "Opera omnia," Paris, 1864, Vol. V, p. 473. 

schichte," Leipzig, 1852, Vol. X, p. 318. ' W. & G. Audsley, "Handbook of Christian 

' Tennyson, "Idylls of the King." Symbolism," London, 1865, p. 140. 


Unlike other gems, the pearl comes to us perfect and beautiful, 
direct from the hand of nature. Other precious stones receive careful 
treatment from the lapidary, and owe much to his art. The pearl, 
however, owes nothing to man. Perhaps this has much to do with the 
sentiments we cherish for it. It touches us with the same sense of sim- 
plicity and sweetness as the mountain daisy or the wild rose. It is 
absolutely a gift of nature, on which man cannot improve. We turn 
from the brilliant, dazzling ornament of diamonds or emeralds to a 
necklace of pearls with a sense of relief, and the eye rests upon it with 
quiet, satisfied repose and is delighted with its modest splendor, its soft 
gleam, borrowed from its home in the depths of the sea. It seems truly 
to typify steady and abiding affection, which needs no accessory or 
adornment to make it more attractive. And there is a purity and 
sweetness about it which makes it especially suitable for the maiden. 

The idea of pearly purity is inseparably linked with the name 
Margaret, derived from the Persian Miirwari (pearl, or child of light) 
through the Greek yiapyapinqs- This name— beautiful in sound as 
well as in origin— is popular in all European countries, and likewise 
are its abbreviations and diminutives : in Italian, Margherita and Rita ; 
in French, Marguerite, Margot, and Groten ; in German, Margarethe, 
Gretchen, and Grethel; and in English, Margaret, Marjorie, Madge, 
Maggie, Peggy, etc. 

The use of the word as a proper name among the early Christians 
was doubtless suggested by the sweet simplicity and loveliness of the 
pearl, and by the beautiful symbolical references to this gem in the 
Scriptures ; and the meaning of the name has been strengthened by the 
pure lives and the good deeds of the many beautiful Margarets in all 
lands, including the virgin martyr, St. Margaret of Antioch, "the mild 
maid of God" referred to in the Liturgy, who, before the fifth century, 
was the embodiment of feminine innocence and faith overcoming evil, 
and who is often represented wearing a string of pearls ; also St. Mar- 
garet ^theling of the eleventh century, who endeared the name in 
Scotland, was canonized in 121 5, and was adopted as the patron saint 
of Scotland in 1673; and Margaret, 'Tearl of Bohemia," so beloved 
by the Danes. 

Especially among the Germans has the name a tender significance; 
with them it is symbolical of maidenly sweetness and purity associated 
with richness of womanhood, such as was typified by Goethe in the 
heroine of his "Faust." This idea may have impelled Wordsworth in 
the selection of a name for the lovely, girlish character in his "Excur- 
sion"; and Tennyson for his "Sweet pale Margaret," and likewise 
Scott for "Ladye Margaret, the flower of Teviot." With the memory 
of these lives and characters before her, many a loving mother has 



crystallized the hope entertained for a baby daughter by enriching 
her with this beautiful name. 

Poets seem never to tire of using the pearl as a symbol of perfection 
in form, in purity, in luster, and in sweetness. But probably none has 
made a more lovely comparison than Owen Meredith : 

As pure as a pearl. 
And as perfect : a noble and innocent girl.^ 

The Oriental poets unite with those of the West in their love for this 
gem, and those gifted writers are lavish in its use. Let us but add the 
lament of Shabl Abdullah on the death of Nozami : 

Nozami 's gone, our fairest pearl is lost. 

From purest dew, kind Heaven had given her birth, 

And then had fashioned her the pearl supreme. 

She softly shone, but hidden from mankind, 

So God has now restored her to her shell. 

Far more crude, but possibly equally pathetic, is that old epitaph 
from Yorkshire, England : 

In shells and gold pearls are not kept alone, 
A Margaret here lies beneath a stone. 

In the seventeenth century, Pierre de Rosnel wrote in a burst of 
enthusiasm : 

The pearl is a jewel so perfect that its excellent beauty demands the love 
and esteem of the whole universe. Suidas expresses himself in regard to it 
thus : "The possession of the pearl is one of love's greatest delights ; the delight 
of possessing it suffices to feed love." In a painting, Philostratus, who had 
the same ideas, has represented cupids with bows enriched with pearls ; and 
the ancients were all agreed to dedicate the pearl to Venus. Now, to my 
thinking, the reason for their so doing was, that inasmuch as this goddess of 
love, the fairest of all di\'inities, is descended from heaven and is formed of 
the sea, so in like manner the pearl — the loveliest of all gems — is formed in 
the sea and is the offspring of the dew of heaven. But he that would learn 
more of the excellence of the pearl, let him inquire of the ladies, who will 
relate much more in its praise than I can write, and who will doubtless confess 
that nothing else so well adorns them.^ 

Emblematic as the pearl is of maidenly purity and sweetness, it is 
deemed especially appropriate as a wedding gift. This use dates 

' "Lucile," Pt. II, c. 6, St. l6. _ ' "Le Mercure Indien, ou le Tresor des 

Indes," Paris, 1672, p. 160. 


from the earliest dawn of Hindu civilization, when the beloved Krishna 
drew it from the sea to decorate his beautiful daughter on her nuptial 
day. And among the Hindus not uncommonly the presentation 
of a virgin pearl and its piercing forms part of the marriage cere- 
mony. In most of the European royal weddings in recent years, pearls 
have been prominent among the bridal gifts; nor have they been 
overlooked among the presents to American brides, including one 
much in the public print about 1906, for whom a necklace of them was 
selected by a neighboring republic as an appropriate present. 

The dedication of the pearl to love and marriage appears to have 
been recognized by the artistic Greeks. One of the choicest engrav- 
ings preserved from classic times is a magnificent sardonyx showing 
the marriage of Cupid and Psyche, in which the lovers are united by 
what some authorities consider a string of pearls — emblematic of con- 
jugal bonds — by means of which the god Hymen leads them to the 
nuptial couch.* This engraved gem now forms one of the choicest 
objects in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, having been purchased at 
the sale of the Marlborough gems, London, 1898, at a cost of about 

And yet in Western countries the ill omen of pearls as bridal orna- 
ments has been widely recognized, these determining the tears that 
will be shed in the married life. As Milton says, referring to the 
Marchioness of Winchester: 

And those pearls of dew she wears. 
Prove to be presaging tears. 

It was told that when the Empress Eugenie of France was finishing 
her toilet preparatory to her wedding in Notre Dame in 1853, a per- 
sonal attendant reminded her of the omen, and begged that she refrain 
from wearing her pearl necklace on that occasion. Eugenie paid no 
heed to the warning and wore the beautiful jewels just the same; and, 
as all the world knows, her life has been one long tragedy. Since that 
necklace was a lengthy one, containing very many pearls, the bride 
who wears only a few on her wedding day need not dread the adage so 
much, for, unfortunately, no woman's life is wholly free from grief; 
and most brides would doubtless risk a few tears rather than refuse to 
wear a wedding gift of pearls. 

It was a very old idea that to dream of pearls betokens tears. A 
suggestion of this occurs in John Webster's "Duchess of Malfi" 
(i623),ActIII, sc. 5: 

'Many Greek scholars maintain that this is a knotted cord or fillet; but this view is 

contested by others. 


Duchess: I had a very strange dream to-night ; 
Methought I wore my coronet of state, 
And on a sudaine all the diamonds 
Were chang'd to pearles. 

Antonio: My interpretation 

Is, you '11 weepe shortly ; 
For to me the pearles 
Doe signifie your teares. 

And we quote also from "The Parson's Wedding" (1663), Act II, 
sc. 5, where Jolly exclaims: "What! in thy dumps, brother? The cap- 
tain sad! 'T is prophetic. I 'd as lieve have dreamt of pearl, or the 
loss of my teeth." 

Tradition relates that Queen Margaret Tudor, wife of James IV of 
Scotland, just before the battle of Flodden Field (15 13), had many 
fears as to the disastrous issue of that conflict, owing to having 
dreamed on three nights in succession that all her jewels were sud- 
denly turned into pearls. This was interpreted as a sign of coming 
widowhood and sorrow, which was soon verified; and a similar story 
is told of Marie de' Medici shortly before the murder of Henry IV of 
France in 1610. 

The employment of pearls medicinally dates from an ancient period. 
This use is mentioned in the oldest existing Sanskrit medical work, the 
"Charaka-Samhita,"^ composed early in the Christian era; and like- 
wise in the somewhat more modern "Susruta,"^ which probably orig- 
inated before the eighth centur}^ 

It is particularly in Oriental countries that therapeutic properties 
have been credited to pearls. The powder of these gems has been rated 
very highly there, and is still used to some extent. It was considered 
beneficial in cases of ague, indigestion, and hemorrhages, and was re- 
garded as possessing stimulative qualities. Medical literature of the 
Orient contains many accounts of the uses of pearls and of the methods 
of forming them into pills, ointments, etc. 

According to a treatise written by Narahari, a physician of Kash- 
mir, about 1240 A.D., the pearl cures diseases of the eyes, is an antidote 
to poisons, cures constmiption and morbid disturbances, and increases 
strength and general health.^ 

In China, as well as in other Asiatic countries, a distinction was 
made in the therapeutic efifects of so-called "virgin" pearls and of 

' Edited by Jibananda Vidyasagara, Cal- ' Garbe, "Die Indischen Mineralien." Nara> 

cutta, 1877. hari's "Raganighantu," Varga XIII, Leipzig, 

' Edited by Vidyasagara, 1873. 1882, p. 74. 


those pierced or bored for stringing. The Chinese natural history of 
Li Shi Chin, completed about 1596, states that bored pearls will not 
serve for medicine, for which unpierced ones should be used. It 
further adds that the taste is saltish, sweetish, and cold; and that they 
benefit the liver, clear the eyes, and cure deafness. Dr. T. Nishikawa 
informs us that at the present time many Mytilus seed-pearls are ex- 
ported from Japan to China for medicinal purposes. 

Quoting principally from Ahmed Teifashi, Whitelow Ainslie wrote 
in 1825 that Arabian physicians suppose the powder of the pearl to 
have virtues in weak eyes; and they credit it with efficacy in palpita- 
tions, nervous tremors, melancholia, and hemorrhage. Also they 
have this strange notion, that when applied externally and while in the 
shell, it cures leprosy.' 

Statements of the curative properties of pearls come also from 
Japan at a somewhat recent date. The catalogue of the National 
Exhibition at Yedo in 1877, Part V, page 78, notes that they soothe the 
heart, lessen phlegm, are an antidote to poison, and cure fever, small- 
pox, and blear-eyedness. 

The popular modern idea in India as to the therapeutic value was 
thus expressed by a native prince, Sourindro Mohun Tagore, Mus. 
Doc, the Maharajah of Tagore, in 1881 : 

The use of pearls conduces to contentment of mind and to strength of body 
and soul. The burnt powder of this gem, if taken with water as sherbet, cures 
vomiting of blood of all kinds. It prevents evil spirits working mischief in 
the minds of men, takes off bad smell from the mouth, cures lunacy of all 
descriptions and all mental diseases, jaundice and all diseases of the heart, in- 
testines and stomach. Burnt pearl mixed with water and taken into the 
nostrils, as a powder, takes away headsickness, cures cataract, lacliryma and 
swelling of the eyes, the painful sensation such as is caused by the entry of 
sand into them, and ulcers. Used as a dentifrice, it strengthens the gums and 
cleanses the teeth. Rubbed on the body with other medicines, it cures all skin 
diseases. It stops bleeding from cuts and ultimately heals them up. Whether 
taken internally or externally, it is a sure antidote to poison. It drives away 
all imaginary fears and removes all bodily pain. To prevent its tendency to 
affect the brain, it should always be used with the burnt powder of basud, and 
in its absence with that of white mother-of-pearl. The dose of pearl powder 
should not exceed 2^ mashas [19.68 grs.].^ 

The Hindus credited specific virtues to pearls of dififerent colors: 
the yellow brought wealth, the honey shade fostered understanding, 
the white attracted fame, and the blue, good luck. Defective pearls 
caused leprosy, loss of fortune, disgrace, insanity, and death, according 

'Ainslie, "Materia Indica," London, 1826, Vol. I, p. 292. ' "Mani-mala," Calcutta, 1881, p. 871. 


to the degree of defect. The "Mani-mala," previously quoted, states 
that "pearls possessed of every valuable quality shield their master 
from every evil, and sviffer nothing harmful to come near him. The 
house which contains a perfect pearl the ever-restless Lakshmi (god- 
dess of wealth) chooses to make her dwelling for ever and a day."^ 

A similar idea is expressed in an old Hindu treatise on gems by 
Buddhabhatta, where we read: "The pearl from the shell ought al- 
ways to be worn as an amulet by those who desire prosperity. - 

Pearls still find a place in the pharmacopoeia of India. One of the 
latest standard works, that of R. N. Khory and N. N. Katrak,"* credits 
the powder as a stimulant, tonic, and aphrodisiac. It is one of the in- 
gredients in numerous Indian prescriptions used in curing impotence, 
heart-disease, consumption, etc. According to these authorities, the 
dose is from one fourth to one half grain of the powdered pearl. 

Owing to the high cost of sea pearls, even those of the smallest 
size, a substitute for medicinal and similar purposes is found in the 
Placuna pearls of Ceylon, Borneo, etc. These are of such slight luster 
that only the choicest are of ornamental value, consequently they are 
sold at relatively small prices. A considerable demand exists for them 
to be placed in the mouths of deceased Hindus of the middle class, in- 
stead of the sea pearls which are used by the wealthy, or the rice which 
is employed in a similar manner by persons of poorer rank. This cus- 
tom seems to be analogous to that of the ancient Britons, and also to 
that of the American Indians, in depositing food and other requisites 
for a journey in burial graves. The practice is an old one in India and 
was noted by Marco Polo more than six hundred years ago. 

Most of the Placuna pearls are calcined and are used with areca-nuts 
and betel-pepper leaves in a very popular masticatory, one of the "seven 
sisters of sleep," which is to the Hindu what opium is to the Chinaman, 
or tobacco to the American or European. The hard white areca-nut 
(Areca Catechu) is about the size and shape of a hen's tgg. Three or 
four thousand tons of the small, tender nuts are annually shipped from 
Ceylon to India for this masticatory, which is chewed by a hundred 
million persons. After boiling in water, pellets of them are placed in 
a leaf of the betel-pepper {Piper bctle) with a small quantity of lime 
made from pearls or shells, according to the desired quality and value 
of product. It is credited with hardening the gums, sweetening the 
breath, aiding digestion, and stimulating the nervous system like coflfee 
or tobacco ; its most visible effect is tingeing the saliva and blackening 
the teeth, which is far from attractive, especially in an otherwise beau- 

' "Maai-mala," Calcutta, 1879, P- 3iS- ' "Materia medica of India and their 

'Fjnot, "Les Lapidaires Indiens," Paris, Therapeutics," Bombay, 1903, p. 98. 
1896. p. 15. 


tiful woman. A more recent use for these Placuna pearls is as an 
ingredient in a proprietary face powder and enamel, which is marketed 
in Europe. 

It is not alone the Orientals that have found medicinal virtues in 
pearls. Even in Europe they have occupied a prominent place in mate- 
ria medica, especially during the Middle Ages when a knowledge of the 
occult properties of gems was an important branch of learning. In- 
deed, they could scarcely have been overlooked by people who at one 
time or another swallowed pretty much everything, from dried snake's 
eyes to the filings of a murderer's irons, in their quest for the unusual 
and costly with which to relieve and comfort themselves. During the 
Middle Ages in Europe, writers who gave attention to pearls, as well 
as to other gems, treated almost exclusively of their reputed efficacy in 
magic and in medicine; and most of the accounts from the ninth to 
the fourteenth century seem wholly without scientific value, and at 
times reach the climax of extravagance and absurdity in their claims 
for the wonderful potency of the gem. 

Albertus Magnus, the Dominican scholar born in Germany in the 
twelfth century, wrote that pearls were used in mental diseases, in 
affections of the heart, in hemorrhages, and dysentery.* 

The "Lapidario" of Alfonso X of Castile (1221-1284), called "The 
Wise," the father of the Spanish language, states : 

The pearl is most excellent in the medicinal art, for it is of great help in 
palpitation of the heart, and for those who are sad or timid, and in every sick- 
ness which is caused by melancholia, because it purifies the blood, clears it and 
removes all its impurities. Therefore, the physicians put them in their 
medicine and lectuaries, with which they cure these infirmities, and give them 
to be swallowed. They also make powders of them, which are applied to the 
eyes ; because they clear the sight wonderfully, strengthen the nerves and dry 
up the moisture which enters the eyes.^ 

Anselmus de Boot, physician to Emperor Rudolph II, and one of the 
great authorities at the beginning of the seventeenth century, gave the 
following directions for making "aqua perlata, which is most excellent 
for restoring the strength and almost for resuscitating the dead. Dis- 
solve the pearls in strong vinegar, or better in lemon juice, or in spirits 
of vitriol or sulphur, until they become liquified; fresh juice is then 
added and the first decanted. Then, to the milky and turbid solution, 
add enough sugar to sweeten it. If there be four ounces of this solu- 
tion, add an ounce each of rose-water, of tincture of strawberries, of 
borage flowers and of balm and two ounces of cinnamon water. When 
you wish to give the medicine, shake the mixture so that the sediment 

'"Albert! Magni Opera omnia," ed. Au- " "Lapidario del Rey D. Alfonso X," Codice 

gusti Borgnet, Paris, 1890, Vol. V, p. 41. original, Madrid, 1881, p. 4. 



may be swallowed at the same time. From one ounce to an ounce and 
a half may be taken, and nothing more excellent can be had. In perni- 
cious and pestilential fevers, the ordinary aqua pcrlata cannot be com- 
pared to this. Care must be taken to cover the glass carefully while 
the pearls are dissolving, lest the essence should escape."^ 

A curious book on the medicinal use of pearls was written in 1637 
by Malachias Geiger,^ in which he especially praises the efficacy of 
Bavarian pearls. It was true that their material value was less than 
that of oriental pearls, but this was compensated by their therapeutic 
qualities. He had accomplished many cures of a very serious disease 
and had used these pearls successfully in cases of epilepsy, insanity, 
and melancholia. 

Quotations might be given from a hundred medieval writers as to 
the therapeutics of pearls. The diseases for which they were recom- 
mended, as noted by Robert Lovell's "Panmineralogicon, or Summe of 
all Authors," published at Oxford in 1661, seems to have included a 
large portion of the entire list known at that period. This summary 
states : 

Pearls strengthen and confirme the heart ; they cherish the spirits and prin- 
cipal! parts of the body; being put into collyries, they cleanse weafts of the 
eyes, and dry up the water thereof, help their filth, and strengthen the nerves 
by which moisture floweth into them ; they are very good against melancholick 
griefes; they helpe those that are subject to cardiack passions; they defend 
against pestilent diseases, and are mixed with cordiall remedies ; they are good 
against the lienterie, that is, the flux of the belly, proceeding from the sliperi- 
ness of the intestines, insomuch that they cannot retaine the meat, but let it 
passe undigested ; they are good against swounings ; they help the trembling 
of the heart and giddinesse of the head ; they are mixed with the Manus 
Christi against fainting (called Manus Christi perlata) in the London Phar- 
macopaca) ; they are put into antidotes or corroborating powders; they help 
the flux of bloud; they stop the terms, and cleanse the teeth; they are put into 
antidotes for the bowels, and increase their vertue, make the bloud more thin, 
and clarify that which is more thick and feculent; they help feavers. The oile 
of Pearlcs or unions helpeth the resolution of the nerves, convulsion, decay of 
old age, phrensie, keepeth the body sound, and recovereth it when out of order, 
it rectifieth womens milk, and increaseth it, corrects the vices of the natural 
parts and seed. It cureth absesses, eating ulcers, the cancer and hemor- 
rhoides. . . . The best are an excellent cordial, by which the oppressed bal- 
same of life and decayed strength are recreated and strengthened, therefore 
they resist poyson, the plague, and putrefaction, and exhilarate, and therefore 
they are used as the last remedie in sick persons.* 

' De Boot, "Gemmarum et Lapidum His- ° Lovell, "Panmineralogicon," O.xford, 1661, 

toria," Hanover, 1609, Lib. II, c. 38, p. 87. pp. 77, 78. 

' Margaritologia, Monachii, 1637. 


Ornamented with pearls 


So powerful and mysterious were their alleged virtues, that in some 
instances it was necessary only that the pearls be worn to make effective 
their prophylaxis against disease. This belief was by no means con- 
fined to the ignorant and inexperienced, for we are told that even Pope 
Adrian was never without his amulet made of the extraordinary com- 
bination of oriental pearls, a dried toad, etc/ Leonardo, in the 
fifteenth century, wrote that pearls render true and virtuous all who 
wear them.^ Although we wonder at what we call the superstitions 
of the Middle Ages, perchance future generations will smile at many 
of our mistaken follies. 

A prominent historical instance of administering pearls medicinally 
was in the treatment of Charles VI of France (1368-1422), to whom 
pearl powder mixed with distilled water was given for the cure of 

A far more illustrious patient was Lorenzo de' Medici, "The Mag- 
nificent" (1448-1492), the celebrated ruler of Florence. When this 
plebeian prince lay dying of a fever at Careggi, just after that famous 
interview with Savonarola, his friends called in Lazaro da Ticino, a 
physician of reputation, who administered pulverized pearls. Politian, 
who was present, is credited with the statement that when the medicine 
was administered, to the inquiry as to how it tasted, Lorenzo replied : 
"As pleasant as anything can be to a dying man."* 

Even the English philosopher, Francis Bacon (1561-1626), men- 
tioned pearls among medicines for the prolongation of life. He adds: 
"Pearls are taken, either in a fine powder or in a kind of paste or solu- 
tion made by the juice of very sour and fresh lemons. Sometimes they 
are given in aromatic confections, sometimes in a fluid form. Pearls 
no doubt have some affinity with the shells wherein they grow ; perhaps 
may have nearly the same qualities as the shells of crawfish."* 

Powdered pearl or mother-of-pearl mixed with lemon juice was used 
as a wash for the face, and was considered "the best in the world.""* 
The pearl powder and lemon juice were permitted to stand for a day 
or two and the combination was then filtered before using. Another 
method of preparing this was : 

Dissolve two or three ounces of fine seed pearl in distilled vinegar, and 
when it is perfectly dissolved, pour the vinegar into a clean basin ; then drop 
some oil of tartar.upon it, and it will cast down the pearl into fine powder; then 
pour the vinegar .clean off softly; put to the pearl clear conduit or spring 
water; pour that off, and do so often until the taste of the vinegar and tartar 

' Jones, "Credulities Past and Present," * Bacon, "Historia Vits et Mortis," Lon- 

London, 1880, p. 166. dini, 1623, p. 100. 

' "Speculum lapidum," Venice, 1502, p. 37. " Grew, Nehemiah, "Musxum Regalis 

' Yriarte, "Florence," Paris, 1881, p. 39. Societatis," London, 1681, p. 145. 


be clean gone; then dry the powder of pearl upon warm embers, and keep it 
for your use.^ 

Through their composition of carbonate of lime, pearls possibly pos- 
sess some slight therapeutic value, which, however, can easily be sup- 
plied by other materials — as the shell, for instance — and is entirely out 
of proportion to their market value as ornaments. 

Although pearls have lost their therapeutic prestige and no longer 
have a recognized place in materia medica, their healing qualities are 
not to be denied, for there are few ills to which women are subject that 
cannot be bettered or at least endured with greater patience when the 
sufferer receives a gift of pearls ; the truth of which any doubting 
Thomas may easily verify in his own household to the limit of his 

Owing to their beauty and great value, pearls have been deemed 
particularly appropriate as a sacrifice in enriching a drink for a toast 
or tribute. Shakspere alludes to this in the words of King Claudius, 
the pearl being frequently designated tinioii in the fifteenth and six- 
teenth centuries : 

The king shall drink to Hamlet's better breath ; 
And in the cup an union shall he throw. 
Richer than that which four successive kings 
In Denmark's crown have worn.- 

It is stated that a pearl worth £15,000 was reduced to powder and 
drunk by Sir Thomas Gresham, the English merchant, in the presence 
of the Spanish ambassador, as a tribute to Queen Elizabeth, by whom 
he had been knighted.^ 

The most celebrated instance of enriching a drink with a pearl was 
doubtless Cleopatra's tribute to Antony, Pliny's account of which we 
give in the words of old Philemon Holland : 

This princesse, when M. Anton ius had strained himself e to doe her all the 
pleasure he possibly could, and had feasted her day by day most sumptuously, 
and spared for no cost: in the hight of her pride and wanton braverie (as 
being a noble courtezan, and a queene withall) began to debase the expense 
and provision of Antonie, and made no reckoning of all his costly fare. 
When he thereat demanded againe how it was possible to goe beyond this 
magnificence of his, she answered againe, that she would spend upon him at 
one supper ten million Sestertij. Antonie laid a great wager with her about it, 
and shee bound it againe, and made it good. The morrow after, Cleopatra 

^ "A Queen's Delight," London, 1671, pp. ' W. J. Lawson, "History of Banking," 

75, 76. London, 1850, pp. 24, 25. 

" "Hamlet," Act V, sc. 2. 


made Anionic a supper which was sumptuous and roiall ynough : howbeit, 
there was no extraordinarie service seene upon the board : whereat Antonius 
laughed her to scorne, and by way of.mockerie required to see a bill with the 
account of the particulars. She again said, that whatsoever had been served 
up alreadie was but the overplus above the rate and proportion in question, 
affirming still that she would yet in that supper make up the full summe that 
she was seazed at: yea, herselfe alone would eat above that reckoning, and her 
owne supper should cost 60 million Sestertij : and with that commanded the 
second service to be brought in. The servitors set before her one only crewet 
of sharpe vineger, the strength whereof is able to resolve pearles. Now she had 
at her eares hanging these two most precious pearles, the singular and only 
jewels of the world, and even Natures wonder. As Antonie looked wistly upon 
her, shee tooke one of them from her eare, steeped it in the vineger, and so 
soon as it was liquified, dranke it off. And as she was about to doe'the like 
by the other, L. Plancius the judge of that wager, laid fast hold upon it with 
his hand, and pronounced withal, that Antonie had lost the wao-er.' 

Elsewhere has been set forth the impracticability of dissolving a 
pearl in a glass of vinegar without first pulverizing it.- It seems 
probable that if Pliny's interesting story has any foundation, Cleopatra 
might have swallowed a solid pearl in a glass of wine— certainly a 
more pleasing draught as well as a more graphic sacrifice; and we 
should accept its reported value with a grain of salt, for it would 
scarcely have been safe for the court gossip to belittle the value of this 
tribute of love. 

Pliny, and other Roman writers, mention another instance, that of 
Clodius "the sonne of Aesope the Tragedian Poet," who took two 
pearls of great price "in a braverie, and to know what tast pearles had, 
mortified them in venegre, and drunke them up. And finding them to 
content his palat wondrous well, because he would not have all the 
pleasure by himselfe, and know the goodnesse thereof alone, he gave 
to every guest at his table one pearle apeece to drinke in like manner."- 
The chronicler fails to tell what the guests thought of the flavor of 
pearls, or whether some would not have preferred them for a more 
appropriate use. 

'"The Natural! Historie of C. Plinius Se- "See p. 55. 

cundus," Lib. IX. c. 35. This anecdote is 3 •-r],^ Katurall Historie of C. Plinius Se- 

mentioned also by Macrobius (Circa 400 cundus," Lib. IX, c. 35. 
A.u. ) in "Saturnaliorum conviviorum libri 
septem," Lib. II, c. 13. 



A pearl. 
Whose price hath laiinch'd above a thousand ships, 
And turn'd crown'd kings to merchants." 

Troilus and Cressida, Act II, sc. 2. 

TO trace the markets of the pearl is to trace the routes of com- 
merce from early times. The first routes from the Far East 
seem to have been two: one by the Persian Gulf and the 
Euphrates to Babylonia and Assyria, and thence by caravan 
through Damascus to Tyre and Sidon ; the other by the Red Sea and 
Suez to Egypt. As regards the former route, Sir George Birdwood 
furnishes positive evidence that the Phenicians visited India as early 
as 2200 B.C. It seems highly probable that pearls were introduced 
by this route at an early period, although it is difficult to find material 
proof of the fact. 

By means of this commerce, the great ancient civilizations of 
Phenicia, Mesapotamia and the Nile valley doubtless became familiar 
with the gem treasures of eastern Asia. Then came the opening of 
the Mediterranean with first "the great Sidon," and later Tyre, as 
the starting-points of commerce, exploration, and colonial settlement 
among the islands and on the shores of what, to the Asiatic peoples, 
was the great western sea. However, as the Greek islands and their 
colonies developed, the Phenicians were more strictly confined to the 
coasts of Africa and Spain. Gades, Tartessus, and Carthage were 
their great colonies and trading-ports, and their adventurous sailors 
passed on through the Straits of Gibraltar and directed their course 
northward to the British Isles, where they very probably obtained the 
pearls of the Scotch rivers. 

Meanwhile, the campaigns of Alexander had carried Greek influ- 
ence and authority over all western Asia, reaching even to India itself, 
and had led to a widely increased intercourse. Although he died at 
the age of thirty-two, Alexander the Great did more than any single 
individual in the world's history to bring the nations of the Eastern 
and the Western worlds into contact with each other, and it is cer- 


tainly due to this circumstance that we find much greater evidences 
of the use of pearls in the western countries after his time. Besides 
this, the founding of Alexandria provided a mart, in whose bazaars 
the traders of India, Persia, and Arabia bartered their treasured 
gems, just as their descendants do in the same place at the present 

It was not, however, until the establishment of the Roman empire 
that this commercial intercourse reached its highest development. 
The Romans, with their marvelous capacity for organization, were 
the first to build a great system of permanent and well-kept roads to 
facilitate land travel and land traffic. These great roads, starting 
from the Forum, reached out in every direction, even to the limits of 
the empire; and, as a result of increased commercial activity, more 
gems were engraved, mounted, and set during the five hundred years 
of Rome's commercial supremacy than during any other early epoch 
of the world's history. 

In Rome, the trade in pearls was so important that there was a cor- 
poration of "margaritarii." The officincr iiiargaritariorum were in- 
stalled in the Forum, in the neighborhood of the tabernae argentaricc ; 
some were also on the Via Sacra.* However, the name margaritarius 
did not only apply to the jewelers, merchants, and setters of pearls, 
but also to those who fished for them and to the guardians of the gems 
and jewels wherein pearls were used. 

With the fall of the Western empire, the Dark Ages settled down 
like a cloud over Europe for five hundred years. Only among the 
Saracens and at Byzantium did the culture of the old civilization sur- 
vive, and eventually the light of knowledge and of progress was re- 
kindled from these sources. The Crusades were the chief factors 
in this new development; they gave a mighty stimulus, by means of 
which Europe was aroused from her lethargy and once more brought 
into contact with the Orient. Venice and Genoa now became the 
great carriers, and from this time, and to this source, may be traced 
many of the oriental gems in Europe. The Venetian fleet of three 
hundred merchant ships brought the products of the East and distrib- 
uted them over Europe, by way of the German cities of Augsburg 
and Nuremberg, where the great jewelers and silversmiths made 
world-famed ornaments. 

When Constantinople fell into the hands of the Turks, the treasures 
of the Eastern empire were scattered throughout Europe; but, at the 
same time, the establishment of the Turkish empire served to close the 
way to India and the far East for the merchants and travelers of 
Europe, and, hence, new means of access had to be sought by sea. 

' See the epitaph of Tutichylus "qui fuit margaritarius," Orelli, 4076. 

Containing some wood attributed to the true cross 


This, as is well known, was the cause of the voyages of De Gama 
and Columbus. The unexpected result of these voyages — the discov- 
ery of a new continent— ushered in the wonderful period of Spanish 
and Portuguese development and their colonization of both the East 
and the West Indies ; and to this epoch belongs the introduction of 
American pearls to the markets of Europe. The gradual decline of 
the power of Spain and Portugal— largely owing to bigotry and to the 
reckless exploitation of the regions under their control — brings us to 
the beginning of the present phase of commercial intercourse in which 
all the nations of the civilized world are engaged in varying propor- 
tion, according to their power and aptitude. Never before have the 
different regions of the earth been more closely in touch with each 
other, and we may safely say that nothing is likely to occur which can 
permanently interrupt the progressive development of the world's 

With the various means of transportation and locomotion that have 
existed in the past twenty-three or twenty-four centuries, there is no 
doubt that the commerce of pearls has varied more or less, but there 
has ever been, in some part of the world, a great potentate, a great 
collector or dealer who has influenced the finest gems to gravitate his 
way. Never has there been a time when some person was not prepared 
to encourage — and to richly encourage — the sale of fine jewels to him. 
The history of the commerce of precious stones is a history of travel 
and exploration, of hardship, pleasure, reward, and sometimes of 
serious disappointment. 

The lesson we derive from these decorative objects of natural 
beauty and softness — treasured alike by savage, barbarian, ancient 
warrior, statesman, king, emperor, peasant, bourgeois, magyar, lady, 
and queen — always carries with it the moral that the gifts of creation 
are ever prized by some one in every age or place. 

The necessary ciualifications affecting the value of a pearl are: 
first, that it should be perfectly round, pear-shaped, drop-shaped, 
egg-shaped, or button-shaped, and as even in form as though it were 
turned on a lathe. It must have a perfectly clear skin, and a de- 
cided color or tint, whether white, pink, creamy, gray, brown or 
black. If white, it must not have a cloud or a blur or haze, nor should 
the skin have the slightest appearance of being opaque or dead. It 
must be absolutely free from all cracks, scratches, spots, flaws, in- 
dentations, shadowy reflections or blemishes of any kind. It must 
possess the peculiar luster or orient characteristic of the gem. The 
skin must be unbroken, and not show- any evidence of having been 

Diamonds and the more valuable precious stones generally are 


bought and sold by the weight called a carat. This carat, whatever 
its precise value, is always considered as divisible into four diamond 
or pearl grains, but the subdivisions of the carat are usually expressed 
by the vulgar fractions, one fourth, one eighth, one twelfth, one six- 
teenth, one twenty-fourth, one thirty-second, and one sixty-fourth. 
The origin of the carat is to be sought in certain small, hard, legumi- 
nous seeds, which, when dried, remain constant in weight. The 
brilliant, glossy, scarlet-and-black seed of Abrus precatorins consti- 
tutes the Indian rati, about three grains; the Adenanthera pavonina 
seed weighs about four grains. The seed of the locust-tree, Ceratonia 
siliqua, weighs on the average three and one sixth grains, and consti- 
tutes, no doubt, the true origin of the carat. 

Another' of the more notable of these weight-units used for 
precious stones and precious metals is the candarin, condorine, or can- 
tarai, also termed by the Chinese fun or fan, and by the south Indians 
a fanam, and used all over the Indo-Chinese archipelago. This is by 
origin a large lentil or pea of a pinkish color dotted with black, about 
double the size of the gonj, and possessing the same quality of very 
slight variability of weight when dried. It is probably a variety of the 
same botanic genus or species as the Abrus precatorins. The value 
when reduced to absolute standard became a subsidiary part or sub- 
multiple of the weight of some local coin, rupee, or pagoda, or a 
decimal fraction of some local tchen, as in China and Japan. 

The following derivation of the word carat is given by Grimm: 
"Carat. Italian: carato; French: carat; Spanish and Portuguese: 
quilate; Old Portuguese: quirate, from Arabic qirat, and this from 
the Greek, KepdrLov." ^ 

The carat is not absolutely of the same value in all countries. Its 
weight, as used for weighing the diamond, pearl, and other gem- 
stones in different parts of the world, is given in decimals of a gram, 
by the majority of the authorities, as follows : 

Grams In Grains Troy 

Indian (Madras) 2073533 3-199948 

Austrian (Vienna) 20613+ 3.18107+ 

German (Frankfort) . . . .20577+ S-iJSSH 

Brazil and Portugal 20575+ 3- 175206 

France 2055+ 3-^7.^347 

England 205409 3.169943 

Spain 205393 3.169696 

Holland 205044 3.1 6431+ 

^ Lowis d'A. Jackson, "Modern Metrology," ' Grimm, "Deutsches Worterbuch,'' Leipzig, 

London, 1881, p. 370. 1873, Vol. V, p. 205. 


Pearl Grains In Grains 

in Grams Troy 

Indian (Madras) 0518383 -799987 

Austrian (Vienna) 05153+ .79526+ 

German (Frankfort) 05144+ -793878 

Brazil and Portugal 05143+ .793801 

France 051 375 -792836 

England 051352 .792485 

Spain 051348 .792424 

Holland 051 261 .791077 

Assuming that the gram corresponds to 15.43235 EngHsh grains, 
an EngHsh diamond carat will nearly equal 3.17 grains. It is, how- 
ever, spoken of as being equal to four grains, the grains meant being 
"diamond" or "pearl" grains, and not ordinary troy or avoirdupois 
grains. Thus a diamond or pearl grain is but .7925 of a true grain. 
In an English troy ounce of 480 grains there are 1513^ carats; and so^ 
it will be seen that a carat is not indeed quite 3.17 grains, but some- 
thing like 3. 1683 168 grains, or less exactly, 3.168 grains. Further, if 
we accept the equivalent in grains of one gram to be, as stated above, 
15.43235, and if there be 15 13^2 carats in a troy ounce of 480 grains, ' 
it will follow that an English diamond carat is .205304 of a gram, not 
.205409, as commonly affirmed. The following exact equivalents, in 
metric grams and grains troy, of the diamond carat as used in differ- 
ent parts of the world in 1882, are given by Mr. Lewis d'A. Jackson: 


Grams Grains Troy 

Turin 2135 3.29480 

Persia 2095 323307 

Venice 2071 3.19603 

Austro-Hungary 2061 3.18060 

France (old) 2059 3.17752 

(later) 2055 3-i7i35 

" (modern) 2050 3.16363 

Portugal 2058 3-17597 

Frankfort and Hamburg 2058 3-17597 

Germany 2055 3-I7I35 

East Indies 2055 3-I7I35 

England and British India 2053 3.16826 

Belgium (Antwerp) 2053 3.16826 

Russia 2051 3.16517 

Holland 2051 3. 165 17 

Turkey 2005 3.09418 

Spain 1999 3.08492 

Java and Borneo 1969 3.03862 



Grams Grains Troy 

Florence 1965 3.03245 

Arabia I944 3.00004 

Brazil 1922 2.96610 

Egypt 1917 2.95838 

Bologna 1886 2.91054 

International carat 2050 3-16363 

Proposed new international carat . .2000 3.08647 

Recalculating the above figures into pearl grains we have : 



Turin 053375 

Persia 052375 

Venice 051775 

Austro-Hungary 051525 

France (old) 051475 

(later) 051375 

" (modern) 051250 

Portugal 051450 

Frankfort and Hamburg . . . .051450 

Germany 051375 

East Indies 051375 

England and British India . . . .051325 

Belgium (Antwerp) 051325 

Russia 051275 

Holland 051275 

Turkey 050125 

Spain 049975 

Java and Borneo 049225 

Florence 049125 

Arabia 048600 

Brazil 048050 

Egypt 047925 

Bologna 047150 

International 051250 

Proposed International 050000 

Grains Troy 




7581 12 





With the present system of diamond carats and pearl grains it is 
necessary to keep two entirely different sets of weights or to resort to 
troublesome calculations. The stock-book of a jeweler, at the present 
time, will contain the following fractions, expressing the weight of 
a single pearl: Vi, Vi, Vs, Vie, %2, Vm, when the weight could be much 
better stated as ^%4 of a carat. It requires but a glance to see how 
much easier this would be. Certain dealers have therefore proposed 


the use of sets of fractions arranged in a similar way. In this man- 
ner a stock-book can be kept much more easily and with greater pre- 
cision. Others, again, have adopted -a decimal notation of the frac- 
tions of a carat, which is even more simple and feasible, since the 
common fractions Yz, 54> 3^. etc. can be expressed as .5, .25, .125, etc., 
of a carat, this being either a carat of .2053 o^ ^ gram or the English 
carat of .20534 of a gram. 

On the other hand, an agreement was arrived at, as the result of a 
conference between the diamond merchants of London, Paris, and 
Amsterdam, by which the uniform weight of a diamond carat was 
fixed at .205 of a gram, making the pearl grain .05125 of a gram. This 
standard, which was suggested in 1 871, by a syndicate of Parisian jew- 
elers, goldsmiths, and others dealing in precious stones, was subse- 
quently (1877) confirmed. But there is still a lack of uniformity in 
the standard by which diamonds and pearls are bought and sold, and 
very serious discrepancies exist in the sets of carat weights turned out 
by dififerent makers, although the international carat is almost uni- 
versally used. 

At the International Congress of Weights and Measures held at 
the World's Fair at Chicago in 1893, the writer suggested that the 
carat should consist of 200 milligrams, so that 3/2 of a carat would be 
100 milligrams and Y oi a. grain would be 12.5 milligrams. This 
would mean 5 carats or 20 grains to a French gram, and 5000 carats 
or 20,000 pearl grains to a French kilogram. This would depreciate 
the present diamond carat or pearl grain only about one per cent., and 
it would do away with the needless series of carats and grains of the 
many nationalities. It could be simply explained to any private in- 
dividual in any country, especially as there are only two countries 
which do not use the metric system. 

This carat has been earnestly indorsed, its introduction advocated, 
and its merits clearly shown, by M. Guilliame, of the French Bureau 
des Arts et Metiers, whose energetic work has found a reasonable co- 
operation, in this country as well as in Europe, in introducing what 
will be a scientific, logical, comprehensive, and possibly the final and in- 
ternational carat; and any ancient, obsolete, or foreign carat can be 
readily reduced to this carat once the metric value of the former is 

The Association of Diamond Merchants of Amsterdam has al- 
ready, to avoid confusion, fixed the value of the carat (17th October, 
1890) at I kilogram = 4875 carats, or i carat = 3.16561 grains troy = 
205.128 mg. One pearl grain = .7914 grains troy = 51.282 mg. ; but 
the association has decided that, in case of litigation, these values 
shall be determined by appointed bureaus, which would express them 


in grams and milligrams, a most important and valuable decision, as 
the gram and the milligram will always be known as weights of con- 
stant value. 

In view of the difficulty of inducing the abolition of the carat in 
different countries, the German Federation of Jewelers decided to 
petition the imperial government for authority to use the carat, in 
order that it might be legally recognized. Such a proposition not 
being in accord with the German laws in force on the subject of the 
metric system, it was proposed to substitute for the carats then in use 
one carat only, weighing two hundred milligrams. This proposal was 
very favorably received in trade circles and may be taken into con- 
sideration by the International Committee of Weights and Measures. 
The Commission des Instruments et Travaux, to which this proposi- 
tion was referred, recommended its adoption to the committee in the 
following terms : 

"The Commission recognizes that it would be very desirable that the 
unit of weight of precious stones (the carat) which varies in different 
countries, should be made uniform, and should be reduced to the near- 
est metric equivalent. The weight of 200 mg., which is very close to 
the carat most in use (205.5 ™g-)> would seem to be the best for this 
purpose. The Commission believes that there can be no objection to 
this standard of 200 mg. being called 'the metric carat' in order to 
facilitate the abolition of the old carat." 

This proposition, adopted at the meeting of the International Com- 
mittee on the 13th of April, was communicated to the more important 
associations. The Chambre Syndicale de la Bijouterie, Joaillerie et 
Orfevrerie de Paris, and the Chambre Syndicale des Negociants en 
Diamants, Perles, Pierres Precieuses et des Lapidaires de Paris as- 
sured the committee of their support of this measure. 

The following is the text of the resolution which was passed by both 
the above associations in January, 1906: 

"The Council, recognizing the advantages which would result to the 
international trade in precious stones from the use of a unit based on 
the metric system, desires that the metric carat of 200 mg. be uni- 
versally adopted." 

The German Federation of Jewelers passed the following resolu- 
tion in August, 1906: 

"The German Federation considers that it is both necessary and ad- 
vantageous to replace the old carat by the metric carat of 200 mg. ; it 
authorizes its president to approach the imperial government and the 
International Bureau of Weights and Measures, and the foreign asso- 
ciations in order that the metric carat may be introduced as soon as 
possible in all countries." 


The Chamber of Commerce of Antwerp promised, in a letter dated 
the 7th of December, 1906, to rescind a decision of 29th of April, 1895, 
approving the adoption of a carat of 205.3 ""■&•» when the metric carat 
of 200 mg. should come into universal use in the markets. 

The Association of Jewelers and Goldsmiths of Prague formally 
authorized the German Federation to act in its name, in order that the 
reform should come about as soon as possible by international agree- 
ment, and the Association of Goldsmiths of Copenhagen has declared 
its willingness to support the reform. The Committee of Weights and 
Measures in Belgium prepared a law for the adoption of the metric 
carat in December, 1906. 

Mr. Larking, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Melbourne, 
Australia, has transmitted by letter of September 16, 1907, the follow- 
ing resolution of the Association of Manufacturing Jewelers of the 
Colony of Victoria : 

"It is desirable that the carat weight should be the same in all coun- 
tries, and our association approves a metric carat of 200 milligrams." 

On October 16, 1907, the Association of Societies for the Protection 
of Commerce in the United Kingdom passed the following resolution : 

"The Committee of the Association approves the attempt to urge the 
adoption in all countries of an international carat of 200 milligrams, 
and hopes that, in the interest of the unification of weights, it will 
prove successful." 

The fourth General Conference of Weights and Measures, held in 
Paris in October, 1907, passed this resolution: 

"The Conference approves the proposition of the International Com- 
mittee and declares that it sees no infringement of the integrity of the 
metric system in the adoption of the appellation 'metric carat' to des- 
ignate a weight of 200 milligrams for the commerce in diamonds, 
pearls, and precious stones."' 

The following resolution was passed by The Birmingham Jewelers' 
and Silversmiths' Association, January 23, 1908: "That the best 
thanks of this Committee be conveyed to the Decimal Association 
for the good work they are doing, and this Committee expresses the 
hope that all countries will adopt an International Carat of 200 milli- 
grams in weight." Finally, on March 11, 1908, the metric carat of 
200 milligrams was adopted in Spain as the official carat for diamonds, 
pearls, and precious stones. 

Pearls have become of so much importance to so many dealers that 
a special form of weight has been proposed for them. This would 
have a diamond form and not a square form, and it would be stamped 

^ Guillaume, "Les recents progres du systeme metrique," Paris, 1907, pp. 62-66, "La 

reforme du carat." 



"Grain" instead of "Carat." Another set would be stamped in milli- 
grams, the regular milligram weight with the pearl fraction above it, 
and they could even be made round so as better to designate the pearl. 

The great value of pearls has suggested the making of a gage, 
called the Kunz gage, by means of which round pearls can be very 
accurately measured. Pearls of a given weight and perfectly spherical 
form have been weighed and then measured by this gage, and the 
theoretical diameters as computed from the measurement of a single 
pearl are in the majority of instances in exact accord with these actual 
measurements, the occasional variations in the smaller pearls barely 
exceeding the thousandth part of an inch. These discrepancies may be 
due to imperceptible divergencies in sphericity or, possibly, to trifling 
differences in specific gravity. 

The following table gives the diameters of round pearls by meas- 
urement, from /4g to 500 grains, in millimeters and inches : 
















































I 187 


























































































































26.35 I 


The new and finer analytical balances weigh to the tenth part of a 
milligram, the two thousandth part of a carat, the five hundredth part 
of a grain; but this is not necessary. If the 200-milligram carat were 
used, the two hundredth part of a carat could readily be ascertained, 
and then a short-beam, rapid-weighing balance would answer every 
purpose and save much time for the dealer who must make many 
weighings in the course of a day. In an office where thousands of 
weighings were made in a month, the task was accomplished with such 



minute accuracy that the margin of error did not exceed one carat 
during that time. 

The inina, the sixtieth part of the lesser Alexandrian talent of silver, 
was divided by the Romans, when they occupied Egypt, into twelve 
ounces {iinciae), and, weighing as it did 5460 grains, it became the 
predecessor of the European pounds of which the troy pound is a 
type. If we may believe a Syrian authority, Anania of Shiraz, who 
wrote in the sixth century, the carat or diamond weight was originally 
formed from one of these ounces by taking the Vm part.* 

We find in Murray^ that the Greek /cepanoi/ was originally identical 
with the Latin siliqua, and was called the siliqtia Graeca. As a measure 
of weight and fineness the carat represents the Roman siliqua as /44 
of the golden solidus of Constantine, which was % of an ounce, hence 
the various values into which -144 and Vm enter, or originally entered. 
As a measure of weight for diamonds and precious stones, it was 
originally Via of an ounce or 3!^ grains. It is stated in Hakluyt ( Voy. 
II, pp. I, 225, 1598) : "Those pearls are praised according to the 
caracts which they weigh ; every caract is four graines." 

There have been at all times men who possessed a delicate touch or a 
fine sense of feeling, but probably few men are living to-day who would 
be able to accomplish the feat attributed to Julius Caesar, namely, that of 
estimating the weight of a pearl by simply holding it in his hand. 
There are very few who can tell the weight of a pearl in this way, and 
while the story may be historically interesting, it is rather dubious. 

To attempt to formulate a list of prices, comparative or otherwise, 
of pearls, is almost an impossibility, as probably no two authors of the 
past three centuries have ever seen the same lot of pearls, nor have 
their estimates always been the same as to quality, rarity and value. 

As interesting statistics from an historical point of view, there will 
be presented here a list of the values of pearls dating back some ten 
centuries. That there always has existed a higher valuation for the 
larger pearls, which are the rarest, will readily be apparent, but that 
the correct value of a pearl of one, ten, twenty or fifty grains be defin- 
itely given for the years 1602, 1702, 1802, or 1902 is an impossibility. 
However, we believe this to be the first attempt to present so large a 
body of carefully selected quotations, and they are given to the reader, 
whether he be layman or professional, for what they are worth. 

In regard to the smaller pearls, as is the case with the smaller dia- 
monds, prices have been dependent upon the changes of fashion ; that 

' William Hallock and Herbert T. Wade. ^ "A New English Dictionary," Oxford and 

"Outlines of the Evolution of Weights and New York, 1893, Vol. II, Pt. I, p. 105. 
Measures and the Metric System," New 
York, igo6, p. 25. 


is, whether the prevailing style of jewelry was such that the smaller 
pearl or diamond was in demand. In other words, if they were used 
as a decoration forming a border, a flower, a scroll ornament, or a pave 
requiring many small gems, the demand naturally increased and the 
prices were higher or lower as the occasion required. 

It is not the project of this book to fix the prices of pearls at the 
present time, for any such attempt would prove misleading, owing to 
the fact that pearls vary in the estimation of the different dealers, and 
a figure given here for the highest standard, if applied to an inferior 
grade, would necessarily mislead the buyer to his positive injury. This 
much, however, can be said: during the year 1907 pearls from five 
grains upward have been sold according to their quality, at a base of 
five, eight, ten, fifteen, or even twenty dollars in very exceptional cases ; 
that is to say, twenty, thirty-two, forty, sixty, or eighty shillings, or 
twenty-five, forty, fifty, seventy-five or one hundred francs. Never- 
theless, it would be impossible, without considerable experience, for a 
layman to apply these valuations to objects that require much practice 
in determining their quality and perfection. 

With diamonds, rubies, and emeralds there may be a stated price per 
carat for stones of a certain size, but a gem of unusual perfection or 
brilliancy, or of exceptionally fine color, will often command a price 
far beyond that generally quoted. It is the same with the pearl. Sums 
which may seem exorbitant in comparison with those that are paid for 
ordinary pearls, are often given for specimens remarkable for their 
beauty, size, or luster. 

Pearls of one hundred grains are even more rare at the present time 
than are diamonds of one hundred carats. Until the middle of the 
nineteenth century, the diamonds of the world weighing one hundred 
carats or over could be counted on the fingers, but since the opening of 
the African mines in 1870, the number of large diamonds has in- 
creased at a much greater ratio than have the pearls of one quarter of 
their weight. It would thus seem that pearls of great size are worth 
four times as much as diamonds of equal weight. For instance, a 
lOO-carat diamond of the finest quality would be worth at least 
from $1000 to $1500 a carat, making a total value of $100,000 to 
$150,000; and a pearl of 100 grains at a base of $10 would be worth 
$100,000. But no such high price has ever been paid. 

The usual method of estimating the value of pearls is by establish- 
ing a base value for those weighing one grain and then multiplying 
this amount by the square of the number of grains that the pearl 
weighs. For instance, if the base value of a one-grain pearl should be 
fixed at $1, a pearl weighing two grains would be worth $4 (2x2 = 
4), or $2 per grain; one weighing five grains would be worth $25, or 
$5 per grain, etc. Naturally, these values increase in proportion to the 


increase in the value of the base. A base of $3 would give a value of 
$75 for a five-grain pearl, or $15 per grain, while a $10 base would 
make the value $50 per grain, or $250. 

This method of estimating pearls by squaring their weights has 
been credited by many authors to David Jeffries, who published an 
interesting treatise on diamonds and pearls in 1 750-1 753. It has also 
been credited to Tavernier, the oriental traveler of the middle of the 
seventeenth century. We have, however, traced this method back to 
Anselmus de Boot, in his treatise on precious stones, dated 1609. Be- 
fore this date we have not been able to find any mention of the com- 
putation of the value of diamonds and pearls by squaring their weight 
and multiplying the product by a base of a franc, guilder, crown, dol- 
lar, or of many dollars, as would be necessary at present. It is prob- 
able, however, that this system is of oriental origin and it may have 
come to Europe through some of the oriental traders, with the precious 
stones, as did the use of the carat. 

De Boot makes the carat (four grains) his unit of comparison, 
increasing his base value by one third for pearls weighing eleven 
carats (forty-four grains) or over. In Pio Naldi's treatise, published 
in Bologna in 1791, the unit is the grain, the base being the fourth part 
of the value of four pearls weighing together one carat. Naldi, also, 
increases his base value making it i^ lire ($.30) for pearls weighing 
less than ten grains, and 23/2 lire ($.50) for those weighing twenty 
grains and upward. 

A curious method of valuing pearls by their weight is shown in a 
treatise by Buteo, published in 1554.' The writer states that a pearl 
weighing two carats was valued at 5 gold crowns ; one of four carats 
at 25 crowns ; and so on, the price increasing fivefold when the weight 
was doubled. The intermediate figures were obtained by computing 
the proportional mean of any two known weights and values. For ex- 
ample : 8 X 4 = 32, the square root of which is 5.656. Now, the value 
of a four-carat pearl is 25 and that of an eight-carat pearl 125 crowns, 
and 125 X 25 = 3125, the square root being 55.9; hence a pearl weigh- 
ing 5.656 carats was worth 55.9 crowns. 

The base value of a necklace can be determined in the following 
way. Should the center pearl weigh 25 grains, multiply 25 by 25 ; the 
result is 625 ; then, take the next two, three, or four pearls, as many 
as are of approximately the same weight, add their weights together, 
multiply the resulting figure by itself and divide the product by the 
number of pearls in-the group. Proceed in exactly the same way with 
the remainder of the necklace, always grouping the pearls so that there 
shall not be a considerable difference in weight between the smallest 
and the largest pearl, and then add together the figures obtained for 

'Buteonis, "Opera Geometrica," Lugduni, 1554. PP- 88-96. 



the center pearl and for the various groups and divide the price of the 
necklace by this total ; the quotient will represent the multiple or base. 
As may be seen by comparison of the first with the second and third 
of the accompanying tables, the result arrived at in this way will, if 
there is any difference in the weight of the pearls in the various 
groups, vary slightly from that obtained by calculating the weight of 
each pearl separately, but it represents a satisfactory approximation. 


1 pearl, weighing 25 

2 pearls, each of 22 



















X 29 


X 27 
X 26 


X 24 


X 22 


= 1600 

= 1444 

= 1296 

= 1225 

= 1156 

= 1089 

= 1024 

= 961 

- 900 

= 841 

= 784 

= 729 

= 676 

= 625 

= 576 

= 529 

= 484 

2ll/^X2I>4= 462>4 

20I/2 X 20I/2 = 420>^ 



2 = 968.000 
2 = 800.000 
2 = 722.000 
2 = 64S.OOO 
2 = 612.500 
2 = 578.000 
2 = 544-500 
2 = 512.000 
2 = 480.500 
2 = 450.000 
2 = 420.500 
2 = 392.000 
2 = 364-500 
2 = 338.000 
2 = 312.500 
2 = 288.000 
2 = 264.500 
2 = 242.000 
2 = 231.125 
2 = 210.125 


$10 X 10,003.75 = $100,037.50 


I pearl, weighing . . 25 grs. 25 x 25 = 625.00 

2 pearls, 



It 44 ■ 

' 44x44=1936- 

- 2 = 968.00 

4 " 


78 ' 

' 78x78 = 6084- 

-4= 1521.00 

4 " 


71 ' 

' 71x71 = 5041- 

-4= 1260.25 

6 " 


99 ' 

' 99 X 99 = 980 1 - 


6 " 

f < 

90 ' 

' 90x90 = 8100- 


6 " 


81 ' 

' 81x81=6561- 


6 " 


72 ' 

' 72x72 = 5184- 

-6= 864.00 

6 " 


64 ' 

' 64 X 64 = 4096 - 

-6= 682.67 


'.92 = $99,979.20 



On a $5 base this necklace would be worth $50,018.75 according 
to the first reckoning, and $49,989.60 according to the second; on a 
base of $2.50 the figures would be $25,009.37 and $24,994.80 respec- 


I pearl, weighing . . 25 grs. 
4 pearls, total weight 84 






1 1 1 

25 X 25= 625.00 

84 X 84= 7056^- 4=1764.00 

109x109=11881^- 6=1980.16 

99 X 99= 9801-^ 6=1633.50 

90 X 90= 8100-^ 6=1350.00 

106x106=11236-^ 8=1404.50 

111X111 = 1 232 1 -^- 10= 1232.10 

$10 X 9989.26 = $99,892.60 


On a $5 base this would represent a value of $49,946.30 and one of 
$24,973.15 on a base of $2.50. The dififerent grouping of the pearls 
accounts for the slight reduction in value. 

A system of estimating the value of pearls which has recently been 
introduced into Germany, is an adaptation of the ordinary method of 
squaring the number of grains and then multiplying the result by a 
certain base figure. The pearls are first grouped according to quality 
and size, and a figure is agreed upon as the multiplicator of each class. 
In Germany the carat is employed as the weight-unit for pearls as well 
as for diamonds, and in this new system the total weight of a given 
number of pearls of the same class is first reduced to grains ; the num- 
ber of grains is then multiplied by four and the quotient is multiplied 
by the figure agreed upon. The resulting sum, after being divided by 
the number of pearls, gives the carat value of such pearls. For ex- 
ample, if the base figure agreed upon is 5, and we wish to find the carat 
worth of 4 pearls of similar size, weighing together 3^%4 carats, the 
sum would be as follows : 

206 X 4 x 4 X 5 

= 64-37 

At this rate per carat, reckoning in marks, the value of the 3^%4 
carats would be 207.20 marks. This result is identical with that ob- 
tained by the ordinary method, but the calculation is perhaps a trifle 

^ See "Edelsteinkunde," Wilhelm Rau, Leipzig, 1907, p. 137. 



A curious Hindu treatise on gems has been preserved for us in the 
Brhatsanihita of Varahamihira (505-587 a.d.). It is the earhest work 
of this kind that we have in Sanskrit, and M. Louis Finot/ who has 
pubhshed it, together with several other similar treatises, believes that 
it was based upon an original composed at a much earlier period. In 
his introduction M. Finot says : "It would be an error to regard the 
ratnagastra [treatise on gems] as a simple manual for the use of jew- 
elers. Without doubt this subject formed one of the principal branches 
of commercial instruction, . . . but it was also taught to princes and 
it is for their use that the ratnaqastras we publish seem to have been 

This treatise only describes four gems, although a larger number 
are enumerated. These gems are the diamond, the pearl, the ruby, and 
the emerald. One of the most interesting portions is that treating of 
the valuation of pearls. The system described is peculiar, and, unfor- 
tunately, there is some difficulty in finding an absolutely correct equiv- 
alent for the values expressed. 

A price is first placed upon a pearl weighing 4 masakas (about 45 
grains). This is estimated at 5300 karsapanas (about $1600). As 
the weight diminishes the valuation decreases as follows : 

4 masakas . 

• 5300 



lYz masakas 



3/2 " • 

• 3200 





3 " • 

. 2000 


4 gnfijas^ . 



2/2 " . 

• 1300 





2 " . 

. 800 


2>^ " 



Smaller pearls were grouped together in dharanas (one dharana = 
about 72 grains). If there were thirteen fine pearls in a dharana, they 
were valued at 325 rupakas (about $100) ; the other values were as 
follows : 

16 pearls in a dharana were worth 200 rupakas 


" 170 


" 130 


" 70 


" 50 




" 30 


" 25 


" 12 







" "Les Lapidaires Ind 





gunja was o 

equaled about 2j4 grains. 


It would be extremely interesting if we could find at this early date 
(sixth century a.d.) an indication of the use of the system of com- 
puting the value of pearls by the square of their weight as expressed 
in some weight unit, and it is singular that the three valuations given 
for the weight in gufijas are graduated in accordance with this sys- 
tem. A pearl weighing 2i/^ guiijas and valued at 35 karsapanas would 
have a base value of 5.6 karsapanas. Estimated at this ratio we would 
have the following figures : 

3 gunjas .... 50.4 karsapanas 

4 " 89.6 

Now, the .values actually given are 50 and 90 karsapanas, respec- 
tively, and these figures are easily obtained by rejecting the fraction 
that is less than one half and counting the fraction that is in excess of 
one half as a unit. After this, however, the progression becomes irreg- 
ular. A pearl weighing i masaka (5 gufijas) is valued at 135 kar- 
sapanas, while the equivalent according to the system would be 140. 
However, it is possible that the writer may have changed this figure 
intentionally so as to add exactly one half to the preceding valuation 
(90 + 45 = 135). The succeeding values bear no relation to the system 
and appear to be entirely arbitrary. Still, it can scarcely be due to 
hazard that the first three figures are practically in exact accord with 
the system and the fourth in close approximation. As the change 
seems to come when the weight is expressed in masakas instead of 
gufijas, we are tempted to think that the system may have been used 
for single pearls weighing less than twelve grains (i masaka = iij4 
grains), while the value of those over that weight was estimated in a 
different way. 

In a much later Hindu treatise, by Buddhabhatta, after certain 
values have been given for pearls of the best quality, a pearl of this 
class is described as follows : 

White, round, heavy, smooth, luminous, spotless, the pearl gifted 
with these qualities is called qualified {gutiavat). If it be yellow, it is 
worth half this price; if it be not round, a third; if flat or triangular, a 

One of the earliest records we have of a system of prices for pearls is 
the treatise on precious stones written in the year 1265, by Ahmed ibn 
Yusuf al Teifashi, who was probably a native jeweler of Egypt. In 
his time pearls were sold in Bagdad in bunches of ten strings, each 
string comprising thirty-six pearls. If one of these strings weighed 
one sixth of a miskal (four carats or sixteen grains), the ten strings 

ipinot, " Les Lapidaires Indiens," Paris, 1896, p. 22. 



were valued at four dinars (about ten dollars). The values increased 
progressively as follows : ^ 

Average weight 

10 strings 

of 36 pearls. 


of each pearl weight of 
Grains Carats 

each string 


U. S. money 

y, . . . A 








































































































Al Teifashi then proceeds to describe a pearl of the first quality; it 
must be "perfectly round in all its parts, colorless and gifted with a 
fine water. When a pearl possesses these requisites and weighs one 
miskal [24 carats or 96 grains] it is worth 300 dinars [$750]. If, 
however, a match is found for this pearl and each one weighs one 
miskal and has the same form, the two pearls together cost 700 dinars 
[$1750]." This writer also mentions that in the shops of the Arab 
jewelers, the pearl which exceeded the weight of a drachma (12 carats 
or 48 grains) even by one grain, was called dorra, while the name 
joliar was used for that which did not reach the above weight. 

In 1838, Feuchtwanger gave the price of a one-carat pearl as five 
dollars, and used this amount as the multiplier of the square of the 
weight; therefore, a four-carat pearl would cost four times four multi- 
plied by five dollars, the value of the first carat ; that is to say, a six- 
teen-grain (four-carat) pearl would have been worth eighty dollars in 
1838, according to this computation. 

' "Fior di Pensieri suUe Pietre Preziose di Ahmed al Teifascite," text and translation 
by Antonio Raineri, Florence, 1818, pp. 8, 9. 




In 1858, Barbot^ gave the value of pearls under ordinary conditions, 
but very indefinitely, as follows : 


1 . 

2 . 

3 • 

4 • 


Francs per 














Above four grains they sold by the piece, and below, by the ounce. 
Baroque pearls sold for 300 to 1000 francs per ounce. Seed-pearls, 
if quite round, were worth about 120 francs per ounce. 

EmanueP gave the following table of prices for the pearl, reduced 
to United States currency: 




3 . . . $2.88- $3.84 

$4.32- $4.80 


5.28— 6.72 

6.72— 8.40 


8.40— 10.80 

9.60— 12.00 


13.20— 15.60 

16.80— 19.20 


21.60— 26.40 

24.00 — 28.80 


38.40— 43.20 

48.00— 52.80 


57.60— 72.00 

67.20— 76.80 


72.00— 86.40 

86.40— 96.00 








192.00 — 240.00 



288.00 — 345.60 

288.00 345.60 


384.00 — 480.00 

384.00 — 480.00 

The following values appear in the "Encyclopedia Hispano-Ameri- 
cana," Barcelona, 1894, Vol. XV, p. 180 (Louis Dieulafait) : 


Value. i86s 




U. S. currency 


U. S. currency 


17— 18 


- $3-6o 

21 — 



- $4.60 


25- 32 

5.00 — 

- 6.40 




- 8.00 


41— 52 


- 10.40 




- 11.60 


64- 75 


- 15-00 




- 18.60 


104— 128 


- 25.60 




- 27.80 


202 — 227 


- 45-40 




- 55-40 


302- 378 


- 75-60 




- 80.60 


378- 453 


- 90.60 






504- 756 











■ 756- 





1005 — 1260 
















2117— 2521 








arles Barbot, " 

Traite Compl 

ete des 

" Emanuel, 

"Diamonds and 


Pierres Precieuses," Paris, 1858, p. 467. 

Stones," 2nd edition, London, 1867, p. 6. 

















































































































































































































































































lAnselmi de Boot, "Gemmarum et Lapi- 
dum Historia," Hanoviae, 1609, pp. 88-90. 

" De Rosnel, "Le Mercure Indien," Paris, 
1672, Pt. Ill, pp. 17, 18. 

3 Rice Vaughan, "A Discourse of Coin and 
Coinage," London, 1675, p. 241. 

* David Jeffries, "A Treatise on Diamonds 
and Pearls," London, 1751, pp. 128-141. 

'' "Encyclopedic de Diderot et d'Alembert," 
Neuchatel and Paris, 1774, Vol. XH, p. 385. 

' Pio Naldi, "Delle Gemme e delle Regole 
per Valutarle," Bologna, 1791, p. 207. 







1 751 


1 791 























































































































I 29.60 
















































1 500.00 
































Giving the pearl values in 1867, Emanuel^ says: "It would be almost 
useless to give any value for drop-pearls, as when of large size and fine 
quality they are of so rare occurrence as to command fancy prices; 
still, as a slight guide, it may be mentioned that perfect white 
drop-pearls, of 80 to 100 grains, may be estimated at from £7 to f 11 
[$v35~$55] P^i" grain; those of 50 to 80 grains at from £4 to £7 
[$20-$35] per grain, and those of 30 to 50 grains at from £3-£5 
[$i5-$25] per grain; smaller sizes bring from 20s. to 60s. [$5-$i5] 
per grain." 

Emanuel also states that misshapen pieces called "baroque pearls" 
(perles baroques), are sold by the ounce, the price varying from £10 
to £200 ($50-$iooo) per ounce, depending on quality, color, and size. 

Grains Value per grain 

1 $1.00 

2 1.83 

3 2.75 

4 360 

5 4.03 

6 4.69 

7 6.32 

8 6.87 

9 7-42 

Size No. Millimeters Inches 

5 ....1.20 





14 ... .2.00 










' Emanuel, 


Total value Grains Value per grain 

$1.00 10 - . . $8.25 

3.66 II 9.62 

8.25 12 10.45 

14.40 13 11.68 

20.15 14 12.55 

28.14 15 14.20 

44.24 20 19-70 

5496 24 24.75 



1873 1876 1873 i88s 

$1.10 $0.85 $0.50 

1.3s $0.70 1. 00 .60 

1.80 .90 1.35 .70 

2.25 1. 10 1.70 1. 12 

2.70 1.35 2.00 1.80 

3.35 1.80 2.50 2.00 

450 2.25 3.40 3.00 

5.60 2.70 4.20 4.00 

8-00 3.35 5.90 5.00 

9.00 4.50 6.75 5.75 

11.00 5.60 8.40 6.75 

14.00 8.00 10.00 8.25 

17.00 9.00 12.50 10.50 

19.00 11.00 14.00 12.00 

23.00 14.00 17.00 14-50 

28.00 17.00 21.00 16.25 

33.00 19.00 24.00 18.25 

'Diamonds and Precious Stones," London, 186", p. 197. 

Total value 












SizeNo. Millimeters Inches 





22 . 

...3.05 .120 





24 . 

...3.15 .124 





26 . 

...3.30 .130 





28 . 

•••3-55 -140 





30 • 

■••3-90 -153 









Size No. 1873 





4 •• 

.. $0.55 




5 •• 






6 .. 






7 •• 

1. 10 





8 .. 

•• 1-35 


1. 00 



9 •■ 






10 . . 

■ • -'-'5 

1. 10 




II . . 

•• 3 35 


' 2.50 



12 . . 






13 •• 

• • 4-50 


3 -40 



14 .. 






15 •• 

■ • 6.7s 





16 .. 






17 .. 

. . 10.00 





18 .. 

. . II .00 





19 .. 

. . 14.00 





20 . . 

. . 17.00 





22 . . 

. . 20.00 



24 .. 

. . 27.00 



26 .. 

• ■ 3400 



28 .. 

.. 51.00 



30 .. 

. . 62.00 



Size No. 1876 


5 $0-25 

6 35 

7 40 

8 45 

9 70 

10 80 

II 90 

12 1. 10 

13 1.60 

14 2.25 


1907 Size No. 1876 1908 

$0.47 15 2.70 8.93 

70 16 3.35 11.20 

I. II 17 4.00 1390 

1.94 18 4.50 18.00 

2.77 19 5.60 22.20 

3.86 20 6.75 27.75 

4.99 22 9.00 40.00 

5.82 24 14.00 75-00 

6.65 26 17.00 85.00 

7.48 28 19.00 100.00 

8.32 30 28.00 200.00 



Pearls to 
the ounce 

English money 

£ s. 















Equivalent in 
U. S. currency 

Average for 
each pearl 













The following values for the smaller oriental pearls are given in the 
"Museum Brittanicum" of John and Andrew van Rymsdyck, 1778, 
p. 9. 

No. to 


'"Equivalent in 

Average for 

the ounce 


U. S. currency 

each pearl 
























^ .00027 


\ .000216 

Pio Naldi's treatise of 1791 gives the following rule for estimating 
the value of small, round pearls, weighing less than one carat or four 
grains. As the carat value of four such pearls is given as five lire and 
576 one-grain pearls were counted as one ounce, these two numbers 
were used to determine the value of an ounce of small pearls. The 
product of 576 multiplied by 5 is 2880, and this number was then 
divided by 2000, 1000, 500, or whatever might be the number of pearls 
in a given ounce. If there were 2000 pearls, the carat value would 
be 1.44 lire or $.29; if there were 1000, the carat would be worth 2.88 
lire or $.57; if 500, 5.76 lire or $1.15, etc. 

The same author^ gives tables expressing the values of pearls not 
perfectly spherical in form, which he designates as "perle dolce." 
These pearls he considers to be worth half the price of good round 
pearls; that is to say, 2^ lire (about $.50) per carat for four weighing 
together one carat. Where there are as many as three thousand of 
these "perle dolce" in an ounce, the 2]^ lire base is multiplied by 576, 
the number of grains given to the ounce; this makes the value of an 
ounce of one-grain pearls $288. This amount is then divided by 3000, 
and the quotient, $.096, represents the value of one carat of these small 

' "L'Encyclopedie ou Dictionnaire Raisonne " "Delle Gemme," etc., I79i- 

des Sciences," Neuchatel and Paris, 1774, 
Vol. XII, p. 385. 



pearls. Multiplying this by 144 we obtain, as the value of an ounce of 
such pearls, $13.82. An ounce consisting of two thousand would be 
worth $20.73, while if there were but one hundred to the ounce it would 
be valued at $414.72, or $4.15 for each pearl and ^.72 per grain of 
weight. In this latter case the pearls would average 5^ grains. An- 
other class of pearls denominated by this author as "scaramazzi," 
pearls of an irregular form and with protuberances, are estimated in 
a similar way, but at exactly half of the above values. The baroque 
pearls were not considered to be worth even half as much as the 

Scotch pearls (fresh-water) are mentioned by De Boot (1609, p. 
88 sq.) among the other western pearls — Bohemian, etc. He re- 
marks that they were valued much less than the oriental pearls, but 
if they were of especially pure color their value was greater, al- 
though they lacked the silvery hue characteristic of the eastern pearl. 
Fine pearls of this sort were valued on a carat base of one fourth of a 
thaler ($.27), so that a forty-grain pearl was worth $27, and one of 
eighty grains, $108. The author of the Bologna treatise, "Delle 
Gemme," 1791, attributes the lack of luster in the Scotch pearls to 
the presence of a dark mass in the interior which interfered with the 
passage of light. He estimates Scotch pearls to be worth one half 
the value of oriental pearls of mediocre quality, provided the former 
are fairly good. 

A Scotch writer of the seventeenth century is more enthusiastic in 
regard to these pearls ; he mentions having paid one hundred rix dol- 
lars for an exceptionally fine one, but he does not specify its weight. 
This is the value given by De Boot for a pearl of this class weighing 
eighty grains, as we have just mentioned. The Scotch writer asserts 
that he could never sell a necklace of fine Scotch pearls in Scotland it- 
self, as every one wanted oriental pearls ; he continues : "At this very 
day I can show some of our own Scots Pearls as fine, more hard and 
transparent than any Oriental. It is true that the Oriental can be 
easier matched, because they are all of a yellow water, yet foreigners 
covet Scots Pearls." 

In Ceylon^ and India, pearl-grading and valuing has received close 
attention, and an elaborate system has been evolved by the pearl 
merchants. This system has been in use for generations and possibly 
for centuries. Although apparently very complicated, it is in reality 
quite simple, if we only remember that the value of inferior pearls is 
determined by their weight, whereas the value of superior pearls is 
computed from the square of their weight. 

^ See "Report to the Government of Cey- of Manaar," by W. A. Herdman, F.R.S., Pt 
Ion on the Pearl Oyster Fisheries of the Gulf V, London, 1906, pp. 34-36. 


The pearls are first grouped according to the size, of which ten 
grades are made. This is done by passing them successively through 
ten brass saucer-Hke sieves or baskets (peddi), each about three and 
a half inches in diameter and one inch deep. The holes in the bottom 
of each sieve are of uniform size, but they are graduated in size for 
the different baskets. The pearls are sifted in the basket with the 
largest holes, and those which will not pass through are of the first 
size. The pearls v^hich pass through are then sifted in the second 
basket, and those retained are of the second size; and so on through 
the entire series of ten sieves or baskets. Those which pass through 
the tenth sieve are known as masi-tid, or powder pearls; they are of 
little value owing to their very small size, and are not subject to fur- 
ther classification. Of course, the attached pearls or very irregular 
baroques — the oddtimuttu — are not subject to the sifting process, and 
are valued independently of this. 

Sometimes in India, as well as in western countries, false measures 
are used, and an oriental pearl merchant may have one set of sieves 
for use in buying and another for selling. The rule for determining 
the proper size of the holes in the first sieve is that they may pass 
pearls weighing 20 to the kalanchU, whence this sieve is commonly 
known as the "20 pcddi." The second sieve is the "50 peddi," since it 
passes pearls weighing 30 to the kalanchn. In the proper order the 
other sieves respectively pass pearls requiring 50, 80, 100, 200, 400, 
600, 800, and 1000 to the kalanchu. 

This use of sieves for grading the Ceylon pearls was mentioned by 
Cleandro Arnobio, a writer of the latter part of the sixteenth century, 
in his "Tesoro delle Gioie," and he took his description from an older 
writer, Garzia dell' Horto. 

After the sifting, each of the ten graded lots of pearls are placed 
on pieces of cloth for classification as to quality, shape, and luster. 
This classification requires much skill and judgment on the part of 
the valuer. Not only will two persons commonly fail to class a large 
lot of pearls exactly alike, but one person is not likely to class the same 
lot twice in precisely the same manner. 

From long established custom, recognition is made of twelve classes 
into which the ten grades or sizes of pearls are divided with respect to 
shape and luster, the local names of these classes giving a fair indica- 
tion of their respective characteristics. These names are: 

1 Ani, "best" : perfect in sphericity and luster, the true orient pearl. 

2 Anatdri, "follower": failing slightly in sphericity and luster. 

3 Masanku or Masaku: badly colored pearls, usually gray, sym- 
metrical, and with luster. 

A, B. Pearl nose rings. Baroda, India. 
East Indian earring of strings of pearls and table diamonds 
Collection o( Edmund Russell, Esq. 
D, K. tlrape pendants. Oriental pearls. 


4 Kaiyeral, "the clasp of a necklace": a dark-colored treble pearl, 
not quite round. 

5 Machchakai. 

6 Vadivu, "beaut}^" also "decreasing-" : that which is strainedor sifted ; 
found in the 100, 200, and 400 sieves. These small pearls, regular 
in shape, and of good luster, are especially favored in the East. 

7 Madanku, "folded," or "bent": all pearls of vadivu size that are 
imperfect in form or color. 

8 Kiiriival, "short": deformed and double pearls; they may, how- 
ever, be of excellent luster. Ani Kuruval: where two dni are 
fused together, but so formed that if separate they would be per- 
fectly spherical. Pisal Kiiriival: where several pearls of good 
luster and color are fused partially and irregularly together. 
Pampara Kiiriival: a pearl grooved regularly, like a top. 

9 Kalippu, "abundance," or "rejected": inferior to Anafdri; a good 
pearl, may be lens-shaped or elongated ; usually flattened. 

10 Pisal, "torn" : a deformed pearl or cluster of small misshapen 
pearls ; of poor color and of little value. 

11 Kurdl: very misshapen and small. 

12 Tul, "powder": the seed-pearls, those retained by the 600, 800, and 
1000 sieves. 

In addition to the above designations, the following are also used: 

Samadiam: a pearl of a reddish hue; pear-shaped but of dull color. 

Nimelai: a nose-pearl, perfect skinned, and pear- or egg-shaped. 

Sirippu: a pearl grooved with irregular wrinkle-like furrows. 

Kodai, "brown" : like a nut, with no nacreous luster ; formed of pris- 
matic shell; may be large, is usually spherical, and includes pearls 
of various colors. This name is also used for white pearls with 
black or brown marks. Van Kodai: a kodai pearl with one side 
nacreous. Kartink Kodai: a black or blue-black slag-like pearl. 

Masi-tul, "ink-dust," or "chalk-powder": smaller than the 1000 sieve. 
Generally used for medicinal purposes, or burnt and eaten with 
areca-nut and betel by the natives. 

Oddu — or Ottwmittii, "shell-pearl": an attached pearl or nacreous ex- 
crescence on the outside of the shell. 

Of the twelve classes named above, the first four are known as the 
chcvvii, or superior classes; the next three as the vadivu, or beautiful 
classes; and the last five as the kalanchii, or inferior classes. The 
chezim pearls are found only in the first four sieves or baskets; and 
for this reason these are known as the chevvH peddi or "chevvu bas- 


kets," although they may also retain inferior pearls. A name used to 
indicate the class of pearls found in the first four sieves is niel or mel- 
mrittn, "upper" or "superior pearl," while vadivu designates those re- 
tained by the next three and tul those of the last three. 

After the pearls have been graded according to size and classified ac- 
cording toquality,theyare weighed. The unit of weight is thewonc/mdj, 
the seed of Abrus precatorius, a small, red berry of practically uniform 
weight when ripe. H. W. Gillman of the Ceylon Civil Service reports 
the weight of the manchddi to be 3.35 grains troy. Fractional parts of 
a unit are obtained by using a berry C3.\\td kundumani, grains of rice, 
etc., whose weights have been determined beforehand. A brass weight 
— the kalanchu — is also employed; it equals 67 grains or 20 maiichadi. 

However, choice pearls — those of the superior classes — are not 
valued in this manner, but at so much per chcvvil of their weight, 
which is three fourths of the square of the weight in manchddi. Thus, 
to find the value of an anatdri pearl in the second sieve, if the weight 
be found to be three manchddi, three fourths of the square of three, 
or 6^, is multiplied by the base value of the anatdri class. 

The actual process of the calculation of value is as follows: owing 
to the small size of the pearls, many fractions enter into the computa- 
tions; to preserve uniformity it is customary to increase all fractions 
so that each may have 320 as a denominator, this being a common mul- 
tiple of those that ordinarily arise in chevTu calculations. The weight 
in maiichadi of the pearls is increased to a fractional figure having 
320 as a denominator. Three fourths of the square of the numerator 
of this fraction is divided by the number of pearls, and this quotient 
is divided twice consecutively by 320, giving the chcvvi'i of the weight. 
The market value then follows from the quoted price of the pearls per 
chezmi at the time. 

In actual practice, these computations are not made ; but each mer- 
chant provides himself with sets of tables showing the calculations for 
different weights, analogous to the use of interest tables by bankers, 
or of tables of logarithms by surveyors. Some of the merchants 
commit these tables to memory, and at times may be heard reciting 
them quietly to themselves to refresh the memory. 

If a pearl of a particular grade and class is of exceptional merit, 
the merchant adds somewhat to the money value computed by the 
above process. This applies especially to double pearls of the kiinwal 
class, which sometimes consist of two fine bouton pearls suitable for 
setting, but not for stringing. 

Pearls of one of the inferior or kalanchu classes are valued by 
simple weight, at so much per kalanchu, the market price, of course, 
differing for pearls of the various classes. The weight having been 

Property of an American lady 


ascertained, each in its class as before noted, the value is determined 
by multiplying that weight by the current market price per unit of 
such pearls, at so many rupees per kalanchii. 

The star pagoda is used in calculating the values. This small gold 
coin was current in south India in the early part of the last century. 
In the computations it is considered to be worth three and a half 
rupees, although its intrinsic value as a gold coin is about six rupees. 

It is considered probable that the London syndicate,' which has 
lately leased the Ceylon pearl fisheries for a period of twenty years, 
will do away with the complicated calculations employed for so many 
generations, surviving all changes of administration, Portuguese, 
Dutch, and British. This is only one of the many instances showing the 
tendency of the British Government to abolish time-honored usages 
in India, without regard to the wishes of its population; and, unim- 
portant as many of these changes may seem to us, they all serve to 
foster a spirit of discontent that may lead to serious trouble. This 
conduct on the part of Great Britain is all the stranger in view of the 
stubborn opposition of that country to the adoption of the scientific 
and logical metric system. 

In Bombay, the weight of pearls in tanks is made the basis of their 
valuation ; the tank equals 24 ratti or about y2 grains troy. The 
square of the number of tanks is multiplied by 330 and the quotient 
divided by the number of pearls ; this gives the number of chevviis, or 
chozvs, as they are sometimes called, and the market price of the 
chevvii for a given class of pearls shows their value. If, for instance, 
we have 56 pearls of a certain quality, weighing 5 tanks, and the 
chevvu of these pearls is worth 14 rupees, the sum would be as fol- 

^ — 5 — ^ =2062.5 rupees, or about $825. 

In this case, as in the other system of weighing which we have men- 
tioned, the chevvii is only a nominal weight ; but there is in India a real 
weight unit which bears this name.^ 

The high esteem in which the pearl was held by the Hindus is well 
illustrated by the following statement from an old treatise on gems: 
"A pearl weighing two kalanjas (about 180 grains) should not be 
worn even by kings. It is for the gods, it is without equal."* 

An interesting account of a great savant's experience, in the early 
part of the sixteenth century, regarding the value of pearls, is given 

'See pp. 124-127. 'From "Navaratnapariska," in Finot, "Les 

''See "Modern Metrology." Lewis d'A. Lapidaires Indiens," p. 158. 
Jackson, London, 1882, p. 369. 


by Guillaume Bude^ (1467-1540), the celebrated French Hellenist 
who lived during the reign of Francis I and who is regarded as the 
founder of the College de France. In his work entitled "De Asse," he 
states that he once inquired of a gem dealer in Paris whether the latter 
could recall the weight of some remarkable pearl which had passed 
through his hands. The dealer replied that he had seen one weighing 
30 carats (120 grains), whereupon another gem dealer, who was 
present, remarked that he had in his possession one of 40 carats (160 
grains). This pearl was sold a few days later for 3000 gold crowns 
($6750). On another occasion Bude was told that a pearl of exquisite 
beauty weighing 30 carats, had been sold to the Duchesse de Bour- 
bon, daughter of Louis XI of France, for the sum of 4000 gold 
crowns ($9000). 

In regard to the manner of computing the value of pearls Bude 
writes: 'T think the ratio of these prices can be calculated. When I 
asked a gem dealer what was the value of a pearl of four carats [six- 
teen grains], according to the formula, he replied: T have seen such a 
pearl sell for thirty gold crowns [$67.50].' Whereupon I asked: 'How 
much would you estimate one weighing eight carats [thirty-two 
grains] ?' 'At least two hundred gold crowns [$450],' he answered; 
and as I continued to ply him with questions, gradually increasing the 
weight, he responded in such a way that I could understand that the 
increase of the price bore not a numerical, but a proportional relation 
to the weight; so that the above mentioned eight-carat pearl, having 
double the weight of a four-carat pearl, was valued at seven times as 
much. The same was true of a pearl weighing twelve carats, twenty 
carats, and so on; the price augmenting by a greater and greater in- 
crement as the weight increased." 

In the "Coronae Gemma Noblissima" of Wilhelmus Eo (1621, pp. 
32, 33), an instance is given of the rapid changes that are pos- 
sible in the worth of a pearl. A large and beautiful pearl was brought 
to Nuremberg by a merchant who had paid 500 florins for it ; he soon 
found a purchaser among the merchants there, who was willing to 
pay him 800 florins. This latter merchant in his turn disposed of his 
gem for 1000 florins, and shortly after it again changed hands twice, 
the first time at an advance of 200 florins and the second at an advance 
of 300 florins. All this happened within a few days. The writer tells 
us that the last purchaser, who paid 1500 florins for the pearl, took 
it with him to Venice "where the wealthy dames wear a great treasure 
of beautiful pearls as necklaces upon their bare skin, and he will not 
have lost anything on his pearl there." 

In 1884, Mr. Edwin Streeter was asked by a member of a London 

'Guillielmi Budaei, "De Asse," Venice, 1522, Lib. V, pp. 67, 68. 


syndicate to proceed to the East, to value a large quantity of jewels, 
as a heavy sum of money was about to be advanced to a certain Power, 
to provide the sinews of war. On his way he was requested to stop at 
one of the principal towns in Germany to purchase some jewels which 
had been valued for probate but were not easy of sale in that market. 
The valuation paper was shown to him, and after examining the orna- 
ments, he agreed to take them at the prices named. Among them was 
an old gold brooch of Russian manufacture, valued at £4; in the center 
of this brooch was what appeared to be a piece of hematite, but was in 
reality a fine, round, black pearl, weighing yy grains. The color 
had faded from exposure to the sun. This pearl was brought to 
London, and the outer layer was taken off, when a perfect black 
pearl of 67 grains was uncovered. This was sold to a manufactur- 
ing jeweler in London for £400; but, having heard that in Paris there 
was a pearl that would exactly match it, Mr. Streeter bought it back 
again for £600, and then sold it at a large profit to one of the Paris 
crown jewelers, who, in his turn, sold the pair to a rich iron merchant 
for 50,000 francs (£2000 or $10,000). Since then the sum of 100,000 
francs (£4000 or $20,000) has been refused for this pair of matchless 
black pearls. At present values they may be worth double this sum. 

At different times the values assigned to the different forms and 
colors of pearls have varied. For instance, in the French Encyclopedie 
of 1774 (Vol. XII, p. 385), it is stated that pear-shaped pearls, al- 
though they might be equally perfect and of the same weight as round 
pearls, were valued much less than these. Even in the case of well- 
matched pairs, their price was a third less than that of round pearls. 

As early as the sixteenth century it was not uncommon that jewelers 
who had in their possession a fine pear-shaped pearl would have a rep- 
lica of it molded in lead, and then send the casts to the large cities of 
Europe and the East. If a mate was found for it, the respective own- 
ers soon came to terms, for such pearls command a much higher price 
together than they do separately. 

An interesting story is told of no less a collector than the Duke of 
Brunswick, who was so generous to the city of Geneva. For many 
years every pear-shaped pearl from every land had been submitted to 
him for examination. He always claimed the privilege of examining 
it alone for a moment or two and in every instance he returned it. At 
last a new pear-shaped pearl of marvelous size and beauty was heard 
of in a distant country. It was sent to Germany, where the duke was 
visiting at that time, to a local dealer who acted as agent for the 
owner. The price demanded for it seemed excessive, but the duke took 
the pearl, stepped aside for a moment, and said, quick as a flash, "The 
pearl is mine." The next day he showed it with a mate he had owned 



for many years and that was a most faultless match. Through all the 
years of his search he had never informed any one of his intention to 
match the pearl he already owned. 

In 1879, at the time of the death of the father of Sultan Buderuddin 
of the Sulu Islands, a box of large and fine pearls was ainong the 
treasures he left behind him. Many of these disappeared, but 
some of them came into the hands of Sultan Buderuddin and his 
mother. The former sold those which he had inherited, in order to 
defray the expenses of a pilgrimage to Mecca, in 1882. His mother, 
who exerted a great influence over the conduct of afifairs, retained a 
number of the pearls, and it was always difficult to induce her to part 
with any of them. When, as very rarely happened, she was persuaded 
to do so, she invariably got a higher price for them than they would 
have commanded in London, because she was never anxious to sell, 
and always said: "Why should I sell my pearls? If the Spaniards 
come to attack us, I can put them in a handkerchief and go into 
the hills; but if I had dollars I should need a number of men to carry 
them." We do not yet know what became of the stolen pearls. 

Many times has a dealer put nearly all that he possessed into a fine 
pearl or necklace, frequently without a reward ; often gradually buy- 
ing more and more, hoping for some great patron to relieve him. 
When the client appears, there is happiness, but when he does not, 
there is woe. This instance is well illustrated when Philip IV of Spain 
asked of the merchant Gogibus: "How have you ventured to put all 
your fortune into such a small object?" "Because I knew there was a 
king of Spain to buy it of me," was the quick reply. And Philip re- 
warded the faith of the jeweler by purchasing the pearl. 

Caire and Dufie' state: 

We need have no fear that either the price or the use of pearls will diminish 
when we consider the great demand for them both on account of luxury and 
superstition. There is no Hindu who does not regard it as a matter of religion 
that he should pierce at least one pearl on the occasion of his marriage. This 
must be a new pearl which has never been perforated. Whatever may be the 
mysterious signification, this very ancient usage is, at least, very useful for 
the commerce of pearls. 

In 1898, one of the writers had a long talk with his late chief, who 
had, at that time, devoted sixty years of his life to the jewelry profes- 
sion. In the course of the conversation the latter remarked: "It seems 
to me that pearls are too dear" ; to which the writer rejoined : "Have 
pearls ever gone down in price during your entire connection with the 
jewelry profession?" The answer was: "No, they have always ad- 

' Caire and Dufie, "La Science des Pierres Precieuses appliquee aux Arts," Paris, 1833. 


vanced." Whereupon the writer said: "I can give you statistics for 
two hundred years preceding your earHest experience, which prove 
that pearls constantly advanced in value during that period." 

The following are the names given to the different kinds of pearls, 
according to their origin. 

The term "oriental" designates those pearls that are found in the 
true pearl-oyster, and have a marine or salt-water origin, being found 
either in the ocean or one of its adjacent tributaries, and belonging to 
one of the numerous species of the Margaritiferas. 

The term "fresh-water" is given to those pearls that are found in 
the fresh-water brooks, rivulets, rivers, or fresh-water lakes, and not 
in salt water, and which belong to the Unionidae. 

The term "conch" is applied to that variety of pearl which is usually 
pink, or yellow, in color, and that is either found in the univalve shell, 
known as the common conch (Strombus gigas), or in the yellow shell 
(Cassis madagascarensis) . 

The word "clam pearl" is used to designate those pearls that are 
found in the common clam of the Atlantic coast, and are either black, 
dark purple, purple, or mixed with white, more especially if they are 

"Placuna pearl" designates those pearls that are found in the Pla- 
cuna, or window-glass shell, in the East. They have a micaceous lus- 
ter, are rarely of much value, and are sold entirely in the Orient, 
almost exclusively for medicinal purposes. 

"Oyster pearl" signifies those concretions that are found in the com- 
mon edible oyster (Ostrea). They are generally black, purple, or with 
a mixture of black and white, or purple and white. They are devoid of 
nacreous luster and possess neither beauty nor value. 

"Coque de perle" designates the globuse walls of the nautilus and 
possibly other shells that have a pearly nacre; they are almost hemi- 
spherical and are either round or long, having a pearly effect. 

"Abalone": a name applied to those pearls that are found in the uni- 
valve "ear-shell" or azvabi, as it is called in Japan. They are gen- 
erally green, blue-green, or fawn-yellow, and have an intense red, 
flame-like iridescence. They are rarely round, generally flat, or ir- 
regular, and are occasionally worth several hundreds of dollars each. 

"Pinna pearls" : those pearls that are found in the Pinna, or wing- 
shells of the Mediterranean and adjacent seas. These possess no ori- 
ent, but are more highly crystalline than any other pearls. They are 
almost translucent and have a peculiar red or yellow color, and are 
of little value except locally. 

"Cocoanut pearl" : this name is given to those pearls that are found 
in the giant oyster or clam of the vicinity of Singapore ; they are erro- 



neously called cocoanut pearls because they have the appearance of the 
meat of the cocoanut. They are often of great size, but have no com- 
mercial value. 

The following are special designations of the dififerent varieties of 
pearls according to their forms and appearance: 

Paragon : this term was formerly used to designate large and ex- 
ceptionally perfect or beautiful pearls, usually weighing over one hun- 
dred grains. 

Round: when the pearl is absolutely spherical, as if turned on a 
lathe, without any flattening or any indentations on the sides. 

Button or Bouton : if the pearl is domed on top and has either a flat 
or slightly convex back. 

Pear-shaped : when the pearl is formed like a pear, terminating in a 
point, and is either flat at the lower end or rounded. 

Drop-shaped: when the pearl is elongated like a pear, but is larger 
at the lower end than a pear-shaped pearl. 

Egg-shaped : when ovate in form, rounded more or less at each end, 
or formed like an egg. 

Cone-shaped : applied to pearls that are elongated and rounded with 
one flat end, and have the form of a cone. 

Top-shaped: a name given to those pearls that are broad, flattened 
at the top and rounded on the sides, terminating in a point, like a 

Seed-pearls is a name given to pearls that are round or irregular, 
and weigh one fourth grain or even less. They are frequently so small 
that 18,000 are contained in a single ounce, and they are often sent 
from the East in bunches of about a dozen or so of strings. 

Dust-pearls. When seed-pearls are very small they are known as 
"dust-pearls"; they are really as fine as dust and have very little value; 
still, their form is in many cases wonderfully perfect. 

Petal pearls are those which are somewhat flat, frequently more 
pointed at one end than at the other, and have the appearance of a 
petal or leaf. 

Hinge pearls are those pearls that are long, generally pointed at either 
or both ends, and are found near the hinge part of the shell. They are 
divided into two distinct forms, namely dog-tooth, and wing-shaped. 

Wing pearls: those that are elongated or irregular, resembling a 
wing or part of a wing. 

Dog-tooth: applied to pearls with pointed ears, elongated, and 
which are narrower than the wing pearls. 

Slugs: a name used for the very irregular, distorted pearls, fre- 
quently made up of masses or groups of small pearls ; usually without 
luster or form, and of little value except for medicinal purposes. 


Nuggets : when the pearls are somewhat round, but are indented or 
shghtly irregular. 

Haystacks: when the pearls are either round or oval, with the top 
considerably elevated. 

Turtlebacks : when the pearls are a trifle longer than they are wide, 
with a domed surface not much elevated. This form is quite prevalent 
among American pearls. 

Strawberry pearls : those that are round or elongated and entirely 
covered with prickly points, somewhat resembling a strawberry or 
pickle. It is believed that these irregular marks are frequently pro- 
duced by minute pearls. 

"Blister" and "Chicot" are names applied to those pearls that are 
found embedded within a nacreous coating, often containing mud, 
water, or imperfect mother-of-pearl. After these "blisters," as they 
are termed, are broken, and layer after layer has been removed from 
the contents, very fine pearls have frequently been found. 

Peelers : a term applied to pearls having imperfect surfaces or skins 
that may have some inner layers which are perfect. Pearls having 
opaque bands or rings are rarely peeled with much success as this 
opaque layer frequently extends to some depth. 

Cylindrical pearls: for pearls that have the form of a cylinder, being 
elongated and flattened at each end. 

Hammer pearls: when pearls are long and somewhat rounded and 
assume the shape of a hammer or barrel. These are rounded or domed 
at the side and flattened at the ends. 

Baroque (Wart pearls in German) : when pearls are not of any per- 
fect form such as round, pear, ovate, or any regular form, they are 
termed baroque, and this term covers a large class of varieties, such as 
all that follow (except seed- and half-pearls). 

Double, triple, or twin pearls are those that are made up of two or 
more pearls united together in a single nacreous coating, showing, 
however, that they are still separate pearls. 

Monster pearls: this name was formerly applied to very large, 
irregular, pearly masses which either resembled some animal or were 
adapted to form the head, trunk, or other part of an animal : these are 
also occasionally called "Paragons." 

Bird's-eye: a name used for a pearl that has dull spots, giving it the 
appearance of a bird's eye. 

"Ring-a-round" is a term applied to such pearls as are black, brown, 
pink, or white, and have a circle running around the pearl itself of 
some distinctive contrasting color, as white on black, pink on brown or 
black on white. 

Embedded pearls are those that are partly or entirely surrounded 


by mother-of-pearl, having been enveloped and passed outward from 
the interior of the shell by the mollusk so that in time the pearl would 
have been lost on the outside of the shell. These embedded pearls are 
occasionally found in the manufacture of mother-of-pearl articles. 
When the mother-of-pearl is split, the pearl will fall out from between 
the layers. 

Half -pearls is the name given to such pearls as are round and spher- 
ically domed, and are either somewhat flat or almost the shape of one 
half of a whole pearl of the same diameter. They are usually made 
by cutting off the best part of a hemispherical bright spot from a large 
irregular pearl; frequently two to four cuttings are made from the 
bright spots of a single pearl, each of the cuttings having the appear- 
ance of half a pearl. 

The so-called Indian pearls have a faint rosy tint with much orient. 
These are generally pearls from the Ceylonese fisheries that are sold 
from the Bombay side. The term "Madras white" describes the 
whiter varieties, there being a preference for these in Madras, while 
the rosy, yellow, and darker shades are favored in Bombay. 

Australian pearls are generally a pure waxy white and lustrous, 
often with a silver-white sheen, extremely brilliant and beautiful. 

Nearly all the Venezuela and Panama pearls have a faint golden- 
yellow tint, very often extremely lustrous, and are especially desired 
by the darker skinned people and brunettes. 

The preference at various times has varied with different peoples : 
in China and India, golden-yellow and satin-yellow pearls are pre- 
ferred ; from Panama we have the very white ; in Bombay the yellow 
pearls from the Persian Gulf are highly appreciated. 

Yellow pearls from other shells than the pearl-oyster are frequently 
offered for sale in the East, where they are greatly appreciated, al- 
though they find little favor in England. Some of these pearls are at- 
tributed to the pearly nautilus (Nautilus pompilius). This may be the 
case with those that have a pearly luster, but those that have the ap- 
pearance of porcelain, and are as bright as polished china, are cer- 
tainly not from this shell, but evidently from the large Melo or other 
shells of that character. Some may come from the large conch {Cas- 
sis madagascarensis) . A yellow pearl, very perfect in form and color, 
and weighing more than one hundred grains, was shown at the Paris 
Exposition of 1889 and was valued at 50,000 francs. 

Wonderful golden-yellow pearls with a saffron tint are unusually lus- 
trous and beautiful. One of the most remarkable pearls of this character 
is of a brilliant golden-yellow color which belongs to an American lady, 
and weighs 30^/3 grains. These pearls are from Shark's Bay, West 
Australia, and only a limited number of them are found annually. 


Black pearls do not seem to have been regarded with any favor by 
the ancients, and we find no mention of them by medieval writers. 
Only fifty years ago a perfectly round, black pearl, weighing 8 
grains, was sold for £4 ($20) ; to-day this pearl would easily bring 
fioo ($500). Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III, may be 
said to have brought them into favor; she owned a splendid necklace 
of black pearls which was sold at Christie's, after the fall of Napoleon, 
for the sum of £4000 ($20,000). Some time later, the Marquis of 
Bath bought, at Christie's, the pearl which formed the clasp of the 
necklace, paying £1000 ($5000) for it; he destined it for the center of 
a bracelet. 

Greenish-black pearls are perhaps valued higher than any other col- 
ored pearls, if they have the proper orient; this is probably partly ow- 
ing to their rarity. A bluish-black pearl possessing a fine orient com- 
mands almost the same price as a pure black pearl. Those which are 
found in the Placuna placenta are often of a dull gray hue, while those 
produced by the Pinna squamosa are generally brown in color. 

Baroque pearls were formerly much worn and appreciated in Spain 
and Poland. Their price varies greatly, according to their size, their 
beauty, and also to their scarcity in any particular place. The pieces 
of pearl detached from the shells— often half-pearl and half mother- 
of-pearl, and called "de fantaisie"— are always very irregular in 
form, and sometimes ofifer a certain resemblance to a part of the hu- 
man or animal form.^ 

How is it that such quantities of jewels are continually brought 
from the East, and such a wealth of them continues to exist there, 
when there are rrow no very extensive mines that maintain a constant 
supply? The reason is that from time immemorial, precious stones 
have been the form in which wealth, in those lands, has been hoarded 
and preserved. Until very recently, in the Orient, interest-bearing 
securities have been unknown; and hence jewels have been sought 
and kept as an investment, and sold only when money was needed for 
special purposes, as in times of war, famine, or other emergency. 

Their small bulk made them easy to conceal and to transport, and 
hence they were well adapted for such use. How long this condition 
will last, is perhaps dependent only upon the introduction of interest- 
paying investments, and of the new forms of Western civilization that 
involve greater' expenses and require means of income in excess of the 
older and simpler conditions. 

The wealth of jewels possessed by Oriental monarchs, notables, and 
dealers, has been the theme of story and tradition, time out of mind. 
We of the West have been disposed to regard these tales as largely ex- 

^ Charles Barbot, "Traite Complete des Pierres Precieuses," Paris, 1858, pp. 464, 465. 


aggerated, and to some extent they may be ; yet any one who has wit- 
nessed an important social function or state occasion where East In- 
dian rajahs and nabobs are present, knows that the profusion of 
jewels which they wear is simply astounding to our Western eyes. 
These objects represent, moreover, the gatherings of generations and 
centuries; they are heirlooms and ancestral treasures, priceless to 
their owners as the pride of their houses ; handed down from fathers 
to sons in long succession ; and they have also the investment feature 
already noted, in that whenever necessity arises they can be turned 
into available funds. 

The manner of keeping and of selling such objects is also different 
from ours. If it be a question of buying gems from an Eastern owner, 
the best are never shown first, but on the contrary, the most inferior. 
The purchaser must either be content with these, or else must prove 
clearly that he is a substantial buyer or evince a knowledge and appre- 
ciation that mark him as a judge of such objects. The order in which 
they are produced is, first the poorest, then successively, poor, medium, 
fair, good, fine, and at last the rare and wonderful prizes. 

In visiting an Oriental dignitary, his jewel-treasures are not all 
shown at once, as at an American reception or an Indian durbar, or 
even as a collector or connoisseur among us exhibits his cabinet, ar- 
ranged for choice display. The method is far different. The visitor 
may be shown a few objects in the first day or hour; perhaps a few 
more later in the day; some on the next day or the one following, 
and so on ; and he may remain a guest for weeks, and never see all, or 
the finest of the jewels belonging to his host. When they are pro- 
duced, moreover, they are not in iron caskets or in gold or silver jewel- 
cases, covered or lined with fine leather or with silk or satin. On the 
contrary, they are often in old ginger jars, shabby boxes, tin cans, and 
all sorts of unsightly or unpromising receptacles, which, when placed 
between the owner and his guest, may well cause the latter to wonder. 
Nor is his surprise lessened as the wrappings are unfolded, one after 
another, perhaps a dozen old cloths, until the piece of jewelry or the 
splendid pearl is at last brought to view, after having been hidden from 
sight in its manifold wrappings for months or perhaps for years. 

But this method of keeping such treasures is not in reality so 
strange as if appears. There are none of the provisions that we have 
for the responsible safe-guarding of investments or valuable objects, 
— no fire-proof safes, no banks, no deposit-vaults. Security is best at- 
tained by concealment in unattractive and improbable receptacles, and 
by dividing and distributing the treasured objects. The owner, too, 
must learn to know his visitor quite well before he exhibits to him all, 
or the best, that he possesses. Hence the oriental method, though so 


Seed-pearls and gold ; Chinese ornaments of the nineteenth century 

Complete set of seed-pearl jewelry in original case 
New York, i860 ' 


.peculiar to us, has been the best adapted to the conditions among those 

As an illustration of the interest taken by Oriental potentates in the 
collection of jewels, we quote an instance from Marco Polo, who, cen- 
turies ago, wrote the following:^ "Several times every year the King of 
Maabar sends his proclamation through the realm that if any one who 
possesses a pearl or stone of great value will bring it to him, he will pay 
for it twice as much as it cost. Everybody is glad to do this, and thus 
the King gets all into his own hands, giving every man his price." 

Great quantities of pearls, the result of centuries of accumulation, 
and exceeding in splendor the collections of the present day, must have 
been garnered up in many cities of the Orient during the period of 
their prosperity. But these cities have disappeared, wrecked and 
ruined by fire and sword, and no vestige of their former wealth re- 
mains with them. Their treasures have been looted, hoarded, buried, 
or scattered to the four ends of the Orient, frequently finding their 
way in former times to Europe, but now more often to America, where 
fine gems always find a generous buyer. 

In Syria, and some of the Oriental coimtries, until recently, and per- 
haps at the present time, it has been the custom, when a native wished 
to embark in the pearl business, for him to allow himself to drift grad- 
ually into a state of vagrancy, becoming a veritable tramp for fully a 
year. Then, with the money that he had himself or that which was 
supplied by his backer, he would visit the pearl fisheries and shrewdly 
acquire the gems to the,best advantage, returning again as a vagrant ; 
for if it were known at any point along the route that he carried with 
him sums of money his life would be in jeopardy, and he would proba- 
bly never reach the fisheries ; or, if he did, the chances are that he 
would never return. This may rerhind us of Marco Polo's old coat, in 
which he had concealed some valuable gems, the gift of the Grand 
Khan. His wife heedlessly gave the coat to a beggar and it was only 
regained by a clever stratagem. 

The product of the pearl fisheries, either that of entire fisheries 
where they are managed by a company, or the gatherings of mer- 
chants, or even the single gems which may be acquired by the smaller 
merchants, all these usually find their way to the great markets, al- 
though occasionally they change hands at once. In the East they are 
sent either to Bombay, Calcutta, Madras or Colombo ; frequently they 
are intended for a higher market. Many of them remain in the East, 
for in the East to-day a fine pearl is as much prized as ever, and 
there are those who love pearls as much as did the King of Maabar in 

* "The Book of Ser Marco Polo, the Venetian." Trans, and ed. by Col. Heary Yule, 

London, 1871, Vol. II, p. 275. 


the time of Marco Polo. However, the world over, there is a feeling 
that if things are sent to the greatest market there will be an oppor- 
tunity for disposing of them at the greatest price. Therefore, the 
larger number of parcels of exceptionally fine pearls are sent to the 
London market, a few of them going to Paris, the cable, often within 
a few days after their arrival, informing the sender of the acceptance 
or rejection of a parcel, or of a new offer which is often accepted. 
In this market they are acquired by the dealers, who frequently ex- 
hibit many times before the lot is purchased. 

Pearls from a fishery are in many cases of mixed quality ; that is to 
say, they are of different sizes and varying grades of perfection as 
regards skin, color, and orient. These parcels are often sold directly 
on offers to dealers, but generally they are sold by brokers who show 
the various parcels to the dealers, each of the latter in turn making his 
offer on that portion of the parcel which is of most value to him. Thus 
a single dealer may want one pearl, a dozen, or even twenty or more, 
to complete a great necklace, or else to add to, or improve the necklace, 
by better gradviation or by increasing the evenness of the color. When 
the broker receives enough offers to give him the desired price for the 
entire parcel, the sale is consummated, and each one who has made an 
offer and who has sealed his particular parcel until his offer is accepted 
or rejected, receives his portion. Pearls do not grow in the form of 
necklaces, although they are frequently seen in this form only, and to 
create a large necklace means not only the use of the pearls of one 
fishery alone, but it often requires a selection from pearls of various 
sizes, the product of many fisheries. 

It is needless to say that even the shrewdest dealers do not always 
succeed in their purchases of lots whiclxare to be broken up when the 
proper number of bids are obtained. 

When the pearl revival came in 1S98 there was a sudden and rapid 
upward tendency in the prices, because at that time, in England, money 
could be borrowed upon a very low rate of interest, — as low as 3 per 
cent., — and it was a temptation to a number of young men to enter as 
dealers into the pearl trade. The result was that a number of new 
stocks were created, not for a regular, but for a speculative demand, 
and this tended to advance the price spasmodically, rather than gradu- 
ally, as it would have risen by regular consumption. However, when 
the foreign market became higher, the demand for pearls was not as 
great as had been anticipated, and there was a sudden adjustment of 
prices and a readjustment of the pearl stocks, resulting in the elimina- 
tion of a certain number of speculative dealers ; and, notwithstanding 
the state of the fisheries, pearls have not advanced so rapidly in the 
past two years as they did from 1898 to 1905. 


More than 90 per cent, of the pearls of commerce, whether they 
are round, perfect, half- or seed-pearls, are of oriental origin ; that is, 
pearls from the true pearl-oyster. About 8 per cent, are probably 
from the fresh-water mussels, three fourths of which are from the 
United States. 

American fresh-water pearls have had many prejudices to over- 
come, often because of the natural indifference in regard to anything 
that is found at home or is easily obtainable. It has been said that, in 
comparison with foreign pearls, they had less specific gravity: that 
they were not so hard, and that their luster was not as good. It is 
certain, however, that the skin is generally smooth, and although 
they may not have so peculiar an orient, their brilliancy equals that 
of any known pearls. Sometimes they are translucent and either pink 
or of a faintly bluish tint, like molten silver. More frequently their 
hue is white, rose, pale yellow, or pale copper, deepening to copper 
red until they resemble the most intense and highly polished copper 

According to the estimates of the value of European fresh-water 
pearls given by seventeenth and eighteenth century writers, their worth 
was considered to be one half that of oriental pearls of approximately 
the same quality. Few European pearls, we feel sure, were ever found 
that possessed the wonderful beauty and brilliancy of the pearls found 
either in the Miami or the Mississippi and its many tributaries. 

So great a quantity of the poorer quality of pearls have been found, 
principally in the Mississippi Valley, that a foreign dealer has bought 
30,000 ounces of baroque pearls at $1 an ounce, and of the 
slightly better grades fully 100,000 dollars' worth were obtained 
in the year 1906. The exportation was strictly limited to the 
poorer qualities. When pearls are worth from $1 to $6 a grain 
and upward, they are rarely sent abroad, as the regular pearls 
of this quality are much appreciated by Americans, and find a ready 
sale in the United States. The poor pearls above mentioned were prin- 
cipally sent to New York, either from the local fishermen, or else 
through the dealers in sweet-water shells, in lots of a fraction of an 
ounce, or in bags weighing a number of pounds. Thirty thousand 
ounces would equal 18,180,000 grains. 

After all the fine pearls have been selected — buttons, baroques, 
turtlebacks, haystacks, wings, petals and other pearls that can be used 
in any way as a jewel on this side of the water — the balance of the 
material is sold by the ounce, varying in price from $1 to $5. 
These are shipped to Germany, France, and Austria, where they are 
again selected for cheaper forms of jewelry than are made in the 
United States. Of these pearls the baroques and slugs go mainly to 


Germany, while the somewhat finer ones are sent to France, where 
they are used in artistic but inexpensive work, such as flowers and 
other imitative forms, and in art nouveau jewelry. Some, again, are 
shipped to Algiers, Morocco, and Egypt, for the decoration of saddles, 
garments, etc., and quantities go to India to be used for medicinal 
purposes. In this way all the material is utilized and even the poorest 
is not wasted. No better proof can be required of the wide-spread 
appreciation of the pearl among all the races of mankind. 

So extensive has become the finding of American pearls that great 
quantities have been gathered together of all varieties. At the time 
of this writing there are many large single lots of these pearls, slightly 
irregular, and not of fine quality, but yet of sufficient regularity of size 
to be termed baroques. At one time such quantities were gotten to- 
gether that single papers of pearls, weighing one fourth, one half, 
one, two or three grains each, contained more than grains, and 
quantities of the wing and dog-tooth varieties weighing as much as 
20,000 grains were inclosed in a single paper. 

So prolific has been the yield of these common American pearls that 
the markets of Europe and Asia have almost been flooded with them. 
In 1906, a single shipment of 3500 ounces, troy (equaling over 
2,100,000 grains), were sent abroad, at prices varying from $1 to $15 
per ounce, according to the quality. This alone would represent a 
worth of $30,000 at one time. 

The turtleback is a form quite prevalent among American pearls, 
and they are often matched in pairs slightly resembling each other and 
weighing from 10 to 100 or more grains for each pair. Some 
of them are lustrous and many are of very good color and regular 
in form. Although differing but little in shape, they naturally are 
much less expensive than a finer formed pearl, and many of them 
have been sold for link buttons, and more especially for earscrews. 
Although they formerly sold for 50 cents a grain, they are now held at 
from $1 to $8 per grain. 

In regard to the prices of some of the finer American pearls, one of 
15 grains, of wonderful brilliancy, luster, and perfection, was 
sold for more than $2500— $166 a grain, or a base value of over $11 
a grain. Two extraordinarily well matched button pearls, weighing 
a trifle over 30 grains, were held at about $3500, or $115 a grain, a 
base value of about $8 a grain. 

At the time of this writing there are for sale in the United States 
a pair of button earrings, almost round, not of absolutely perfect 
color, weighing about 140 grains, the price being $6000; a round, 
slightly ovate pearl, not of the finest color, weighing 85 grains, held at 
$3500; and a wonderful pearl with a rich, faintly pink luster, round. 


but slightly button on each side, weighing about 44 grains, and beauti- 
ful as are American pearls, is held at a fanciful valuation of over $6000. 

The cupidity of many of the American pearl finders and pearl deal- 
ers cannot be exceeded even by that of the foreign pearl finder in any 
other land, and this is shown by the variety of materials that from 
time to time are sold to the unsuspecting public, or that are sent to 
pearl dealers in the large cities. This is surprising and suggests either 
that the sender believes the pearl dealers are not familiar with these 
deceptions, or else that he himself has been imposed upon, and is inno- 
cent in his commercial deceit. Among the notable examples are, first, 
spheres made out of the various shells, either from a good part of the 
material or from hinge-material, or else from the spot where the 
mussel is attached, these pieces of the shell being rounded and pol- 
ished ; such spheres vary in color from white to pink or yellow, just as 
the shell itself may have been colored. Second, the pupils of fish-eyes. 
Third, imitation pearls. Fourth, yellow or brown translucent or trans- 
parent masses of hinge-binding material having no greater hardness 
than horn, and about the same appearance. The most interesting, 
however, are the absolutely beautiful, smooth spheres of anthracite 
coal, which admits of a rich polish and has a peculiar luster; these 
they attempt to pass off as black pearls. 

It is interesting to note that in Arkansas a negro sold a very valuable 
pearl for a few dollars, under the persuasion of a white man, who, it 
is said, resold the pearl for nearly a hundred times more than what he 
paid for it. The local authorities investigated the matter; the case 
was brought to court, and the negro received a large advance on the 
price that had originally been paid him. 

If a list were kept of the thousand and one different methods of 
wrapping American pearls for shipment to the larger cities, it would 
show how much ingenuity is displayed in environments that frequently 
differ very much from each other. A box that has contained the pills 
that relieved him of fever, ague, and other ills due to swamps and 
damp climates, serves a secondary purpose for the fortunate finder of 
a pearl in forming a receptacle in which he can ship it to the greater 
market. Sometimes they are sewed in leather cut from gloves and 
shoes, or in strips of cloth, generally of the humbler varieties, such as 
calico or blue jean ; in other cases they are wrapped in tissue-paper 
and newspaper; and occasionally they are packed in boxes made by 
hollowing out a bit of wood, a cover being nailed over the opening. In 
almost every instance they have be'en treated with a certain degree of 

The majority of conch pearls which are carried by individuals to 
New York, London, or Paris, are generally brought in small papers or 


bits of cloth, each pearl being wrapped separately. Usually, there are 
a few white ones, a few yellow, a few pale pink, occasionally a few of 
a very beautiful rich pink, and once in a great while a fine, large pearl 
appears. Many of these pearls, commonly the inferior ones, are sold 
in the West Indies directly to the tourists who wish to purchase some- 
thing in the country through which they are traveling, with the result 
that better prices are generally obtained than would have been secured 
if the pearls had been sent to the great markets. 

The tariff on pearls at present operative in the United States is so 
indefinite as to have led to much serious misinterpretation and misun- 
derstanding, as well as to an endless chain of lawsuits, often resulting 
in serious loss to the dealer or client who imports. As a consequence 
of the enforced outlay of large sums for unexpected and additional 
duties, the importer, who was both ready and willing to pay what 
seemed to him a just duty, often found that, where he had quoted 
a price to a customer, he was a loser by the transaction ; and if, to 
escape this loss, he endeavors to dispute the payment of the duty, he 
becomes involved in an expensive and occasionally unsuccessful law- 
suit. On the other hand, a private buyer who has paid all that he feels 
he can afford at the time for a necklace, expecting to pay a duty of 10 
per cent, and interpreting the law to mean a duty of 10 per cent., may 
be called upon to pay a duty of 60 per cent., or have the notoriety of 
a public lawsuit, because the pearls have been strung, or because it is 
held that they had recently or at some former time been assembled as 
a necklace. In other words, if the pearls constituting such a necklace 
are bought at various times from various people, either here or in 
Europe, and not as a necklace, the duty is held to be 10 per cent., but 
if they are sent in one shipment, a duty of 60 per cent, is levied. As 
it is held that pearls assembled in the form of a necklace have a greater 
value than before they were so assembled, the purchaser might naturally 
expect to pay the 10 per cent, duty on this higher value, but instead of 
this a 60 per cent, duty is demanded on the higher assembled value. 

The ambiguity of this clause of the tariff is such that a logical ruling 
should be made by some superior official such as the Secretary of the 
Treasury. As the law is now interpreted, a pearl worth $20,000 can 
be brought in with a duty of 10 per cent. ; the addition of a simple 
gold wire makes it a piece of jewelry, with a duty of 60 per cent. It 
would seem that an amendment might be made to the tariff by which 
an importer, whether a private buyer or dealer, could be called upon to 
pay a 60 per cent, duty on a high \'^luation of the setting of the ring, 
brooch, or jewel, such as $20, $25 or $50; while the contents of 
the ring or ornament, whether a pearl, diamond, emerald, or a 
collection of stones, should pay a duty of only 10 per cent. This 


duty would sufificiently protect the jewelry industry, and would at the 
same time prevent the levying of an unjust and unexpected impost 
upon a fine pearl or gem of any kind. 

It is eminently desirable that those residing in the United States who 
purchase pearls in foreign countries, should, if possible, consult with 
the United States consul in the city where they make their purchase, 
in case they wish to bring the pearls into the United States. In this 
way a proper declaration can be made, they will be correctly instructed 
as to the duties upon the pearls, whether unstrung, strung, or set, and 
they will thus avoid all complications when they reach the United 
States. Of course, this may not be necessary should the firm with 
which they are dealing be able to attend to the matter for them. 

It must not be forgotten that the duty of 25 per cent, on 
precious stones, which was imposed during Cleveland's administra- 
tion, was enacted for the purpose of obtaining an increased revenue 
for the government, and there is no doubt but that the time was one 
of great financial stress. Yet even with the duty two and a half times 
as high as in the previous years, only a small fraction was added to 
the income of the Government. But one adequate explanation can be 
given of this remarkable decrease in the recorded imports, more espe- 
cially when we consider that legitimate dealers could, at that time, buy 
precious stones in New York City for less than it cost them to pur- 
chase them abroad and pay the duty. It seems, therefore, that a 10 
per cent, rate is calculated to produce the best and most satisfactory 
results in every way. 

As examples of the difficulties encountered in the attempt to arrive 
at a proper classification of pearls we cite the following cases which 
have been the subjects of recent litigation: In 1901, two very valuable 
collections of pearls were brought to this country. One of these con- 
sisted of 45 drilled pearls weighing in all 6y2]i grains and en- 
tered at $60,734; the other, of 39 pearls, having an aggregate 
weight of 678% grains and entered at $63,070. At first a duty of 20 
per cent, ad valorem was imposed upon these pearls under Section 6 of 
the Tarifif Act, treating them as "unenumerated articles partly manu- 
factured," according to the rule that had been followed since the enact- 
ment of the present tarifif. This was protested, and the case was 
brought before the Board of Appraisers.* Subsequent to the protest, 
however, the collector reliquidated the entry of the 45 pearls 
and imposed upon them a duty of 60 per cent, ad valorem, as pearls set 
or strung. This was done in view of Judge Lacombe's decision in an- 
other notable case which had been taken shortly before to the Circuit 

'General Appraisers 5146 (Treasury Department 23748). 


Court of Appeals.^ This decision was to the effect that pearls in any 
form not especially covered by paragraphs 434 or 436 of the Tariff 
Act should be referred to one or the other of those paragraphs, by sim- 
ilitude, according to the provisions of Section 7 of the Act. 

The testimony taken before the Board of Appraisers revealed the 
fact that each of the collections of pearls had been inclosed in a hand- 
some silk-lined morocco case, with a groove running through the cen- 
ter; in this groove the pearls were laid, the largest one in the middle 
and the others disposed on either side, graduated according to their 
size; the row or series having the effect of a necklace, although the 
pearls were unstrung. The importer testified that this arrangement 
was only made in order to enable him to judge of the size and quality 
of the pearls, and evidence was given showing that it was necessary to 
rebore some of them and to ream out the holes before any use could be 
made of the pearls in jewelry. Nevertheless, the appraisers adhered 
to their opinion that these gems had been selected especially to form a 
necklace, and that the time and labor requisite for the assembling of a 
carefully matched and graduated series of pearls suitable for a neck- 
lace constituted the main factor in its production, since the cost of 
stringing it was trifling; they, therefore, considered that such a series 
of pearls was dutiable, by similitude, under paragraph 434 of the Tar- 
iff Act as jewelry. An application was made to the Circuit Court of 
the Southern District of New York for a review of the appraisers' rul- 
ing,^ the judge decided against the petitioner,^ and an appeal was then 
taken from his decision. On December 12, 1904, the Circuit Court of 
Appeals decided that the pearls were dutiable, by similitude, at 10 per 
cent, ad valorem, under Section 7, paragraph 436, and the excess of 
duty collected was refunded. 

Another case has to do with a collection of 37 pearls, entered at 
$220,000, brought to New York in January, 1906. Duty to the 
amount of $22,000 (10 per cent, ad valorem) was paid by the importer, 
but the entry was liquidated at 60 per cent, and $110,000 additional 
duty demanded. This was paid and a protest was made to the Board 
of General Appraisers, who decided in favor of the petitioner. The 
Government appealed and the case* was tried in the United States 
Circuit Court on February 24 of this year (1908). It was shown 
that the pearls had been worn several times in Paris as a necklace, but 
the defense held that, as they were loose when imported and were not 
worth more collectively than separately, this was not material. The 
judge decided for the Government and an appeal has been taken in 
June, 1908. 

' December 6, 1901 ; 112 Fed. Rep. 672. ' Dec. 29, 1903. 

' Suit No. 3328. * Suit No. 4974- 

From a Persian illuminated manuscript of the eighteenth century, in the library of Robert Hoe, Esq. 


The proper classification of half-pearls has also been a matter of 
controversy. This question was brought before the Board of General 
Appraisers in New York on a protest' entered in 1897 against the im- 
position of a duty of 20 per cent, on several lots of so-called half-pearls 
imported during that year. This duty was imposed under Section 6 of 
the Tariff Act, providing for a duty of 20 per cent, on "unenumerated 
partly manufactured articles." The petitioner claimed that half- 
pearls were dutiable at 10 per cent, ad valorem, "either directly or by 
similitude or component of chief value, under paragraph 436, or as 
precious stones, under paragraph 435 of the Tariff Act." After hear- 
ing the testimony of a number of competent and reliable experts con- 
nected with some of the leading houses dealing in precious stones and 
pearls, the appraisers decided that the evidence showed that pearls, be- 
ing the product of animal secretion, could not properly be denominated 
stones, and that they were not in fact so designated commercially. At 
the same time, half-pearls could not be looked upon as "pearls in their 
natural state," since time and labor had been expended in their produc- 
tion; it was, therefore, evident that paragraph 436 did not apply to 
them. For this reason the original ruling was reaffirmed. 

In 1902 a duty of 60 per cent, was levied on an assorted lot of half- 
pearls under a new ruling which brought them by similitude under the 
provisions of paragraph 434 of the Tariff Act, providing a duty of 
60 per cent, on "jewelry . . . including . . . pearls set or strung." A 
protest was entered against this ruling also." In the meanwhile Judge 
Lacombe had given the opinion to which we have alluded above, and 
the Board of Appraisers upheld the duty of 60 per cent., basing their 
decision upon the fact that the material of half-pearls was similar to 
that of pearls in their natural state or of pearls set or strung, thus satis- 
fying the requirements as to similitude of Section 7 of the Tariff Act. 
The same section provides that, in case two or more rates of duty shall 
be applicable to any imported article, it shall pay duty at the highest 
rate, and therefore the 60-per-cent. rate applying to pearls set or 
strung was imposed, instead of the lo-per-cent. rate on pearls in their 
natural state. In both of these cases an application for a review was 
made to the United States Circuit Court.^ 


Basis. Amount in money U. S. 

of the country. currency. 

Great Britain Free 

British India Free 

Australia Free 

New Zealand Free 

' Genera! Appraisers 4166. ' Suits Nos. 2781 and 3324. 

'General Appraisers 5148. 



Basis. Amount in money U. S. 

of the country. currency. 

Canada, precious stones (pearls), pol- 
ished but not set, pierced, or other- 
wise manufactured ad val io% 

Austro-Hungary, unset. lOO kilogr. .60 kr $24.00 

Belgium, unenumerated. 

Bulgaria, precious stones (pearls) in 
the natural state, polished, cut, or 
engraved, but not mounted kilogr 75 lev ( francs) .... 14.25 

Denmark, unenumerated. 

France Free 

Germany, wrought (smoothed, pol- 
ished, perforated), unset 100 kilogr. .60 marks I4-40 

Unset, but strung on textile threads 
or tape for the purpose of packing 
and transportation 100 kilogr. . 100 marks 24.00 

Greece Free 

Holland, unenumerated. 

Italy, precious stones (pearls) 

wrought hectogr. ... 14 lire ; 2.66 

Montenegro, precious stones (pearls), .ad val. . . ; "^"^" ^^^" 

( max. 15% 

Norway, precious stones (pearls) kilogr... v"'"- - krone .66 

( max. 3 " .80 

Portugal, unenumerated. 

Portuguese S. E. Africa (Quilimane, 

Chinde and Zambesia) Export Duty ad val 6% 

Portuguese India, real pearls or seed- 
pearls ad val y2% 

Rumania kilogr 20 lei 3.80 

Russia, loose or threaded funt 10 rubles 5.00 

Finland Free 

Servia, threaded for facilitating their 

preservation or sale kilogr 50 dinars 9.50 

Threaded for special uses kilogr 70 dinars i5-30 

Spain, loose or mounted hectogr .... 25 pesetas 4.75 

Sweden, not set Free 

Switzerland, not mounted 100 kilogr. . 50 francs 9.75 

Turkey, unset gramme ... 3 piasters (gold) 

Egypt (on all imports) ad val 8% 

China (on all unenumerated imports) .ad val 5% 

Japan ad val 60% 

Persia, Export Duty ad val 5% 

Import Duty, precious stones, rough 

or cut, including fine pearls ad val 25% 

Morocco (on all imports) ad val 2i/^ % 




Basis. Amount in money U. S. 

of the country currency. 

Guatemala, imenumerated. 
Salvador, precious stones (pearls) un- 
mounted kilogr 10 pesos, nom. val.. . 9.60 

Nicaragua, precious stones (pearls) ..kilogr 100 pesos, " "... 96.00 

Honduras >^ kilogr. . . 5 pesos, " " .. . 4.80 

Costa Rica, unset kilogr. . . . 100 colones, " " .. . 96.00 

Panama ad val 15% 

Mexico, unset kilogr 100 pesos, " " .. . 96.00 

United States, not strung, not set ad val 10% 

Strung, set, or not, and split pearls 

sorted as to either size, quality, or 

shajje ad val 60% 

Philippine, unset ad val 1 5% 

Argentine Republic, precious stones 

(pearls) ad val 5% 

Bolivia appraisal... 3% 

Brazil (natural) ad val 2% 

Chili ad val 5% 

Colombia, precious stones (pearls) set 

in jewelry ad val 10% 

Ecuador, precious stones (pearls), set 

or not set kilogr 50 sucres, nom. val. . 48.00 

Paraguay, unset ad val 2% 

Peru, unset appraisal . . .3% 

Uruguay gramme. . . 13% on eval of i peso .12 

Venezuela kilogr 10 bolivars 1.90 

Cuba, not set hectogr. . . .$7.50 

surtax of 25% 
Dominican Republic ounce 6 pesos, nom. val. . . . 5.76 

The only changes from the customs lists as they existed in the 
tariffs of 1896 are as follows : 

1896 _ 1908 

Portugal 3% ad val unenumerated 

Mexico 50 pesos per carat 100 pesos per kilogram 

Nicaragua 5 pesos per libra 100 pesos per kilogram 

Haiti 2o7o ad val unenumerated 

San Doming(i 3.60 pesos per oimce 6 pesos per ounce 

Argentina 36 pesos per gram precious stones 5% ad val. 

Austro-Hungary . .24 florins per 100 kilogr 60 kroner per 100 kilogr. 

In the Parliament of 1727-1732, the duty on pearls and precious 
stones was abolished in England. We give facsimiles of the title-page 
and last leaf of the report of this enactment. 






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The total value of diamonds and precious stones imported into the 
United States during the period from 1867 to 1906 inclusive, was as 
follows : 

Glaziers' (except 1873-83) $2,215,972 

Dust 6,407,599 

Rough or uncut (included with diamonds and other stones, 

1891-96) 74,045,291 

Set (not specified before 1897) 36,170 

Unset (not specified before 1897) 124,615,662 

Diamonds and other stones, not set 207,138,629 

Set in gold or other metal 17,799 

Pearls (from 1903) 7,809,261 

Total $422,286,383 


FROM 1 89 1 TO 1907 INCLUSIVE 

Pearls, including 
pearls strung but 

Pearls in natural 
state, not strung 

Pearls split 

Year Pearls 

not set 

or set 






I89I .... $11,711 












































Note. Previous to 1891 pearls were classified with "jewelry and precious stones," and it 
was not until 1895 that most of them were reported separately. 

There are several things that are essential in pearl buying, and one 
of the most important of these is that the light in which the pearls are 
selected shall be absolutely pure daylight, with no reflections from the 


side or from above that can enhance or detract from the color of the 
pearl. This must be carefully considered, as it is not uncommon — 
more especially in certain parts of Europe — that jewelers have for 
their selling-offices rooms sumptuously fitted up with hangings of dif- 
ferent colors, and sometimes with ground glass windows, provided 
with heavy silk hangings, so that artificial light becomes a necessity 
to make the article sold plainly visible. In absolutely pure daylight, 
more especially with an unclouded sky — on such days as are probably 
more frequent in the United States than in some of the European 
countries — it is possible to see the exact tint or color of the pearls; that 
is, whether it is really a pure white with a tinge of pink or an orient 
tending to cream-white, or whether it is more or less tinted with what 
is considered a crude or red color in a pearl. Besides this, in a pure 
light it is possible to see whether the pearl is brilliant, and to estimate 
the exact degree of its brilliancy; whether there are any cracks, 
scratches, or mars on the surface; and, lastty, whether the form is 
entirely regular. H one should select two necklaces, one absolutely 
perfect and the other having slight blemishes as to color or brilliancy, 
or with breaks, marks, or irregularities, these two necklaces would be 
scarcely distinguishable from each other in artificial light, or in day- 
light which had been partly confused with artificial light; although 
the differences between the two would signify that the former was 
worth two or three times as much as the latter. 

At great receptions, large, and apparently magnificent pearls are 
frequently seen, which are really of inferior quality, and yet, owing to 
the absence of pure daylight, they can easily be mistaken for perfect 
specimens by any one not especially familiar with pearls. Indeed, if 
the royalties of Europe should wear all the pearls belonging to the 
crown jewels at the same time, in a palace or hall lighted with candles, 
gas, or even with some types of electric light, they would frequently 
seem to have a quality which many of them do not and never did pos- 
sess. It is, therefore, essential for the buyer to use every precaution 
in reference to the light in which he examines his purchase. And we 
may add that it is just as essential that he should know the dealer from 
whom he buys; for, sometimes, after a few weeks or months, cracks or 
blemishes develop that were not apparent at first, more especially when 
the pearls have been "improved" for a prospective purchaser. 

A test to ascertain the quality of pearls is quaintly expressed in a 
work published in 1778, as follows: 

How to know good pearls. To discover tlie hidden Defects and Faults 
of a Pearl and to know whether she is speckled or broken or has any other 
imperfections, the best way is to make trial of it by the Reverberation of the 


Sun-beams; for by this means your eye will penetrate into the very Centre of 
the Pearl and discover the least defect it has ; you will then see whether it be 
pure, or has any spots or not, and consequently you may the better guess its 
value. ^ 

If you can cause a ray of sunlight or of electric light to fall on a 
pearl, the light will penetrate it and show any specks, inclosed blem- 
ishes or impurities. This can probably best be done by wrapping about 
the pearl a dark cloth of velvet or other material and having the ray 
fall slantingly, whereby the defects are much more clearly shown than 
if the ray be allowed to fall directly upon the gem. 

A pearl necklace valued at $200,000, shown at one of our recent 
great expositions, was to all appearances a remarkably beautiful col- 
lection, and it was only when the intending purchaser took them 
from their velvet bed and held them in his hands that he realized 
that there was not a perfect pearl in the entire collection. It must 
have taken more than a week of study for the clever dealer to arrange 
them so that the best part, sometimes the only good part of each pearl, 
should be where the eye would fall upon it. After they had been 
turned in the hands a few seconds, not one perfect specimen was 

The demand for pearls has been so great, and the enhancement of 
value so rapid, that the greatest ingenuity has been employed in pre- 
senting the best part of the gems to view, as well as in many other 
ways. The result is that when pearls are to be used as borders or as a 
gallery on a comb or brooch, they are pierced in such a way that only 
the best side shall be outward, so that the general effect produced is 
that of a perfect row of pearls ; but a careful examination may show 
that two thirds or three fourths of them are irregular, and bear abra- 
sion marks, indentations, or other imperfections. 

Following the analogy of the well-known precious stones — the 
diamond, the ruby, the sapphire, the emerald and those of less im- 
portance—the pearl is equally potent in creating great and permanent 
values for itself in catering to the human love of adornment; and 
though these large values may be greatly in excess of the original 
price that it commanded in the native oriental market, yet the in- 
creased valuation gives profitable livelihood to hundreds of thousands 
of persons. These embrace the dealers who sell the original pearls in 
lots, those who clean and treat them, others who drill and string them, 
and others again who handle them in setting jewelry of all kinds, and 
also the large ntimber of dealers throughout the entire world who 
sell either the jewelry or the unmounted pearls. Directly connected 

'John and Andrew van Rymsdyk, "Museum Brittanicum," London, 1778, p. 8, note. 


with the industry in localities where the fisheries are pursued are a 
sufficient number of persons to populate a city the size of Boston, and 
to these we may safely add an equal number as herein noted, aggre- 
gating about 1,000,000 people whose livelihood is directly dependent 
upon the production and traffic of the pearl industry, and who for lack 
of it would be forced to seek some other employment. Brought thus 
to a concrete form, one may readily grasp the important bearing which 
the pearl has in a comprehensive estimate of the complexity of the 
world's civilization as we know it to-day. 



THE pearl is at the height of its perfection when taken from 
the shell; from that moment it never improves. When it is 
drawn from the depths of the ocean by the hand of man and 
given to the charmed gaze of the world, it is as complete 
and perfect in its way as the most beautiful work of art, and, whether 
as tiny as the point of a pin or as large as a marble, it is always a 
perfect, fully formed individual ; it is always in its maturity. 

Who found the first pearl? When did he discover it, and what 
were his emotions? Was it found by primitive man? Very likely 
it was discovered by chance in a mother-of-pearl shell cast up by the 
sea, or perhaps in a mussel in a brook. If this happened in an oriental 
country, the native must have already seen many equally remarkable 
objects, endowed with life, while the pearl could charm him only by 
its luster and purity. But, besides the impression produced by its 
beauty, it must have aroused in the soul of the discoverer the sensa- 
tion of wonder which every new and lovely object excites when seen 
for the first time. That primitive man appreciated the pearl is evi- 
denced by the fact that it is found in the mounds and graves of the 
American continent, from the State of Ohio to Peru in South America. 

Almost all pearls are in perfect condition for setting when they are 
found ; all that needs to be done is to rub them with a damp or moist 
cloth or with a powder of finely pulverized small or broken pearls, and 
they are then ready for the succeeding processes. If there are any 
blemishes, these can be removed by peeling or "faking," although few 
fine pearls require any such treatment; and then the gems may be 
drilled, strung, and set, and all that is necessary for their preservation 
is due care and attention. 

Pearls are frequently injured in opening the shells or in removal of 
the outer layers around the true pearly nacre. Both the Chinese and 
the Sulu fishermen are very clever in the art of pearl peeling and pearl 
improving. This method is called "faking," although it is a perfectly 
legitimate operation. All it requires is a very sharp knife, a set of 
files, and a powder obtained by grinding pearls or pearl shells. This 


powder is placed upon a buffer of leather or cloth to polish such parts 
of a layer as may not have been entirely removed. The Chinese are 
unusual adepts in pearl peeling and have been frequently known to sell 
as true pearls scales that they have removed, after filling these scales 
or peelings with wax or shellac, and strengthening them by cementing 
them on a piece of mother-of-pearl. They are then set with the con- 
vex side up and the edges carefully covered so as to conceal the decep- 
tion. The Chinese are also very expert in removing layers of mother- 
of-pearl from an encysted or buried pearl, taking off layer after layer 
with the greatest care, and with a delicacy of touch that enables them 
to realize the moment when the pearl itself has been reached, rarely in- 
juring the latter, although the coating is almost as hard as the inclosed 

Peeling is employed to remove a protuberance or acid stain, to 
smooth a surface broken by abrasion, or to take off a dead spot pro- 
duced by careless wearing of the pearls and allowing them to rub 
against one another. There are many instances where, by careful 
peeling, a perfect layer and skin have been brought to light, and where 
irregular or broken pearls, or those with a blemish, have been ren- 
dered much more valuable by a good peeler. But in many other cases 
the pearl has not only been reduced in value, but even rendered alto- 
gether worthless, when it had a dead center or was pitted with clay or 
other impurities. 

Ha pearl has been injured by coming in contact with the acids fre- 
quently used in medicine, the surface may become roughened; or it 
may be scratched by being rubbed against a stone in case of a fall or 
other accident. H the surface only is injured, it can be restored to its 
original beauty with only a slight loss of weight by carefully peeling 
off the outer layers. 

In skinning or peeling a pearl, a magnifying glass, or preferably a 
fixed lens, such as is used by engravers, is of great assistance, and a 
sharp knife, or, better still, the sharpened edge of a steel file, is a very 
essential instrument. Gloves are often worn by the peeler so that no 
perspiration shall reach the pearl and cause it to slip in the hand while 
it is being manipulated, and thus have a layer or more injured by the 

Streeter mentions a very interesting incident in regard to a genuine 
black pearl. This pearl, set with diamonds, was shown in a jeweler's 
window; but after exposure in this way for some time to the sun's 
rays, the brilliant black luster disappeared and gave place to a dull, 
grayish hue. When the pearl was removed from its setting, it was seen 
that the part which had not been exposed to the light was of as good 
color as when first removed from the shell. It was finally determined 

Drilling a pearl by means u( the bow-dri 

Thin layers <.if pearl removed by peeling ( faking) 

H\amples uf properly and poorly drilled pearls 

Side view of same pearls 




to skin off the outer layer, an operation which was performed with so 
much success that the original brilliant black hue was fully restored, 
proving that the action of the sunlight had only changed the color of 
the surface. We may add that the pearl, although it was shown in 
the sun, may never have had a good "skin" or layer exposed; or the 
layer which was not perfect may have been affected by an exudation 
of the wearer produced by illness or medicine. 

When pearls are of a poor yellow or dull brown tint, unscrupulous 
dealers sometimes intrust them to an operator who drills them almost 
entirely through, cracks the skin slightly and impregnates them with a 
solution of nitrate of silver ; this affects the outer layers of the pearls, 
and, after its decomposition, the metallic silver is deposited, and they 
become absolutely black. The effect is sometimes hastened by ex- 
posing them to the fumes of nitrate of silver. These pearls are then 
rubbed up or slightly polished and may retain a good appearance for 
a number of years. The upper layers, however, which have been in- 
jured by the chemicals used in the coloring, often scale off, and the 
poor and unattractive color beneath appears. This is sometimes not 
detected until years after and when tlie dealer from whom they were 
purchased has been forgotten. The breaks or cracks which have been 
made can readily be detected by means of a pocket lens, if the observer 
is at all experienced. In many cases the outer layer of the pearl has 
been colored a good black, although scarcely any crack is visible. 

Frequently, when a small knol) or protuberance appears in the pearl, 
or when it has adhered to another pearl or to the shell itself, this pro- 
tuberance is polished off, and the pearl is drilled at this point. This 
portion of the surface, however carefully polished, will never have 
the true orient, but it is placed in the necklace in such a way that it is 
completely hidden. Often pearls become scratched through rough 
usage, or by the knife used in opening the shells. These are occa- 
sionally polished by means of pearl-powder, or else the entire outer 
layer is removed, the new skin beneath appearing absolutely bright 
and perfect. It sometimes happens that a pearl will have a good 
luster, but a slightly roughened skin. This is at times polished 
down ; but an experienced eye easily detects that it has been 
tampered with. Yellowish pearls are sometimes bleached by means 
of strong bleaching substances such as chlorine or other powerful 
reagents, which, although they may whiten the pearl, cause it to be- 
come very friable, as the animal substance becomes more brittle. 
Pearls treated in this way frequently wear off, layer by layer, until 
fully one half of the pearl is worn out of the setting. When pearls 
are stained yellowish from the exudations of the skin, grease, or other 
impurities, they can be cleaned by putting them in moist caustic mag- 


nesia and allowing it to dry on them. When this is removed, the pearls 
will often be found much purer in color than before. 

In various parts of the world certain dubious methods have been 
used for restoring the beauty of pearls which have grown dim. In 
India they are rubbed in boiled rice. Some persons have even fed 
them to a chicken fastened in a coop ; after the lapse of an hour or two 
the chicken is killed, and the pearls rescued from their temporary lodg- 
ing-place, where they have been somewhat restored by the digestive 
juices of the fowl. 

Some curious tests applied to pearls are given us in a Hindu treatise 
on gems by Buddhabhatta. For instance, we read : "If the purchaser 
conceives a doubt as to the genuineness of a pearl, let him place it 
during one night in a mixture of water and oil with salt, and heat it. 
Or let him wrap it in a dry cloth and rub it with grains of rice ; if it do 
not become discolored, it should be regarded as genuine."^ It is need- 
less to state that these tests would be either useless or injurious. 

If the reader is the owner of a pearl or of a pearl necklace and feels 
that the pearls need treatment, any attempt to follow the directions 
given by many ancient writers would infallibly result in their injury or 

Pearl drilling is a most delicate operation. It is necessary that the 
drill points should have the proper shape, — that is, should not be too 
tapering, but slightly blunt at the end, and turning somewhat in a 
V-shape, — it is also important that the drill should be revolved with 
perfect regularity, so as not to jar or jolt the pearl, as this is likely to 
lead to the cracking of the pearl or to the breaking of the drill. This 
latter happens not infrequently, and is due either to the structure of 
the pearl, the clogging of the drill, or to encountering a hard grain of 
sand inclosed in the pearl. Should the drill break in the pearl, it can 
best be removed by drilling from a point directly opposite, and slowly 
forcing the broken drill outward. This process requires great care 
in the regulation of the speed, and great exactness of direction in order 
to meet the broken drill accurately. 

Pearl drilling was formerly a laborious process, and it was scarcely 
possible for a driller to perforate more than from forty to fifty pearls 
per day by means of the bow-drill operated by hand. Now, by the use 
of a modern machine, 1500 pearls of average size can be drilled with- 
out any difficulty in the same time. 

Some of the most successful drilling of fine pearls is done by means 
of the bow- or fiddle-drill. The arm of this is made either of steel 
or of wood, with a strong cord stretched across it in the style of an 
archer's bow. The drill is inserted in the end of a brass circular disk 

Finot, "Les Lapidaires Indiens," Paris, 1896, p. 24. 


with a V-shaped groove on its edge, to admit of the string being passed 
entirely around it like a pulley, so that when the drill is placed on any- 
thing and held at the other side, and the bow is moved up and down, 
the wheel with the drill end rotates rapidly. 

If the pearl is not properly secured, if the drill point is too irregular, 
if it is not properly centered, or if it is too rapidly rotated at the start, 
one or more layers of the pearl are likely to be broken, giving an irreg- 
ular, ragged appearance. If, again, the drill is rotated too rapidly as 
it is leaving the other side of the pearl, one or more layers are occa- 
sionally forced ofif, and this in turn will produce a break on the pearl. 
It happens not infrequently that pearls are broken away on the surfaces 
at both drill holes if the workman is careless. 

As pearls have become more valuable, only the most efficient work- 
men are employed in drilling them. Whereas formerly a drill hole 
would be half a millimeter in diameter, at present it is much smaller, 
and such drilling requires the greatest skill in manipulation. The use 
of these very fine drill holes is due principally to the fact that pearls 
have become so valuable that the slightest loss, even the fraction of 
a grain, would amount to a considerable sum in a necklace of large 

When a pearl has been perforated with a very fine drill hole, the 
hole may be enlarged somewhat by using a slender copper wire, the 
fineness of the drill hole itself, charged with either diamond-dust, 
emery, or sand. When the wire thus charged is drawn in and out, 
the drill hole can be enlarged to any desired size. 

A large pearl is held in the hand or secured in a wooden block, or 
else it is held in a small pair of forceps with a rounded, cup-shaped 
receptacle at the end, which is usually lined with chamois leather and 
is pierced with a hole through the center. This hole serves as a guide 
for the drill, directing it while the pearl is being perforated. Adjust- 
able cups or forceps with cup-like ends of every size are necessary, 
according to the size of the pearl ; and in order that it may be properly 
seen, it is requisite that the pearl should always be larger than the cup 
in which it is placed. 

The poorest part or spot is selected to form the beginning of the 
drill hole. The pearl is placed in a pair of calipers with a circular 
disk, one end of the caliper being placed on the spot to be pierced, the 
other end naturally touching exactly opposite, the pearl absolutely cen- 
tering it. As these caliper ends have been rubbed with either rouge, 
lampblack, or some colored sitbstance that will readily rub ofif, these 
two spots of color remain on the pearl and serve as a guide for the 
driller. The drill end is then placed on the pearl, and the bow moved 
up and down; and so rapid is this work that five pearls weighing fifteen 


grains each can be drilled with the greatest care in less than one hour's 
time. Of small pearls, weighing about one grain, as many as fifty- 
have been drilled in less than one hour by the hand-drill method. 

Many of the thinnest and best drills are made out of thin steel 
needles. These are ground flat by means of a small carborundum 
wheel, so as to have two flat sides. They are then thin pointed, and 
with a V-shaped edge. These prevent the drill from clogging up, 
allowing the fine dust to pass upward and outward readily, and the 
hard steel almost invariably penetrates the central core of the pearl, 
no matter how hard or tough this may be. The needle-drill is then 
secured in a small chuck attached to the brass revolving wheel. 
Some recommend lubricating a drill with milk when it is employed 
for piercing a pearl, but a well-made drill, that allows the dust to 
escape as it is formed, does not require this treatment. The drill 
should always be made to revolve quite slowly so that no unnecessary 
heat may be generated by friction to injure the color of the pearl 
and also to avoid the possibility of the drill becoming clogged by the 

By means of centering calipers or markers, the driller, especially in 
the drilling of a large pearl, will generally drill first from one end, 
and then reverse the pearl and drill from the other end, meeting abso- 
lutely in the center. This prevents the breaking of the outer layer of 
the pearl. A skilful workman can, by turning the pearl, so operate the 
calipers that the true center can be obtained, even if the pearl is not 
absolutely round, and the drill holes so centered that the irregularity 
of the pearl is less apparent. 

When the pearl has been half drilled through from one side, consid- 
erable caution is necessary in drilling from the other, that when the 
two drill holes are about meeting the drill be not revolved too rapidly, 
as the clogging is likely to crack the pearl or break the drill. If the 
pearl is only to be drilled one fourth or one half through, the depth can 
always be gaged by watching the drill-end, first, by measuring the 
drill-end itself, and, secondly, by noting to what part of it pearl-powder 

Pearls are more easily manipulated than anv other gems. They are 
also more easily damaged. Still, when properly treated by the work- 
man, there is no material that offers him more satisfactory results than 
the pearl, if good judgment be used. 

Drillers occasionally find that when the drill reaches the center of 
the pearl, there is a sharp click, the pearl often breaking at this point. 
This is evidently due to the fact that a harder kernel may exist in the 
center, such as a tiny grain of sand, which can turn the drill-point; or 
else the resistance may cause the tiny drill to break. 


When a pearl is cracked by a blow or by some accident, it is cus- 
tomary to drill it at the end of the largest crack; this method pre- 
vents the crack from extending in that direction. These fissures 
are sometimes partly filled by means of a solution, and may not be visi- 
ble at the time when the pearl is bought, but they are liable to appear 

To illustrate the difiference in the care used in drilling, we have 
selected eight pearls from a paper of poor ones, and reproduce two 
views of them, one to show the irregularity of the pearls, and the other 
to show the varying size of the drill holes. Those on the left were 
drilled by an artist, while those on the right show the work of an inex- 
perienced driller. 

At present pendant pearls are never drilled entirely through, and 
rarely more than half way. But in the Orient, and even in Europe from 
the fourteenth to the sixteenth century, they were often entirely 
pierced; even pear-shaped pearls were entirely drilled through, with a 
metal edge projected below for safety. Frequently old pearls, and more 
especially oriental pearls, have been entirely drilled through, as are 
often large oriental rubies, diamonds, and sapphires. When these are 
set, the holes are either plugged with pearl shell and polished smooth, 
or a tiny ruby or diamond is set in a metal rim fitting entirely into 
the drill hole or only slightly projecting. This is well instanced in 
the portrait of Marguerite of France (1553-1615), in which the 
artist Delpech shows all the pear-shaped pearls worn by the French 
queen entirely pierced. 

Frequently, where pearls have been drilled by oriental workmen, the 
drill holes are exceedingly large, five or six times the width of the silk 
string; in fact often from one to two millimeters in diameter. In the 
search to supply the great demand, many oriental pearls have been 
secured which formerly were strung to an oriental jewel by means of 
a thick wire ; it is necessary to close this aperture, as the pearl would 
lie unevenly on the string. This is done by introducing a mother-of- 
pearl plug, through which a new drill hole is made. Unless the pearls 
are unstrung, this is rarely visible; but not infrequently the plug drops 
out. In other cases the pearl has been drilled not only from end to 
end, but also from the side, and this third hole is filled with a plug of 
mother-of-pearl and ])oHshed over so as to hide the blemish from the 
buyer. It is also no uncommon thing for a purchaser to find, after a 
year, that cracks begin to develop where none apparently existed at the 
time of his purchase, or they were so minute as to be considered of no 

One of the earliest references to drilling pearls was made by Ruge- 
rus, a monk who lived in the eleventh century. He says : 


Pearls are found in the sea-shell and shells of other waters ; these are per- 
forated with a fine steeled instrument which is fixed in wood, having a small 
wheel of lead, also another wood in which it may be turned, to which a strap 
must be placed by which it may be revolved. But should it be necessary that 
the aperture of any pearl be made larger, a wire may be placed in the opening- 
with a little fine sand, one end of which may be held in the teeth, the other in 
the left hand, and by the right the pearl is conducted upwards and down- 
wards, and in the meantime sand is applied, that the apertures may become 
wider. Sea shells are also cut into pieces and are filed as pearls, sufficiently 
useful upon gold, and they are polished as above.* 

In "The Toy Cart," a Hindu drama by Sudrake, who lived about the 
beginning of the Christian era, there is a description of a jeweler's 
workshop attached to the house of a courtezan. He says : "Some set 
rubies in gold, some string gold beads on colored thread, some string 
pearls, some grind lapis lazuli, some cut shells and some grind and 
pierce coral."' 

The Chinese and Korean method of drilling pearls differs materially 
from that of the Occident. A pear-shaped pearl is frequently drilled 
horizontally and secured by wire or silk, and not drilled perpendicu- 
larly, as with us, to have a metal wire or peg fastened into it. H the 
orientals drill a pearl perpendicularly, the hole is generally carried en- 
tirely through it, and a gold knot, which is used as a bead, is placed at 
the lower end, and sometimes a tiny gem is set in this peg, or else the 
pearl is secured either by some projection below, or by means of a bit 
of enamel, or some other object may be attached to the gold or wire 
below it. Button pearls, especially those of the abalone, are drilled 
horizontally throtigh the base and secured to the ornament, or to the 
silk or other material on which they are sewed, by means of a thread 
or wire ; or else they may be drilled from below by means of two slop- 
ing holes forming a V, the thread or wire being passed upward until 
it strikes the angle, and then passed outward again through the other 
branch of the hole. Many fine, round, and pear-shaped pearls of 
oriental origin may be seen with this end closed either with a speck of 
pearl, a diamond, or a ruby. 

A most interesting and careful description of the methods of 
drilling pearls was given by James Cordiner in his valuable vol- 
ume, "A Description of Ceylon," published in London in 1807, pages 

^ "An Essay upon Various Arts, in Three ' "Indian Art," by Sir George C. M. Bird- 

Books by Theophilus, called also Rugerus, wood (South Kensington Museum Art Books), 
Priest and Monk, Forminsr an Encyclopedia Pt. II, pp. l88, 248. 
of Christian Art of the Eleventh Century." 
Translated, with notes, by Robert Hendrie. 
London, 1847. 

Scrapiiig ends uf silk^ !■ r ^Lriii^in;^ jjcarl necklace 

Stringing a pearl collar in sections : cleaning and reaming out a pearl 

Sliding a pearl-along the string in pearl stringing 

t.3: ;rig.T»>^»>.3Bi«»««P^ 

ursmjs. .ij^ 

Tying a knot between pearls in pearl stringing 


The next operation which claims attention is the drilling of the pearls. I 
neglected to inspect this part of the business; but have been informed that 
much admiration is excited, both by the dexterity of the artist, and the rude 
simplicity of the machinery which he employs. A block of wood, of the form 
of an inverted cone, is raised upon three feet about twelve inches from the 
ground. Small holes or pits of various sizes are cut in the upper flat surface, 
for the reception of the pearls. The driller sits on his haunches close to this 
machine, which is called a vadeagrum. The pearls are driven steady into their 
sockets by a piece of iron with flat sides, about one inch and a half in length. 
A well tempered needle is fixed in a reed five inches long, with an iron point 
at the other end, formed to play in the socket of a cocoa-nut shell, which 
presses on the forehead of the driller. A bow is formed of a piece of bamboo 
and a string. The workman brings his right knee in a line with the vade- 
agrum, and places on it a small cup, formed of part of a cocoa-nut shell, which 
is filled with water to moderate the heat of friction. He bends his head over 
the machine, and applying the point of the needle to a pearl sunk in one of the 
pits, drills with great facility, every now and then dexterously dipping the 
little finger of his right hand in the water, and applying it to the needle, with- 
out impeding the operation. In this manner he bores a pearl in the space of 
two or three minutes ; and in the course of a day perforates three hundred 
small or six hundred large pearls. The needle is frequently sharpened with 
oil on a stone slab, and sometimes, before the operation is performed, is 
heated in the flame of a lamp. 

The large pearls are generally drilled first, in order to bring the hand in to 
work with more ease on those of a smaller size; and pearls less than a grain 
of mustard-seed are pierced with little difficulty. 

After the pearls have been drilled, they must be immediately washed in 
salt and water, to prevent the stains which would otherwise be occasioned by 
the perforating instrument. 

A quaint description of pearl drilling was given by Anselmus de 
Boot in 1609.^ 

Since all are not aware of the manner in which pearls are perforated, I wish 
here to give an account of the method. The handle. A, is held with the left 
hand, and then the handle, B, of the bow is pushed back and forth with 
the right hand, so that there is a reciprocal movement of the lance AC. The 
extreme end, C, has a needle, not so sharp as to come to a point, but slightly 
blunted. The needle is placed on the pearl which is to be perforated. If the 
pearls are too small to be held, they are fastened in the case, D, with a small 
hammer of soft wood, lest they should slip. The board is inclosed on every 
side by strips of wood so that the water which comes from the pearls shall not 
flow off. The bow being moved, the needle penetrates and pierces the pearl 
and it is not corroded by the water. 

A mythical story, but a pleasant one, is told of a great pearl collector 
who had owned a wonderful pear-shaped pearl for many years and 

^Anselmi de Boodt, "Gemmarum et Lapidum Historia," Hanover, 1609. Lib. II, c. 40, 
"Quomodo margaritae perforuntur," p. 91. 


had absolutely failed to find any match for it. After years of fruit- 
less search he was at last rewarded by finding an absolutely perfect 
mate. He took this to his favorite jeweler in one of the great 
capitals of Europe, and ordered the new gem to be pierced to match 
the other so that both could be set. The jeweler called a small German 
boy from an adjoining workshop, simply saying, "Jakey, drill this pearl 
to match the other." The collector was dumfounded that no caution 
should be given to the boy when so important a piece of work was 
intrusted to his care. Scarcely had the boy left the room when the col- 
lector inquired of the jeweler, almost in consternation, "How can you 
trust so valuable a pearl to so small a boy without a word of caution ?" 
To this the dealer replied: "Jakey is the most careful pearl driller I 
have ever known. I know that there will be no failure in the drilling. 
I have never cautioned him about such work. He never has drilled a 
pearl wrong. Had I warned him of the value of the gem or told him 
how important a piece of work he was doing, he probably would have 
become nervous and, as a result, your pearl would have been cracked 
The conversation had scarcely been completed before Jakey returned 
with the pearl as beautifully drilled as the original one which it 

In the Orient and elsewhere, when it is considered desirable to mount 
a pearl so that it shall not turn, especially when only one part of 
the pearl is perfect and that is to remain outside, the drill hole is some- 
times made square, that is to say, drilled round and then reamed 
out with a small saw until it becomes square, when a square wire 
is inserted; or else the pearl is first drilled with a tiny round hole 
and this is then reamed out until it is triangular, when a triangular 
wire is introduced. This method is sometimes used for studs or ring- 

In setting pearls with points or claws on the wire or band of a ring, 
the pearls are drilled only half way through. A gold pin is then in- 
serted, and sometimes a thread is cut into the pearl itself ; it is secured 
by means of gum mastic or some other strong gum. Occasionally, to 
add greater strength, a side pin is put in, so that the pearl is drilled 
with two bits of metal, which penetrate the one side in a perfectly 
straight line and the other at an angle of about twenty-five or thirty 
degrees (this is called side-pegging). This gives more strength and 
firmness to the pearl itself, and prevents it from twisting or twining 
and becoming loose. Sometimes the pearl hole is drilled so that the 
opening is that of a screw-thread, in order to hold it to the earring, 
the stud, or the ring. The gold pin which is inserted to attach the 
pearl to the ring or stud has a screw-thread also, and the peg or pin is 
screwed on as well as secured. 


An ingenious method, termed "keying," for securing the peg in 
pearls to be set on rings or studs, consists in drilling a hole half 
through the pearl and then two smaller holes or grooves on each side 
of the first. Cutting tools of a T-shape are now introduced into the 
aperture and worked about until the pearl is undercut all around, so 
that when a peg with a cross-piece is inserted, the latter can be turned 
within the pearl until it sets at right angles with the widest part of the 
aperture. In this way the peg is permanently secured and cannot slip 

The fact that in recent years more pearls have appeared in neck- 
laces that are irregularly bored, that the bore holes are so large that 
they are plugged with mother-of-pearl, or that one meets with pearls 
in which a plug has been placed in the side immediately in the center 
between the two drill holes, is due to the fact that the great demand 
has resulted in the destruction of many oriental ornaments in which 
the pearls were drilled in various ways, as well as in the destruction of 
the different Magyar and other semi-official jewels of eastern Europe. 

The most primitive known drills were the flint drills, made by the 
North American Indians by chipping chert or flint-like minerals to a 
fine point. With these rude instruments a large, irregular hole was 
made, which generally measured several times the diameter of the fine 
drill hole made by a modern pearl driller with an improved drill. The 
Indians are also said to have used hot copper drills for boring holes. 

The earliest, and still a very general and perhaps the best way of 
drilling pearls, is by means of the bow- or fiddle-drill. This method 
has been used in a more or less perfected form by all the aboriginal 
peoples of the New World from Iceland to Tierra del Fuego. But as 
none of these peoples were familiar with fine, hard steel, they scarcely 
ever succeeded in making drill holes as fine as those that can be pro- 
duced by the use of tempered steel. By the latter means, pearls half 
an inch in diameter are often drilled entirely through with an aperture 
no larger than a thin bit of straw. 

The largest and finest pearls are frequently drilled with the smallest 
holes, as the slightest loss in weight means a diminution in value. 
Then, too, a pearl with a small drill hole is not so liable to shift on the 
string, and thus is less likely to cut the silk thread which holds the 
pearls together. 

It would be difficult to enumerate all the tricks to which some jewel- 
ers now resort in order to utilize every fragment of a pearl they can 
lay their hands on. Some of them are wonderfully clever at recon- 
struction, but to the woman who loves pearls, nothing can take the 
place of the soft, beautiful, round gem, with its natural surface. 

In sorting pearls for the smaller necklaces, it is customary to open 


up a number of dozen bunches of the East Indian pearls as they are 
sent from the East, strung, the ends fastened together in bunches, and 
then sealed. These pearls are placed on a table and are first arranged 
according to color and luster on the sorting board. They are then 
grouped according to size and graduation, the greatest care being ex- 
ercised in the selection for color, luster, and form. In this way ten 
necklaces may be re-strung into ten others, the necklaces probably be- 
ing improved as regards selection, or else better arranged for the uses 
to which the jeweler wishes to put them. 

In the case of the larger necklaces, it frequently requires many years 
of selection and arrangement before one becomes perfect enough to 
pass the criticism or suit the fancy of the jeweler. 

We have no record as to when the first pearl necklace was strung, 
nor have we a definite record of the first use of silk for stringing a 
necklace. The earliest illustration that we have been able to obtain of 
the use of pearls in the form of a necklace is the one from Susa, in 
which the pearls were secured with gold. A Syrian necklace, dating 
about one or two centuries before Christ, was strung by means of a 
bronze wire. We will endeavor to give a few facts on the interesting 
process of preparing pearls for wearing. 

Pearl stringing is an art, easy as the process may seem, and it is 
interesting to note the precision, care, and delicacy with which the 
pearl stringer performs his task. The first step is to grade the pearls 
according to their size and color, so that they may produce the best 
possible efifect. The largest and finest pearl is placed in the center; 
alongside of this, on each side, are laid the two pearls next in size 
which are the most nearly alike in form and hue ; and so on to the end 
of the necklace. This grouping requires both experience and judg- 
ment, and is of great importance, since the value of the pearls is often 
considerably enhanced by a proper arrangement. A skilful stringer 
is able to grade them so cleverly that only a trifling difference will be 
found in the weight of the two halves of a necklace. 

The stringing process consists in securing the end pearl by a knot to 
the diamond, pearl, or other clasp which may be used. When a neck- 
lace is being strung, the thread is passed through the metal eye, or 
pearl, or other object that serves as a clasp. It is then tied with one 
knot, passed through the next pearl, and knotted between that and the 
second pearl, and sometimes between the second and the third, thus 
making the joint doubly secure. The other pearls are then strung 
in their order, a knot being placed after each fifth, fourth, third, or 
second pearl, or, should there not be enough to give a proper length 
to the necklace, between each single pearl. The deftness with which 
the knot is tied so as not to hold the pearl too tightly, and risk the 


breaking of the thread, and the precision with which forty, fifty, and 
even sometimes several hundred knots are made on a single string, is 
a pleasing operation to witness, and requires the greatest care and 
nicety of touch. If knots are made frequently between the pearls, 
there is less danger of losing them should the thread break, as only 
one or two can fall off ; sometimes, indeed, when the drill holes are very 
small, the silk thread, waxed or unwaxed, fits so closely that the pearl 
does not become detached even when the thread breaks. 

The thread used is invariably of silk of the highest standard of 
purity, strength, and texture, undyed, and not containing any chemi- 
cals. Two or three of these threads are held together, then with a 
knife the edges are very carefully scraped till the combined mate- 
rial of the three threads is less than the thickness of one. Some use 
a needle to scrape or fray to a sharp point. Then this point is stiffened 
by means of "white glue," the best material of this kind being pure 
gum arabic dissolved in water. A little of this is rubbed on the 
pointed threads. It stiffens in a moment, then the pearls are passed 
on, one after the other. If the pearls to be strung are already 
on a necklace, this process is simplified by the unknotting of the end 
of the necklace to be re strung; two or three of the pearls are slid on 
to the new string, the ends or points of the new necklace thread are 
twisted together with the old ends and the pearls are simply trans-J 

Frequently the holes have been drilled so as to leave the rims rather 
sharp; in this way the thread may be frayed out or even cut. This 
sharp edge can easily be removed by careful reaming. Silk of pure 
quality is the best material known for stringing pearls. A series of 
experiments were made with every available fiber of sufficient dura- 
bility from every quarter of the globe, but silk alone was found to 
possess the strength, the flexibility, and the smoothness necessary to 
permit a very fine set of threads to pass through an opening as small 
as the drill hole of a pearl. In the case of a long chain or sautoire, 
more than three hundred pearls will be strung on a single row, one of 
over eighty inches in length containing over three hundred pearls, and 
it requires a degree of neatness and patience that few possess to do 
this in exactly the right way, so that the thread may not be cut, that 
the pearls may not be too tightly strung, and that the ends shall be 
carefully attached at the clasp, so that the necklace may hang well and 
there may be no danger of the ends breaking loose. 

According to the frequency with which it is worn, a necklace should 
be re-strung every three, six, or twelve months. The proper time for 
re-stringing can generally be determined by the stretching of the 
thread so that it can be seen either between the pearls or at either end, 


giving the impression that one or more pearls are missing. A newly 
strung necklace is taut. 

Where a collar is from thirteen to fourteen inches in length, there 
are frequently twenty-three rows of pearls, kept straight by four 
jeweled bars, and sometimes from ten to twenty-five pearls in a section 
between a bar. This would mean that there are more than two thou- 
sand pearls in a collar of small pearls. When one considers that at 
each bar and at the catch and clasp of the collar it is necessary to make 
a knotting, it is not surprising that it requires from three to four days' 
time of a very expert pearl stringer to string or re-string such a pearl 
collar. A splendid example of such a twenty-three-row collar is that 
belonging to Senora Diaz, wife of the President of the Republic of 

Frequent stringing may sometimes serve as a protection for pearls, 
as, if wax is used, the drill hole is likely to become coated with wax 
from the thread, and this prevents the absorption by the pearl of per- 
spiration or moisture of any kind through the thread. Indeed, the 
thread itself, when waxed, does not readily absorb moisture, and as 
the interior of the pearl also becomes waxed, this serves to protect it 
from the absorption of humidity of any kind. 

In making pearl necklets or mufif-chains, a piece of gold wire of the 
proper strength and pliability is taken. This wire is passed through 
the hole of the pearl and then cleverly bent into a loop on each side and 
firmly soldered. It is important that the wire should be very slightly 
smaller than the dimension of the hole in the pearl so that it may fit 
closely. Sometimes, instead of this method, a ring is soldered to one 
end of the wire before this is passed through the pearl, the other end 
being then secured in the manner described above. Still another 
method is occasionally employed ; in this a piece of the wire is bent into 
a ring, but not quite closed, the aperture being just large enough to 
admit the wire that has traversed the pearl ; in this way the wire can 
be introduced into the opening in the ring, which grips it tightly, and is 
then soldered to it. In many cases two small rings are strung on the 
wire on each side of the pearl before the loops are made, so that they 
interpose between the latter and the pearl itself. This serves to protect 
the sides of the pearl, as there is otherwise some danger that the hole 
may become chipped or ragged; the same result can be obtained if 
small caps, closely fitting the pearl, are used instead of the rings. This 
is, however, only possible when the pearl is quite round, and in this 
case the effect produced is often very attractive. 

Many of the pearls set as rings and studs are no longer set in points, 
but are set upon a peg, or are "pegged," as it is termed. Setting a 

' See portrait facing page 442. 












'^ > 


pearl in claws generally hides more than one half of the entire sphere. 
But if the pearl is not properly secured upon the peg, it will occasionally 
fall off. However, this can be obviated to a great extent by attaching 
the pearl to a double peg which keeps it from turning and also prevents 
its falling off. Pearls have occasionally been damaged with the shellac 
used, or when the gold peg on which the pearl is placed was too hot. 

In mounting very small pearls as link chains so as to form a con- 
tinuous pearly rope without any break in the way of gold links, occa- 
sionally V-shaped cavities are drilled into each end of the pearl, and 
the setting itself is hidden in this V-shaped cavity. This is only done 
where the pearls are small and not of great value. 

The jeweler, in setting pearls, must use the greatest possible care, 
first, in cutting away the settings, as they are fastened to the pearl, 
not to scratch or mar it; and then, when he files the settings, not to 
allow the file to touch the pearl, as both the steel tool and the file would 
injure it. He must particularly avoid placing the pearl too close to 
a diamond, ruby, or other precious stone; for, even if the pearl only 
slightly touches the gem against which it is set, a knock of the hand 
may mar the pearl's surface. More especially, as pearls are set at 
present, "pegged" and without points, it is of the greatest importance 
that they be worn in such a way that they may not touch the unexposed 
edges of any precious stones, as this also would injure the pearls. For 
lack of this precaution fine pearls have frequently been harmed. 

A large jewelry firm has under consideration the following pearl 
order : Any workman who in any way mutilates a pearl by filing, im- 
perfect drilling or shaping, or in any way affects the shape of a pearl, 
without the authority of the foreman, will be called upon to pay for 
the same. 

As pearls are natural objects, any change of the same to fit the 
setting, or for attachment to any gold object, mutilates the gem and 
greatly affects its value. If belonging to a customer, this frequently 
means its replacement, often at a great cost to the jeweler. 

Pearl "blisters" frequently have the appearance of being empty; 
they are generally filled with a fluid, either water or the product of 
animal and vegetable decomposition. These contents usually emit 
a peculiar and unpleasant odor. As the exterior of the inclosure 
gradually wears away and disappears, the contents of the blister are 
slowly absorbed by the shell itself, and any organic or insoluble sub- 
stances are deposited on its inner surface. 

Thus, when a shell shows any protuberance on this surface, the 
peeler will cut or scrape away a portion of the decaying shell behind 
the spot. Should he discover the hole of a borer, he lays the shell aside; 
but if he finds it to be perfect at this spot, it is evident that the inclusion 


came from within, and frequently it turns out to be an included pearl. 
This is removed by breaking the shell, or by cutting around the pro- 
tuberance very near to its edge, and then breaking away the shell. 
The pearl is often visible, and layer after layer of the covering mass 
is removed with the greatest care by the peeler, who is rewarded by 
bringing to light pearls of various qualities, and frequently those of 
great value. 

An instance in which, by opening a pearl blister, the speculator re- 
ceived a good reward is given by Streeter, who says : "The Harriet had 
the good luck to find, in 1882, a pearl 103 grains in weight, which was 
inclosed in a huge blister. It was a fine bouton, of splendid color in 
the upper portion, but a trifle chalky below. This was attributed to 
the admission of salt water into the shell through a hole made by a 
borer which happened to pierce the shell just where the pearl lay, and 
had penetrated the latter for almost a quarter of an inch." 

Sometimes pearl masses are hollow. Barbot' mentions that a 
French merchant residing in Mexico, having bought one of these 
pieces from a fisherman at a low price, resolved to satisfy his curiosity 
by finding out what was inside. He split it in two parts and was 
agreeably surprised to find a pearl weighing 14^4 carats (57 grains), 
so round, of such good water, and such fine orient, that he sold it in 
Paris for nearly 5000 francs ($1000) in 1850. 

Seed-pearl work was introduced into the United States, about 
seventy years ago, by Henry Dubosq, who had studied the methods 
employed in Europe and has been succeeded in this industry by his 
son, Augustus Dubosq. The father bought a large quantity of Eng- 
lish seed-pearl jewelry, brought it to this country, and hired a number 
of girls to take it apart carefully and re-string it with white horse- 
hair, to learn how it was made. With no more teaching, he estab- 
lished an industry that has already lasted for three score and ten 

Seed-pearl jewelry was most in vogue from the year 1840 to i860. 
It was generally sold in sets, in a case consisting of a collar, two brace- 
lets, two earrings, a small brooch, and a large spray or corsage orna- 
ment. If the object was almost round, occasionally there was a larger 
central pearl, weighing from one to five grains, usually a button pearl ; 
or, if the ornament was elongated, there were generally three larger 
pearls. These sometimes possessed a fairly good luster. Seed-pearl 
jewelry was at one time so popular, and the values were so small in 
this country, that a $1000 seed-pearl set formed a principal feature of 
the Tiffany exhibit at the International Exposition held at the Crystal 
Palace, New York, in 1855. 

' Charles Barbot, "Traite Complete des Pierres Precieuses," Paris, 1858, pp. 464, 465. 


^^^H^^^V " " 

--.^ ^m 




._--^.. -- '"■•^ 


Illustration of a mother-of-pearl shell, 
showing where a blister has been cut 
nut. In thi^ instance a large pear- 
shaped pearly blister appeared almost 
in the center of the shell. A dealer re- 
moved this by means of a saw, and was 
surprised to find that the molher-of- 
pearl, instead of remaining intact, parted 
in two pieces. Between these two 
pieces was a mass of green and white 
calcareous matter. The two upper fig- 
ures show the pearly side and the 
outside of the shell whence the blister 
was cut. The figures below show the 
inside and outside of each half of the 
blister and the earthy matter inclosed. 

A is the pearl sawn from the shell. 

B is the piece of pearl that parted 
from the back uf this pearly mass. 

C and F are two views of the included 
calcareous matter. 

D is the reverse of A, showing the 

E is the reverse of E; originally A 
rested on V>, 

There was no indication of any hol- 
'iiw space, or that the mass was not 


Seed-pearl tiaras sell for from $75 to $200 or $300 each. The work 
is almost entirely done by girls, either German or of German origin. 
As labor is higher and pearls have advanced in price, none of the old 
work could now be duplicated for the amount it cost twenty or thirty 
years ago. The stringing of the pearls on the English scroll means 
probably twelve hours of continuous work. An efificient pearl worker 
receives $3.50 a day, which consists of not more than eight hours, as, 
owing to the very trying character of the work, clear daylight is 
necessary to see the holes in the small pearls and in the mother-of-pearl 

The foundation of all seed-pearl work is mother-of-pearl. The shell 
is brought in thin plates, measuring from one and one half to two and 
one half inches square. One of the most popular and attractive pat- 
terns is the English scroll. If a design is to be repeated, a brass 
figure is made. For the fabrication of a brooch, for instance, a design 
is first made by drawing on a paper or cardboard ; then a brass plate 
or pattern is cut out, leaving spaces wherever there are to be no pearls. 
After this a slab of stock mother-of-pearl, nearest the size of the brass 
plate, is selected, and is sawn out, using the brass plate as a guide for 
the outlines. The mother-of-pearl is then pierced wherever a pearl is 
to be secured, and the pearls for its embellishment are chosen, and are 
strung onto the mother-of-pearl outlines with a special horsehair 
thread. All the work that remains for the jeweler is the addition of 
a pin or catch on the back. A representation is given of the designs, 
the brass plate, the mother-of-pearl, the horsehair, the pearls, and the 
completed brooch made by this model. 

Fine horsehair is used for stringing seed-pearls, because the holes 
drilled in them are usually too small to admit of the use of silk, and it 
is very important that what is known as pulled hair, taken from a 
living horse, should be used, as otherwise the hair is too brittle. This 
hair, in bunches of from eight to fourteen inches in length, is sold at an 
average price of $1.50 a pound, and frequently only one ounce is 
selected for use from the entire pound. 

All the pearls used by the seed-pearl workers are purchased in 
strings and bunches ; the finest are those known as the Chinese seed- 
pearls; they are drilled and strung in bunches, weighing three ounces, 
and are worth $40 an ounce. They are drilled with so fine an aperture 
that silk will not pass through the pearl, and only horsehair can be 
used. The Indian Madras pearls, however, have a larger drill hole 
and can be strung with silk ; they are at present worth fr