Scientific American Supplement, No. 362, December 9, 1882
Part 3 out of 3
the queen conch from the Florida reef, with a fine head cut into the
outer surface, showing how it is done. The tools of the worker in cameos
are of the most delicate description. Fine files, knitting-needle like
implements, triangular-shaped steel cutters, are arranged in a seemingly
endless confusion before the worker. The shell or piece of shell to be
cut is either lashed or glued to a heavy block or held in the hand, and
the face, animal, or other object outlined first with a delicate lead;
having thus laid the foundation, the lines are gone over with a delicate
needle first, then various kinds, the work gradually growing before the
eye, reminding one of the work of the engraver on wood.
LIVING BEETLES, ETC.
Insects have always been used more or less in decoration, especially in
Brazil, where the richly-colored beetles of the country are affected as
articles of personal adornment. Recently in a Union Square jewelry store
a monster beetle was on exhibition, having been sent there for repairs.
It was alive, and about its body was a delicate gold band, locked with
a minute padlock; a gold chain attached it to the shawl of the owner.
Sometimes they are worn upon the headgear, their slow, cumbersome
movements preventing them from attracting great attention. They are
valued at from $50 to $100 apiece. Snakes, the rich green variety so
common in New England, are worn by some ladies as bracelets, while the
gorgeous reptiles are often imitated in gold and silver, with eyes of
diamonds, rubies, or black pearls. Gold bears are the proper thing now
for pins. In the East the chameleon is often worn as a head ornament,
the animal rarely moving, and forming at least a picturesque decoration,
with its odd shape and sculptured outlines. Various other reptiles, as
small turtles, alligators, etc., are pressed into service. The curious
soldier-crab has been used as a pin. Placed in a box with a rich pearly
shell prepared for the purpose, it will change houses, and then, secured
by a gold or silver chain, roams about the wearer, waving its red and
blue claws in a warlike manner. Birds are, perhaps, more commonly used
as natural ornaments than any other, and a cloak of the skins of humming
birds is one of the most magnificent objects to be imagined. One, of a
rare species, was once sold in Europe for $5,000. Single birds are often
worth $700 or $800. A cloak of the skin of the great auk would bring
$8,000 or $10,000. Some of the most beautiful pheasants are extremely
valuable--worth their weight in gold. Tiger claws are used in the
decoration of hats, and are extremely valuable and hard to obtain.
Within ten years the alligator has become an important factor to the
artistic manufacturer. The hide, by a new process, is tanned to an
agreeable softness and used in innumerable ways. The most costly bags
and trunks are made from it; pocket-books, card-cases, dining-room
chairs are covered with it, and it has been used as a dado on the
library wall of a well-known naturalist. It makes an excellent binding
for certain books. Among fishes the shark provides a skin used in a
variety of ways. The shagreen of the shark's ray is of great value.
Canes are made of the shark's backbone, the interstices being filled
with silver or shell plates. Shark's teeth are used to decorate the
weapons of various nations. The magnificent scales, nearly four inches
across and tipped with seemingly solid silver, of the giant herring,
are used, while scales of many of the tribe have long been used in the
manufacture of artificial pearls.
The latter are perhaps the most valuable of all the offerings of animate
nature, and are the results of the efforts of the bivalve to protect
itself from injury. A parasite bores into the shell of the pearl bearer,
and when felt by the animal it immediately fortifies itself by covering
up the spot with its pearly secretion; the parasite pushes on, the
oyster piling up until an imperfect pearl attached to the shell is the
result. The clear oval pearls are formed in a similar way, only in this
case a bit of sand has become lodged in the folds of the creature, and
in its efforts to protect itself from the sharp edges, the bit becomes
covered, layer by layer, and assumes naturally an oval shape. This
growth of the pearl, as it is incorrectly termed, can be seen by
breaking open a $500 gem, when the nacre will be seen in layers,
resembling the section of an onion. The Romans were particularly fond of
pearls, and, according to Pliny, the wife of Caius Caligula possessed
a collection valued at over $8,000,000 of our money. Julius Caesar
presented a jewel to the mother of Brutus valued at $250,000, while
the pearl drank by Cleopatra was estimated at $400,000. Tavernier, the
famous traveler, sold a pearl to the Shah of Persia for $550,000. A
twenty-thousand-dollar pearl was taken from American waters in the
time of Philip II. It was pear-shaped, and as large as a pigeon's egg.
Another, taken from the same locality, is now owned by a lady in Madrid
who values it at $30,000.
Fresh water pearls are often of great value. The streams of St. Clair
County. Ill., and Rutherford County, Tenn., produce large quantities,
but the largest one was found near Salem, N. J. It was about an inch
across, and brought $2,000 in Paris. The pearls from the Tay, Doon, and
Isla rivers, in Scotland, are preferred by many to the Oriental, and in
one summer $50,000 worth of pearls have been taken from these localities
by men and children. Mother-of-pearl used in the arts is sold by the
ton, from $50 to $700 being average prices. The last year's pearl
fisheries in Ceylon alone realized $80,000, to obtain which more than
7,000,000 pearl oysters were brought up.
SEPIA AND SILK.
The sepia of the artist comes from a mollusk, and is the fossil or
extant ink-bag of a cephalopod or squid, while the cuttle-fish bone is
used for a variety of purposes. In the islands of the Pacific the young
of the pearly nautilus are strung upon strings and sold for $25 and $20
as necklaces. The tritons are in fair demand, and many tons of cowries
are sent to Europe yearly, while the shipment of a thick-lipped strombus
in one year to Liverpool amounted to 300,000. The rich coloring of the
haliotis is used for inlaying art furniture. From the pinna, silk of a
peculiar quality is obtained. It is the byssus or cable of the animal.
The threads are extremely fine, and equal in diameter throughout their
entire length. It is first cleaned with soap and water, and dried by
rubbing through the hands, and finally passed through combs of bone,
iron, or wood, of different sizes, so that a pound of the material in
the rough gives only about three ounces of pure thread. It is mixed with
a third of real silk and spun into gloves, stockings, etc., having a
beautiful yellow hue. The articles made from it are, however, not in
general use. A pair of gloves from pinna silk would cost $1.50, and
stockings about $3. Fine specimens of such work can be seen in the
Though not of animal origin, amber is one of the choicest vegetable
productions used in the arts. It is the fossil gum of pines. Great beds
of it occur at various points in Europe. On the Prussian seaboard it is
mined, and often washes ashore. In 1576 a piece of amber was found
that weighed thirteen pounds, and for which $5,000 was refused. In the
cabinet of the Berlin Museum there is a piece weighing eighteen pounds.
Ambergris, from which perfumery is made, is a secretion taken from the
intestines of the whale, and a piece purchased from the King of Tydore
by the East India Company is reported to have cost $18,000. Whales'
teeth, the tusks of elephants, and those of the walrus and narwhal, are
all used. Elephants' feet are cut off at a convenient length, richly
upholstered, and used as seats; the great toe-nails, when finely
polished, giving the novel article of furniture an attractive and unique
It is probably not generally known that the web of certain spiders has
been used. Over 150 years ago, Le Bon, of France, succeeded in weaving
the web material into delicate gloves. Prof. B.G. Wilder investigated
the question thoroughly, and was a firm believer that the web of the
spider had a commercial value, but as yet this has not been realized.
It would be difficult to find an animal that does not in some way
contribute to the useful or decorative arts.--_C.F.H., in N.Y. Post_.
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