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The Shell

A World of Decoration and Ornament

Ingrid Thomas

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Celebrates the extraordinary world of shells, including a worldwide directory of shell collections and grottos


The intricate beauty of shells has captivated humans since the earliest times. These gifts of nature have been put to an amazing array of uses - sharpened into tools, ground to make medicines, blown to make music. Millions of them were used as currency for nearly four millennia from the Americas through Africa to Asia. Shells have been worn as amulets to bring fertility, good fortune or protection from the evil eye. Above all, the beauty of shells has fired the imaginations of artists and crafstmen, and their work forms the lavish heart of this book.

From the simplest string of beads to designs in gold and precious stones, shells have inspired centuries of exquisite invention in silverware, ceramics, glass, textiles, furniture and fashion. They encrusted the garden grottos and pavilions of the 17th and 18th centuries, and in the 20th century influenced the forms of landmark modernist and post-modernist buildings.

Depictions of shells - whether mythological, symbolic, decorative, botanical or fanciful - are a recurring theme in visual art from the ancient world to the present day. Shells were among the exotic treasures brought back from the voyages of discovery, when they were so coveted by wealthy collectors that certain specimens could raise staggering sums at auction.

Ingrid Thomas explores the history of shell collecting, and explains how shells can be collected responsibly today without harming our precious marine environments.

Complete with a worldwide directory of shell collections and grottos and a photographic glossary of shells, this is the most comprehensive and inspirational volume ever published on the extraordinary world of the shell.

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'I wholeheartedly recommend this book to everybody who appreciates shells, to artists as a source of inspiration and to all those who simply appreciate beautiful things'
British Shell Club

'Filled with one exquisite image after another, glorious colour plates illustrating everything to do with shells'
Publishing News

'Anyone interested in the beauty of shells and how they have been incorporated in works of art, will relish, respect and revere this book - a work of art in itself … the best book available on shell art'
Reference Reviews

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 31.0 x 23.8 cm

Extent: 256 pp

Illustrations: 526

Publication date: 8 October 2007

ISBN: 9780500513576

Contents List

Introduction • Carved Shells • Shell Jewelry • Shells in Art • Ornamental Shellwork • Shells in Architecture • Shells in the Decorative Arts Illustrated glossary of shells • Listings • Bibliography

About the Author

Ingrid Thomas has collected and studied shells for many years. She has also exhibited her own shell artwork in exhibitions in Oxford and London.