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OBJECT OF THE MONTH – September 2007

Shell with Rosh Hashanah greetings

Etched cowrie shell, Palestine, 1911, length 90 mm (accession number 174.340)
For the Jewish New Year it is customary to send New Year’s greetings to friends and acquaintances. The material used in the production of the item on display (a New Year’s greeting) is somewhat unusual – a sea slug shell. The use of shells as material for souvenirs was fairly common in the first third of the nineteenth century in what was then the territory of Palestine. Inscriptions commemorating various holidays often appear on extant items of this kind, most of which contain New Year’s greetings. The text and ornaments were usually applied with a durable paint and the surface was etched with weak acid. Here, the inscription on the surface of the shell contains the Hebrew date 671 (which is 1911 by the Gregorian calendar), the Hebrew text of the greeting and the sender’s name (written in roman characters).
The shell is that of a tiger cowrie (Cypraea tigris), which is common to the Red Sea.


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