Shell cutters at work, cutting and polishing 4937c
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of shell cutters at work in India, taken by an unknown photographer in c. 1873, from the Archaeological Survey of India Collections. This image of men at work cutting and polishing shells was probably shown at an international exhibition. In parts of India women wear shell bracelets as auspicious marriage symbols. Information regarding their manufacture, which accompanied an exhibit of shell bracelets made in Dacca, Bangladesh, is described in John Forbes Watson's Vienna Universal Exhibition catalogue of 1873: "The 'chank' shells which are sliced into rings to form these bracelets are obtained from the west and north-west coasts of Ceylon...The shells are known by the scientific name Turbinella rapa...There is considerable variety in the pattern of these 'sanka' bracelets, from the rude broad flat ring to the thin delicate armulet, rounded, or with notched or beaded edges, carved with tigers' heads, enriched with ornamental incising, and illuminated by touches of tinsel, lac-colour, gilding, &c. A large series was sent to Kensington last year accompanied by specimens of the shells both before and during the process of manufacture, together with the tools used, and photographs showing the men at work."