Shelling out a Fortune. ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS

Daily Mail (London), January 5, 2017 | Go to article overview

Shelling out a Fortune. ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS


Byline: Compiled by Charles Legge

QUESTION

What are the world's rarest and most valuable seashells?

ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON (1850-1894) once said: 'It is perhaps a more fortunate destiny to have a taste for collecting shells than to be a millionaire.' In fact, in the 18th century, if you wanted to own the rarest examples, being wealthy helped.

At the time, the rich coveted particularly exotic rarities and newly discovered specimens, and collecting shells was a pastime so enjoyed by the European elite that it was named conchylomania.

It derived from the colonial trade and exploration of the Dutch East India Company, which dominated the market in China and Indonesia.

The Holy Grail of shell-collecting was Conus gloriamaris, the Glory of the Seas. This mollusc's shell was once regarded as the world's rarest. By 1830, only five were known to exist, and by 1850 they were said to be worth thousands of pounds.

This shell is a slender cone which can reach 6in and has a tall spire. It has fine, orange-brown lines, enclosing triangular spaces and two or three bands of chestnut markings across its body.

The shells were found principally off the Solomon Islands, but improvements in diving technology led to the discovery of larger numbers, so today shells can often be found from retailers or online auction sites for about PS100.

Diving and deep-sea trawling have taken much of the rarity and value out of the market. However, there are still valuable shells, of which the most collectible is probably the egg-shaped Fulton's Cowrie (Cypraea fultoni). Its unusual shape and strange translucent markings made it highly desirable.

Until recently, these were very rare as the first few were found only in the stomachs of deep-sea fish caught off Mozambique. Then they were worth PS10,000, but a good number were later dredged up in the same area by Russian trawlers. Glasgow Museum paid PS1,000 for one in 1992.

The Precious wentletrap (Epitonium scalare) has a translucent white shell with striking raised ribs and is highly unusual in that the whorls do not touch. It was once considered very rare, selling for thousands of pounds, but once again diving and trawling saw prices plummet.

Another coveted shell is the Harp shell (Harpidae), which is relatively small with a voluptuous shape and ribs resembling the strings of a harp. It is known for its exquisite, bright patterns.

In all, there are about 20 species that live in shallow tropical seas and such rare varieties as the Austroharpa loisae of Western Australia might fetch PS1,000.

Janet Worth, Torquay, Devon.

QUESTION

Is there a musical term for the various 'la la las' or 'de-de-dees' you get in some songs?

FURTHER to the earlier answer, U.S songwriter Barry Mann, in 1961, asked a similar question: Who put the bomp In the bomp bah bomp bah bomp?

Who put the ram

In the rama lama ding dong?

Who put the bop

In the bop shoo bop shoo bop?

Who put the dip

In the dip da dip da dip?

Such vocals are a form of nonsense syllables used in a wide variety of music.

In the beginning, there was a cappella (in the manner of the chapel), singing without instruments. But as most pop hits have vocals and independent instrumental accompaniment, there have been very few major chartbusters, aside from The Flying Pickets (Only You) and Bobby McFerrin (Don't Worry, Be Happy).

Next came Scat, a form of early jazz singing popularised by Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong. In later years, Frank Sinatra provided an example of scat in his 'doo be doo be doo' fade-out of Strangers In The Night.

Scat spawned a trend towards a more easy listening style of jazz, influenced by close harmony groups, maintaining the use of nonsense syllables. …

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