|Spoon of Gilt Silver and Cowrie Shell, c. 1530-40|
The Victoria & Albert Museum
This cowrie-shell spoon may have been made purely for decorative purposes, but it shows signs of wear which indicate that it was used for practical applications. It’s a safe bet that this spoon was set aside for taking medicine (or, I like to think, for eating caviar) as the lack of silver on the bowl avoided the pesky issue of oxidization.
At the time this spoon was made, in the Sixteenth Century, the cowrie shell was a rare and exotic material which was reserved for royalty and nobility. Certainly this example was used by an aristocratic family as evidenced by the owner’s coat of arms on the silver mount.
The bowl of the spoon is formed from a segment of a large cowrie shell, set into a silver-gilt handle which has been fluted. The fluting terminates in a flat end in the form of a shield on which is enameled the fore part of a horse. This is the work of either a German or a Swiss craftsman and dates to about 1530-40.