The Cowry Seashell

Shells of various species of cowries; all but ...

Image via Wikipedia

The cowry shell (also spelled ‘cowrie’) is popular on jewelry such as necklaces and bracelets and is found in varying sizes as you can see in the picture from Wikipedia.   This shell was widely used throughout the world as a form of currency.

I found another interesting use for the cowry.  According to the “Shells in History” site, In China, the number of cowrie’s stuffed into the mouths of the dead was determined by how important that person was. Commoners had rice instead of shells, but the emperor had nine cowry shells in his!

Click here and get a FREE, printable coloring page of this shell.

Cowry Shells

Cowry Shells

I doubt that the Emperor had shells of this size in his mouth (the one on the left is over 4 inches long!), but Cowries come in all sizes and according to the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum on Sanibel Island, Florida, the money cowry was the most widely circulated currency in history.

3 & 4 inch Cowry Shells, Showing underneath the Tiger Shell

3 & 4 inch Cowry Shells, Showing underneath the Tiger

The shell on the right in my photos is a Tiger Cowry and the one on the left is a Measled Cowry.  Both of mine were purchased about 20 years ago.

12 thoughts on “The Cowry Seashell

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  4. marlo

    The cowry on the left is Cypraea cervus (Linnaeus, 1771) – Atlantic Deer Cowrie. It is found throughout Florida.




    For more about Florida Cowries, go to

  5. flandrumhill

    I have a tiger cowry and people often comment that it looks like it’s porcelain and not shell. I can see why they were considered so precious. I’ve had mine since 1970 and it looks the same as it did when I got it as a little girl.

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