Monday, February 6, 2012

Molluscan Iconography


























Last week, when we were walking in Teesdale, we spotted this old Shell petroleum sign on what used to be the village garage in Cotherstone.
























Village garages have all disappeared and so have most of these elaborate signs, replaced by modern graphic equivalents, but it reminded me to have a look through the contents of an old shoe box in our loft.



I've been a compulsive picker-up of seashells all my life and these are two queen scallops Aequipecten opercularis, which were the model for the famous Shell logo. I collected them in Pembrokeshire about fifteen years ago. The specimen above is encrusted with the triangular calcareous tube of the worm Pomatoceros triquiter. Scallop shells are amongst the most beautiful objects in our coastal seas and were an inspired choice for a corporate emblem ..... and there's an interesting story about how they came to be chosen.


The 'Shell' Transport and Trading Company, Limited was founded by the brothers Marcus and Samuel Samuel in 1897. Their father Marcus Samuel the elder made a living from selling ornaments decorated with seashells so initially Marcus Samuel the younger chose a mussel shell as the corporate emblem. This was changed in 1904 to the more decorative scallop shell, which became the registered trademark that has advertised the company worldwide ever since. You'll find it adorning Ferrari grand prix cars, for example. You can follow the evolution of the Shell logo here.
























In 1957, the company's diamond jubilee year, Shell published a beautifully produced presentation volume on the theme of the scallop, with chapters written by eight eminent authors on such diverse aspects of the organism as its etymology, biology, symbolism in classical antiquity, religious associations, portrayal in art and in heraldry, associations in the New World and also its gastronomy.
























It's a remarkable book, well worth looking out for in secondhand bookshops (I bought mine for £2 several years ago). The choice of a scallop as a corporate emblem was inspired. These days companies spend a fortune on employing graphic designers to come up with  minimalist and often abstract company logos but I wonder how many of those will endure for over a century? Surely the success of the scallop logo tells us something profound about the deep-seated human fascination with the aesthetic qualities of natural objects? 


The chairman of The 'Shell' Transport and Trading Company, the Rt.Hon. Lord Godber, sent a copy of of the diamond jubilee presentation book to clients, with this presentation slip which is still in my copy.


One of the eight chapters in the book deals with the biology of the scallop, which is particularly interesting.



This is a living scallop that I found at extreme low water on a Pembrokeship beach. Scallops may be lowly molluscs but they do have sophisticated senses, including numerous eyes around the edge of the soft mantle and a fringe of chemo-sensory tentacles. These are vital if they are not to fall prey to their mortal enemies, starfish, which wrap their arms around the two shell valves of the mollusc and engage in a tug-of-war as they try to pull the shells apart. Eventually the adductor muscles of the mollusc, that pull the shells together, tire and the shells gap, allowing the starfish to feed on the unfortunate occupant. Those sensory tentacles are a crucial line of defence and when they sense the presence of a starfish the scallop claps its shells together and literally flies off through the water. Watch this Youtube video to see what happens when a scallop encounters a starfish.

10 comments:

  1. The Shell icon has been in my life for as long as I can remember and the old sign has sent me for a little trip down memory lane.

    This is an extremely interesting post Phil, thank you for all the information.

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    1. it's a long time since I last saw one ....

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  2. I am reminded of the Scallop sculpture on the beach at Aldeburgh, not far from my neck of the woods ...

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    1. I'd forgotten that Caroline - that really is impressive!

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  3. Who can resist picking up a scallop shell when they find one? Certainly not me. We have them scattered throughout the house. I just wish I had labelled them in some way so I could recall which shore / visit they came from.

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    1. I only remembered where those came from because it's the only place where I've ever found them - I'm not a very organised collector ...... more a hoarder really ....

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  4. Hi Phil, rest blog, I really enjoy reading it!

    Marcus Samuel lived in Mote House, Mote Park, my local patch in Maidstone, Kent. (http://www.motepark.blogspot.com) He was Viscount Bearsted and left his estate to the people of Maidstone on his death.

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  5. Hi Simon, thanks for visiting and the info. Nice blog you have there - I'm now a follower....

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  6. The scallop shell has been used as a symbol of pilgrimage for centuries - notably at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. No doubt some reference to this is made in the book mentioned above.There are many carvings of scallops on buildings on the route of the Way as pilgrims could have their 'passports' authorised at these locations.

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    1. Fascinating, thanks Anne. It's well worth looking out for the book, which sometimes turns up in secondhand bookshops, because much of it is about the cultural and historical associations of the shellfish.

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