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Conclusion Rescuing “That Tired Irregular Pearl from Such Lengthy Isolation” By the end of the seventeenth century, pearls and pearl fisheries from the Caribbean to the Indian Ocean to the rivers of northern Europe were embedded in sprawling imperial enterprises and proliferating networks for the distribution of people and products along global pathways. This complexity was increasingly acknowledged to be part of pearls’ appeal. The potency of pearls in the European imagination can be seen in three distinct artifacts from the mid-­seventeenth century, one produced in Germany, one in England, and one in Denmark. The first is an illustration of global pearl-­fishing practices from 1637, which appeared in a treatise on pearls called Margaritologia, created for the prince of Bohemia in 1637 by Malachias Geiger (1606–1671) (Figure 26). The text, a consideration of the use of Bavarian pearls for medicinal purposes, points to the utility of pearls as both a natural resource of interest to monarchies eager to engage with domestic and global commodities markets and as an entry point for reflections on the diversity of labor practices and resource husbandry around the globe.1 Geiger’s illustration, contained within a work devoted to pearls, underscores the importance of context in assessments of pearls’ worth. All of the friction that surrounded pearl production—from unruly enslaved divers in the Caribbean to sparring pearl-­ fishing communities in the Indian Ocean to aggrieved yeoman in Scotland and Sweden—might have diminished the pearl hauls to which European officials were able to lay claim, but these conflicts produced the knowledge about distinct approaches to this arena of wealth production depicted, if in a somewhat garbled fashion, by Geiger. From left to right, Indian fishers use wide nets to gather the oysters; West Indian divers use sticks with net baskets for the same purpose; below, divers descend with baskets to the ocean floor in the Persian Gulf; and Scottish pearl fishers use sticks to dislodge mussels from a river bottom. As Germans contemplated the worth of river pearls in the context of global markets and labor practices, an artisan in London offered a material reflection 1. Malachias Geiger, Margaritologia; sive, Dissertatiode Margaritis . . . (Munich, 1637). Conclusion { 243 } on the jewel’s enduring association with the romance of the seas. Sometime in the 1640s in the west end of the city, a jeweler buried his stock-­ in-­ trade. Amid rough-­hewn diamond and ruby rings, an extraordinary watch chiseled from an American emerald, and delicate wrought-­ metal necklaces, lay the little bauble pictured below (Figure 27). The image shows a miniature hatpin in the form of a boat; the vessel’s masts, rigging, and pennant are made of gold, and a baroque pearl forms its hull. The jewel is a remarkable double emblem of maritime expansion—the boat that plied the waves built from a pearl that emerged from beneath them.The irregularcontours of the baroque pearl that forms the body of the boat echo the irregular paths that pearls traveled on their journey from seabed to private possession.2 2. The Cheapside Hoard, an assortment of Tudor and Jacobean jewelry, was buried sometime between 1640 and 1666 under property that was part of the holdings of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. The Cheapside district of London had long been Figure 26. Four Modes of Pearl Fishing. From Malachias Geiger, Margaritologia; sive, Dissertatio de Margaritis . . . (Munich, 1637) Figure 27. Baroque Pearl Boat Hatpin. Circa 1500.© Museum of London Conclusion { 245 } If the baroque boat stands as the embodiment of the intersection of a jeweler ’s personal imagination with imperial maritime fantasy, the 1666 rendition of a curiositycabinet by Georg Hinz offers an additional rich perspective on the place of pearls in the imagined and objectified political economyof the era (Figure 28, Plate 12).Though at first glance the objects in the cabinet seem to be assembled haphazardly, they in fact attest to the emergence of a new maritime order and pearls’ place within it.3 Pearls are juxtaposed with the other maritime symbols of coral and shells but also shown alongside a newer source of maritime profitability. Echoing the Drake Jewel discussed in Chapter 3, pearls in this imagined Danish cabinet are suspended from the medallion commemorating Denmark’s 1661 possession of the trade fort at Christiansborg on West Africa’s Gold Coast. In the emerging plantation-­ driven economyof the Caribbean and the Atlantic world, imperial wealth rested ever more on the labor of enslaved Africans, a trade that was increasingly objectified and...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781469638997
Related ISBN
9781469638973
MARC Record
OCLC
1029886295
Pages
304
Launched on MUSE
2018-04-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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