Thursday, January 21, 2016

Wabash River Pearls in the Smithsonian

In our research about Wabash River pearls for our Smithsonian companion exhibit we discovered that there is actually several in the Smithsonian Institute’s collection.  (Remember the Smithsonian traveling exhibit is visiting Lawrenceville Sept 3-Oct 15, 2016. We are creating companion exhibits to go along with the Water/Ways theme.)  

A review of the 1922 Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution states that B. F. Wheeler, of Vincennes, Indiana donated 17 baroque pearls from the Wabash river (#67146); 4 pearls from the White River and a piece of a fresh water mussel shell  (#67472).  These 21 baroque peals showed a wide variety in shape and coloring.  Other specimens of fresh water pearls from the Wabash River (#22339) had been donated earlier by H G Hodge, of York, Illinois in 1890.

The American public in 1979, and possibly today, were not as familiar with American gemstones as they were with those from around the world.  Fresh water pearls as well as other American gemstones, (diamonds from Arkansas, turquoise from the West, tourmaline from Maine and California, sapphires from Montana as well as jade, peridot, onyx, amethyst in small quantities) were not used in jewelry as much nor did they command the prices that  gems from other locations did.    T

The American Gem Society (AGS) undertook as an educational project to showcase these gems by creating the American Gemstone Jewelry Collection of 31 truly beautiful pieces, including rings, necklaces and cuff links.  Award- winning designer Aldo Cipullo created the collection, that soon became a labor of love with the gems and gold being donated from various sources including some from the Smithsonian. The collection was valued at more than one million dollars in 1979 and is now known as American’s Crown Jewels.

The Smithsonian contributed some of their Wabash River pearls. 

This  yellow gold hair comb was created from Wabash river baroque pearls and the Arizona peridot. The Smithsonian curator described it as having a very organic, naturalistic feel to it as the gold “flows” around the pearls and gemstones.

So the next time you are in the Smithsonian you may see this piece in their collection; but alas it will not be shown at the Lawrenceville Exhibit.  


            Barbara Ross, of Crawford County, will be the guest speaker at the meeting of the Lawrence County Historical Society on Monday, January 25, 7:00 p.m. at the Lawrenceville museum.  Her program topic will be:  Lawrence County veterans from the War of 1812. 
            Ms. Ross has been well noted genealogist in southeastern Illinois for more than 30 years.  In 2011 she began her work of identifying all War of 1812 veterans buried in Crawford and Lawrence Counties, and much of her research was used by the State of Illinois to complete its soldier project in commensuration on of the war’s bicentennial.

            The program is free and the public is invited.