By Sam Harriss
October 2, 2020
Conchologists are not to be confused with seashell collectors. There’s the science of shells and then there’s putting seashells in the microwave until it blows the creature clean out of their homes.
Yet we all collect something: Beanie Babies, nostalgic postcards, locks of hair from exes, Christmas tchotchkes, souvenir spoons, cats. Some of us cover our walls with Coca-Cola signs and vintage glass bottles as a tribute to better times; a few bring home travel souvenirs to remember beautiful places and family trips; others hoard magazines and paper ephemera to maintain a deeper connection to someone no longer around.
But to stumble down the rabbit hole of a seashell collector’s secrets is to realize there is so much more to those mollusks that wash ashore under our beach chairs.
It’s difficult to imagine that conchylomania once ripped through continents in the same fad-like way as The Beatles invasion took over America, but the myths and legends that originate from a madness that overtook European shell collectors starting in the early 17th century onward are so tantalizing, they give ol’ King James a run for his money.
Collectors have stolen, lied, betrayed and paid more money than any other earthly delights. A certain sheller was known for paying three times more for a cowrie shell than the $100 million Vermeer painting he also owned. Another, possessing the rarest of seashells, was made legend by bidding top dollar for the exact same species only to win and crush it to bits on stage, making sure to be the sole proprietor of the exquisite univalve.
They have been pickpocketed from history museums, dredged up from the depths of the ocean, traded online, and simply picked from the tidal lines across every beach in every country. But with a stiff cocktail in hand and the soulful sounds of a conch shell trumpet echoing through breaking waves, we begin to understand the mysteries and allure of owning such a prized possession.
If there’s a drink strong enough to provide a glimpse into the world of the extraordinary love these beautiful mollusks created for their doting admirers, this is it.
The Old Sheller
2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce Gardenia Mix*
½ ounce tangerine juice
Dash Angostura bitters
Add all to blender and top over with ice, blend and serve with a bouquet of mint and brandied cherry.
*Gardenia Mix: This is our quick take on the classic. Add 1 ounce room temperature butter to 1 ounce honey and a generous teaspoon of Trader Vic’s Macadamia Nut Liqueur to a blender and blend to a cream. Stores for a week in the fridge so you might want to make more.
Sam Harriss is the owner/founder of Camp Cocktail, a mobile bartending business on the Outer Banks. When she’s not slinging drinks from the window of her remodeled 1969 Shasta camper trailer, you might find her nose-deep in a good book, a sleeping dog by her side.