United States. Dept. of Commerce and Labor United States. Bureau of Foreign Commerce.

Consular reports, Issues 188-191 online

. (page 81 of 102)
Online LibraryUnited States. Dept. of Commerce and Labor United States. Bureau of Foreign CommerceConsular reports, Issues 188-191 → online text (page 81 of 102)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

grounds are mostly under the jurisdiction of Queensland, and as in that
colony there is a tendency toward legislative restrictions against colored
people or Asiatics, the whites cherish a hope that they may soon reoccupy
the whole field, though how the industry can be carried on without Japanese
or black divers has not yet been very fully considered.

It seems that the Japanese are spurred into greater energy by the fact
that all employed work on the **lay" principle, while among the whites
only the divers, all of whom are Jai^nese or South Sea Islanders, are so

Since the beginning of operations in the Torres Straits fisheries, in the
seventies, all the pearls have gone to England or the Continent, while all

Digitized by VjOOQIC



the i>earl shell, except 20 or 30 tons, has gone to the London market. The
markets of America and the countries of continental Europe have been tried
for the shell, but \Yithout satisfactory results, as far as I am able to learn.
Recently a ton of "first-class" shell was sent to New York and results are
anxiously awaited.

While it is claimed that the industry is depressed, and really declining,
the following table, secured from the most reliable source available, seems
to indicate a comparatively uniform price and output. The shell is usually
sold in packages of 112 pounds, in British colloquial terms, **cwt." For
convenience, I give the price in sterliag nH)Dey, j£i^^$4,S6.

FhM bold (Erst 'Good bold (wcomI
qiMdity>. | quality).

£ s.d. I s.d.

8 a 6 lo 9 50

8 o o to 9 17 6

8 .00 to 9 176

7 12 6 10 9 a 6

7 12 6 to 9 76

8 a 6 to 8 10 o

£ s.d. £, s.d.
7 7 6 to 8 10 o
7 10 o to 9 00
6 17 6 to 8 17 6


6176 to 8 76

7 12 6 to 9 17 6

8 o o to 10 15 o

5 15 o to 8 5 o I 5-10 o to 8 17 6
5 5 o to 4 76 5 10 o to 6 10 o
7 a 6 to 8 5 o 5 10 o to 7 12 6

The following are Torres Straits statistics, compiled from customs re-



Boats en-


of shell


















;^ 106, 564

• Unknown.

t Not to hand.

From present information I incline to think the decline is largely owing
to the beds being constantly overworked.

Prospecting new grounds is very expensive, and as each leaves this for
others to do, all continue the work year after year in the same locality.
From sixty to seventy boats are now said to be laid up, as the catch is un-
profitably small, and with this smaller output, the London market has con-
siderably risen.

The fact that lately the great bulk of the shell is "medium," or "infe-
rior," with a decreasing proportion of "fine bold" and "good bold," shows
a decline really greater than appearances indicate.

Efforts have been made by the Queensland Parliament to protect the
fisheries from destruction by laws prohibiting the taking of shells (the nacre,

Digitized by VjOOQIC


or mother-of-pearl) less than 6 inches in diameter, but the eagerness of
this irresponsible class of Japanese and blacks to secure the "possible"
l^earl renders the law well-nigh inoperative. The shell needs to grow three
or four years, but as the possible pearl does not depend on the age or size of
the shell, the small ones are usually as ruthlessly opened as though no law
on the subject existed.

The pearls proper, as before indicated, are incidental to the pearl-fishing
industry, and they are taken, not only from the mother-of-pearl shell, but
from various kinds and sizes of mussels, bivalve and univalve. However, I
believe it is claimed that all the purest and most valuable pearls are taken
from these particular shells (mother-of-pearl), such as are found on the Aus-
tralian coast, in Torres Straits, and in the Persian Gulf.

Some years ago there were considerable quantities of rather inferior
l>earls found in a small shell — worthless except for the i^earl — which were
taken from the shoal waters of Shark Bay, Western Australia, by ** trawling.*'
Pearl fanciers tell me that the present scarcity of pearls is owing to the fail-
ure of these Shark Bay fisheries.

The quantity and value of pearls may be roughly estimated by the out-
put of shells, but it is rather a lottery. There are certain localities in
Torres Straits that are richer in i^earl than others. As it is well known that
pearls originate from an irritating substance in the flesh of the so-called fish,
there are very few pearls in the shells found on clayey or muddy bottoms,
while on the sharp sandy or gravelly land they are more frequent.

An exj^ert tells me of an instance where 4,000 i>earl shells were taken
which yielded less than jT^io worth of pearls, while in the same locality
over thirty i>earls were found in one day, one of which was sold for ^2,000
(j9,6oo). A Queensland company, on a small area, got ^^1,200 worth of
pearls from 8 tons of shell.

Experiments are now being made by some enterprising Britishers to culti-
vate i^earl shells, and, by artificially introducing the necessary irritating sub-
stance in the flesh, to produce the pearl scientifically, but the success of such
an enterprise has not yet been demonstrated. Mr. James Clark, whose com-
pany produces al)out one-third of the total output of Torres Straits, has
invested $20,000 in these experiments, and he has great faith in the success
of the enterprise.

As these pearl fisheries are more than 1,500 miles from Sydney, it is
impossible to make close or critical observations or to consult numerous
authorities, but 1 have made every efibrt to gain information on the subject,
and, I believe, with fair success.

As to pearls proj^er, it is impossible for me to secure any reliable statistics.
The reasons are obvious. One reason is the jealousy of diff"erent companies,
who desire to keep their success a secret, and a more diflicult problem is to
know the proportion of pearls filched by the employees and sold to store-
keepers, speculators, and gamblers. The most intelligent pearl fisher I have
seen estimates that from one-third to one-half of the pearls are first placed

Digitized by VjOOQIC


in the illegitimate market. This same authority places the total output at a
possible ^80,000 ($389,280) per annum,* and feels sure that the **crop**
will further decline.

Sydney, April ii^ i8g6. Consul,


In consequence of there being no legislation on the subject, indiscrimi-
nate fishing for pearl shells takes place, and so great is the demand for
mother-of-pearl shell for commercial j)urposes that it is sought for in all
directions and with such zeal that the young and small shell is taken before
it has time to become old and form pearls. This is the cause of the scarcity
of i>earls in the fisheries of this colony.

From what 1 can learn, I find that the market in London can absorb all
the pearls obtained — indeed, twice the quantity obtainable could be easily
disposed of in the London market. There is no duty on i>earls in Great
Britain and the catchers prefer to send pearls there free of cost, instead of
having to incur duty and, in the end, only obtain probably the same price
as they can in the market where there is no duty. This has been assigned
to me as a reason for not shipping to New York when I have endeavored to
persuade shippers to try the New York market.

If United States buyers would buy on the spot in Queensland, no doubt
they could obtain a regular and full supply of pearls for their requirements.


Brisbane, February j^^ iSg6. Consular AgetU.


The only pearls of any commercial value that are found in this portion
of Central America are the pink or conch pearls, which, for beauty, rival
the white or tinted pearls of other countries. They are, however, quite
scarce at the present time, and becoming rarer every year, as their value
and beauty are becoming better known. Fine specimens command in this
market J30 to $50, and are bought up at once. The most valuable are
slightly oval and from one-fourth to three-eighths of an inch in length,
l)ei ng somewhat flattened on the sides. The color is the beautiful pink so
well known in conch shells and varies greatly in different specimens. The

*C. W. Fraser, m.inagcr of the Queensland Pearl Shell Company, Limited, under date of Sydney, N. S.
W., April 17, J896, says: *' I have read the press copy of a rejxjrt prepared by the United States consul at
Sydney on the pearl fisheries of Australia— which should have the dale of April ii — and I regard It as a very
fair review of the subject considered. I have had a large and very thorough experience in the industry con-
sidered in the report, and I see no error in the staicnicnis, while the information I regard as full enough for
general purposes. However, as to the total output of pearls given in the last paragraph, I would raise the
estimate from J^iojooo to fully £,\2S,ocio, or an average of ^^S.ooo per annum for the last ten years."

Digitized by VjOOQIC


surface has a slightly transparent appearance, showing a delicate, wavy mark-
ing, apparently beneath the surface.

The kind most commonly found are small, say about the size and shape
of a large grain of wheat. The body is usually a deep pink, almost like
coral, but not so opaque, and with a white tip or point at each end. They
are often fractured or cracked in extracting them from the shell.

They are produced by the ordinary conch, whose shells are often used
as ornaments for parlors or to hold doors in place. In this part of the
world, the shells are used as borders for walks or flower beds, and make a
fine appearance.

The animal, or mollusk, is highly esteemed as an article of food in all
this part of the world, and it is principally in preparing them for cooking
that the pearls are found. As far as I have been able to learn, no system ized
search has ever been made for conch pearls. The conch is usually found on
the sand bars, or *' spits,*' that run out from the islands, or *'cays," as they
are called here, and seem lo come in from the deeper water after severe
storms. They are not cultivated, but are often placed in inclosures, or
** kraals," to keep them from wandering away again. They are usually
made into soup or fritters, in the latter form somewhat resembling oysters
in taste. The soup is very palatable and nutritious, and is recommended for
sick people who are weak. The meat is rather tough and gristly. It is
often preserved in vinegar and makes a good pickle.

The pearls are apparently formed by the introduction of some foreign
substance into the shell, and the animal, being unable to eject it, proceeds
to cover it with successive layers of nacreous substance, until the corners
are all rounded off and covered. They are very delicate and easily frac-
tured or destroyed by heat. In the arts, they are usually mounted with a
circle of small diamonds, which add greatly to their beauty. These i)earls
can be produced artificially by introducing into the shell small i)articles of
anything that would not drop out again, but I have no record of its having
been done here. I once saw an article in one of the West Indian news-
papers stating that some enterprising individual had been taken before a
magistrate and fined for producing pearls in that way. His plan was to bore
a hole and then introduce the substance to be covered.

The shells abound here, and could be exported in considerable quantities
were there any demand for them.

Their principal use on the islands is to fill up low-lying lots or wharves.

The conch is sold in the market as regular as fish or meat, and sell at
four for 5 cents, out of the shell. The rejected shells can be had at 10
cents per hundred, but as the ends are broken off to extract the animal, they
would not have any value a.s.an article of export.

For the export trade, the animal would have to be permitted to die
by exposure to the sun and air. Many, however, die in the natural way.
The value of all such shells here would be 25 to 50 cents (gold) per hun-

Digitized by VjOOQIC


In addition to the ordinary conch, there is a species called the *' queen."
It is different in shai)e and the colors are more varied. These shells com-
mand 25 to 50 cents each in this market, and are too rare to ever figure in
the export list.

I have never heard of the ordinary pearls of commerce being found on

this coast of Central America.


Belize, January 21, 18^6, Consul,


The Department circular of December 20, 1895, reached this office
shortly prior to the annual inspection of pearl banks off this coast ;- accord-
ingly, there was then no information of practical utility on that subject for
transmission from here.

Now, however, the inspection has been, held, and it api^ears from the
inclosed newspaper jxiragraph, appearing in the Times, of Ceylon, April 14,
1896, that there is no hope for a pearl fishery occurring in these waters for
another four years, probably ^v^ years, that being the period recjuired by
the Ceylon pearl mollusk to mature. In the meantime, there must occur
(piite a pearl famine in Ceylon, for even now there are no fine i>earls to l)e
bought, and the few — perhaps 2,000 carats of defective pearls — in the mar-
ket are held by the dealers at amazingly high prices.


Colombo, April 21, i8q6. Consul,

[From the Times, of Ceylon, April 14, 1896.]

Captain Donnan, the insi)ector of i)carl banks* returned to Colombo this afternoon in thtr
l>ark Sultan Iskandery after an al)seiicc of exactly seven weeks. His first find was on ihe
Arippu banks, where, on the Chcval Paar, on the northwest jmrt of the paar, in about 9
fathoms of water, he discovered a small bed of oysters about 3 to 6 months old. The con-
figuration of the oyster l>ed was irregular; but shortly after, on the Periyar Paar, 3 miles west,
where there was a fishery in 1879, Captain Donnan, in alwut the same depth of water, dis-
covered a very promising l>ed I '4 miles in diameter. Here the oysters were very thick, but
still as young as on the adjoining bank. On coming down off Dutch Day, the inspector
found another lot of oysters on the Muttuvaratu Paar. This is the famous bank which su|>-
plied the three fisheries of 18S9, 1890, and 189I. The oysters scattered over an area of i "^
miles in diameter, with several detached jNitchcs, and, where the oysters are thinnest, there-
is the most risk that they will disappear by migrating elsewhere. The depth on this bank
varied from ^y^ to 9 fathoms. Then, oft* Chilaw, on the Jokenpiddi Paar, for half a mile in
diameter, there was another promising l>e(l, from 3 to 12 months old, in a depth of from 8 to
9 fathoms of water. The inspection of the paars o(T Negomlx> showed, as usual, no oysters.
Captain Donnan, in making his insi)ection, was accompanied by the tug Active^ twenty-two
l)oatmen for the four ins|)ection l)oals, fourteen divers, and twelve munducks, or divers'
assistants. His system is to moor sixteen buoys, with his bark in the center. These buoys

Digitized by VjOOQIC


range north, south, cast, and west, in lines of four, each buoy in the line being one-fourth of
a mile distant from the next one. Between each buoy in turn the four boats row in a circle,
proceeding abreast, with the divers making periodical dives and reporting to ihe coxswains,
who record each dive and its result — such as whether oysters were found and the nature of
the ground, whether sandy, rocky, or muddy. The work begins at 7 o'clock in the morning,
with this series of circles, until the outer buoys are reached, where the circumference is 4^
miles. The whole survey lasts until I p. m., which is a day's work. The various reports
are then handed in to Captain Donnan, who makes up his diagrams and traces out the "lay"
of the oyster bed where a find has been efTeclcd. The bark then moves to a suflicicnt dis-
tance, and the buoys are again placed in ix)sition by the tug; and in this way each bank is
thoroughly inspected.

When young oysters only are found, Captain Donnan does not make a calculation of their
number. He describes them as ** uncertain beggars," and, until he has seen them on a paar
some two or three years consecutively, or until they are 3 years old, he does not consider
that he is ab?e to reckon upon a fishery with any degree of certainty. He then makes a cal-
culation of the number, according to the quantities that the divers are able to bring up and the
closeness at which they He.

He has returned on this occasion with samples and diagrams, and also with a number of
specimens for the museum of bits of rock \i\x>n which young oysters are sticking, and he
hopes that Mr. Haly will be able to devise some plan whereby the oysters can be kept from
falling away from the pieces of rock. Captain Donnan had no gum with him, and was unable
to fix them, so that ihey are not as good as when he first obtained them.

On the present occasion, there was good weather on the whole, and no sharks were
sighted. The insj>cctor found the weather very hot, however, though off Negombo since
Saturday night the wind blew steadily from the west, and his bark pitched bows under.
There was one day off Chilaw when he expected the " little monsoon," but the weather
changed again, and it was not until oflf Negombo that he came to the conclusion that the little
monsoon had arrived, owing to the very steady way in which it blew from the southwest for
three days running. No land wind had blown since Saturday night.

He had. Captain Donnan said, enjoyed good health, and had worked every day, Sundays
included, as there was nothing more absurd than doing nothing on a Sunday on the pearl


I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the Dejiartment circular
dated the 21st of December last. In reply, I have to say that there are no
regular pearl fisheries in Chile. Very small pearls of little value are found
in small quantities at or near Smythe's Channel, Straits of Magellan.

Pearls are imported here principally from Paris, Berlin, and Rome.

I am informed by an old-established jeweler in this city that the supply
of pearls received here from Euroi>e is diminishing from year to year.

The commercial statistics of Chile do not show any importation of


Valparaiso, March 11, i8g6, ConsuL

Digitized by VjOOQIC



So far as this section of the world is concerned, the reason why there has
been a great scarcity of pearls suitable for manufacturing purjxjses in New
York is due solely to the fact that the New York manufacturers will not pay
as much as their French or English colleagues or competitors. I see agents
of French and English houses paying regular visits here to secure pearls. I
have yet to see an agent from the United States on the same errand.

As a rule, the pearls are very fine here, and the traffic, which is not very
extensive, after all foots up at least J 150,000 yearly. It should be ^500,000
or more under a i)roper system of dredging and diving.

The value of the pearl is established by its weight, purity, brilliancy, and
shape, the pear-shaped being considered the ne plus ultra. To illustrate,
a pear-shaped pearl of untarnished purity and brilliancy weighing 5 carats
would be valued at, say, £^\ sterling for the first carat, J[^2 for the second,
£^2i ^or ^^^^ third, j[^\ for the fourth, and ^^5 for the fifth, or ^^15 (S73).
These figures as to carats and pounds are only approximative. I have seen
a perfect pearl sold for <i3,5oo (gold). A *' i>erfect pearl '' means a regular
pear-shaped pearl. This one was about i inch in length.

Very few houses deal in pearls here. The names of these are Arosamena
Bros., Brandon Bros., Joshua Piza, jr., and F. C. Herbruger. I know of no

A look at the map of the bay of Panama will show, some 40 miles from
this city, the Pearl Islands, on the east side of the bay. On the west side of
the bay j)earls are found all the way to Chiricjui and Veraguas. The latter
beds may be dredged, and they are poorly dredged; but no dredging is
allowed at the Pearl Islands, where pearls now are only secured by divers.
The government of Panama, I understand, would give a concession for
520,000* (Colombian currency) to any responsible party to dredge at the
Peail Islands, as also the exclusive privilege of diving, and the lease to be
for a number of years. Pearl dredging has to be done in a scientific way,
or else the pearl oysters emigrate, and it is hard to find the beds again.
These pearls arc of two colors — white and lead color; the white is highly
appreciated in Franc c and the lead-colored i)earl is in greater demand in


Panama, y</////f/n' 25", i8()6, Cotisul- General,


The Danish jewelers receive their supply of pearls altogether from Ixin-
don and Paris. Traveling salesmen visit Copenhagen from two to three
times a year with samples of their wares, and in this manner the supply is

• ( )n A^jril I, 18*^6, the Colombian j>c>o dollar was worth 49.3 cents in American currency.

Digitized by VjOOQIC


kept equal to the demand. While pearls have of late made considerable
advance in price, the jewelers here find no difficulty in obtaining all they
need in their business from the foregoing sources. London merchants have
the best part of the trade. If at any time a jeweler here should have occa-
sion to desire an immediate increase to his stock on hand, a letter to a Paris
or London house would at once be followed by a salesman with the quantity
and quality of the pearls needed.

There is no pearl fishing in this district. Formerly, as I am informed,
a small quantity was found on the Swedish and Norwegian coasts, but this
has almost entirely ceased, and the few pearls that are found there at the
present day are disposed of by the finders (oystermen) to private parties
rather than to dealers. Private parties pay generally better prices for these
** accidental'* pearls than the jewelers. I am also informed that a good crop
of the so-called Scotch pearls are found on the coasts of Scotland, but all of
these go, of course, to London.


Copenhagen, March /j, i8g6. Consul,


There is no pearl fishery now in Ecuador, nor anywhere on the coast of
South America, so far as I know.

Historians give accounts of the finding of the pearl oyster in divers places,
but I know of no fisheries' that have come to anything. The coast of Peru,
near Tumbez, has been mentioned, and it is known that pearls are found at
the Galapagos Islands. Of the latter, which are the only places where they
are found in the waters of Ecuador, I believe. Wolf, in his Geografia y Geo-
logia del Ecuador, published in 1892, says:

The pearl fishery has not, up to now, given satisfactory results, either because the pearl
shells, of which I have seen some very beautiful specimens, are exceedingly rare or because
they have not yet fallen ujwn the proper method of fishing them.

This is all he says about so interesting a subject. The truth is, no proper
effort has ever been made to find out the extent and value of the pearl fish-
ery of the Galapagos Islands. No one resides upon the whole extent of the
islands, covering more than 2,000 square leagues of the ocean, save on one
of them there is a sugar hacienda, and the efforts at pearl fishing have been
made by transient whalers.


Guayaquil, January 28, i8g6. Consul- General.


The scarcity of pearls, of which complaint is made in the United States,
also exists in Europe. The progressive falling off in the supply has been for
a considerable period a source of anxiety to those interested in the trade.
No. 191 3.

Digitized by VjOOQIC


As this decline in the available quantity of fine pearls has been coincident
with an increasing demand, the natural result has been very a material ad-
vancement in values. While pearls have long maintained a popularity in
Europe, surpassing that of any other gem, it is only within a comparatively

Online LibraryUnited States. Dept. of Commerce and Labor United States. Bureau of Foreign CommerceConsular reports, Issues 188-191 → online text (page 81 of 102)