Rare Sea Shells

In 1997, a curator of the American Museum of Natural History in New York discovered one the museum’s two specimen’s of Chimaeria incomparabilis was missing. The multi-hued mollusks, about 2 1/2 inches long, resemble elongated porcelain eggs. Scientists think they are mostly found in the northwestern Indian Ocean by deepwater fishermen. Only six are known to exist in the entire world.

An investigation revealed it was stolen by a dealer named Martin Gill, 49. He had appraised the museum’s collection a few years before. He sold the shell over the Internet to a Belgian collector for $12,000, who in turn sold it to an Indonesian collector for $20,000. The Belgian dealer refunded the money and Gill went to prison.

Among the rarest and most sought after of all shells are cowries. These single-shelled mollusks with a zipper-like opening on the bottom come with dazzling variety of colors and markings. Money cowries are still used as currency in some places. Fisherman often attach them to their nets for good luck and brides are sometimes given them to promote fertility. One of the rarest shells is the world is spotted Leucodon cowrie. Only three of them are known to exist in the world.

Some shells are worth tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Arguably the rarest shell today is the Sphaerocypraea incomparabilis, a kind of snail with a dark shiny shell and an unusual boxy-oval shape and a row of fine teeth on one edge. The shell was found by Soviet scientists and hoarded by Russian collectors until it existence was announced to the world in 1990. The shell comes from a creature that was thought to have been extinct for 20 million years.