(Fr-oeuf coquille; Ger-Eierschale; Nor-eggeskall; Rus- яйцо раковина -?)

A. Eggshell.  Ostrich (Struthio camelus Linnaeus, 1758) eggshell (height  ~15 cm), hand painted by Josef Zlomek of Prague, Czech Republic.  (© photo courtesy of Josef  Zlomek, from  zlomek.jikos.cz/ eggs.php?lang=en)   

B. Eggshells. Goose (Anser anser (Linnaeus, 1758)) eggshells:   Left, “The Russian Imperial Eagle” (height ~9 cm) “a very special one ... much slimmer and higher than any other I have seen.”  Randi Andreassen (personal communication, 2006).  Right, “Vivaldi's ‘Four Seasons on a cello’” (height ~7 cm).  Artist: Randi Andreassen of Oslo, Norway.  (© photo courtesy  Randi Andreassen, http://www.radesign.com)

DESCRIPTION: The composition of eggshells is recorded differently in different sources. Examples are  1. largely calcium carbonate (>95 per cent) and calcium phosphate (~ 5 per cent) plus magnesium carbonate and both soluble and insoluble proteins (Senese, 1997-2005);  2. a biomineralised composite ceramic consisting of calcium carbonate embedded in an organic matrix (Panheleux et al., 1999);  [and]  3. inorganic calcium and magnesium salts, with CaCO3 (98%), embedded in a network of collagen-like fibers (Swanson, nd).  As is evident, all have calcium carbonate the predominant constituent, and some investigators who appear to have a good knowledge of CaCO3 polymorphs refer to the main part of the shells as calcitic (e.g., Mikšík et al., 1996).
   Colors - white to off-white:  Eggshells in general appear to be three basic colors -- blue, brown and white (which for some eggs may also be exhibited as reddish brown or nearly black -- and some eggs are patterned (See, for example, color plates 17-64 in Baicich and Harrison, 1997).  The colors on the outside of eggs are, however, more or less restricted to the outer layer or so of shells, and most are relatively easily removed -- e.g., the brown of some brown chicken eggs can be scrubbed off with warm soapy water.  Emu eggs are exemplary of those that are widely considered exceptions in that they are usually recorded as some green hue or black -- Alan Rabon (personal communication, May, 2006) notes, "The natural emu egg is a very dark Hunter Green for a high quality egg. Lesser quality emu eggs are a medium to light green. As you carve through the layers they change from dark green to light green to white before breaking all the way through the shell."
   H.  ~3
   S.G. ≤ 2.71;  2.325 (Wineland, 1992)
   Light transmission - translucent to semitranslucent
   Luster - dull, pearly to subwaxy
   Breakage - irregular
   Miscellaneous - effervesces (fizzes) briskly with dilute HCl (hydrochloric acid) with the liberation of CO2.  Natural size color photographs of typical eggs of North American birds, including the relatively large ones of swans and loons, are in Baicich and Harrison (1997).

OTHER NAMES:  None other than using identity of bird who laid the egg as a preceding noun/adjective -- e.g., ostrich egg(shell).

USESThe fact that eggs are "symbols of new life" has apparently led to their being so diversely fashioned and widely used.  Eggshells and parts of eggshells have been fashioned into of all sorts of decorative pieces cherished by people of many cultures for untold centuries.  "Ostrich eggshell beads dating to [12,000 to 11,000] were found at Krasnyi, near Irkutsk [Russia]" (Dubin, 1987, p.25).  Today, ostrich eggshell beads find various uses, especially in Africa, where they are made into bangles, bracelets, belts, chokers, earrings, headbands, necklaces and as parts of so-to-speak decorative apparel; Satyawadi (1999) notes that "Egg shell beads are also used for decorating aprons, skirts, bags or powder puffs."  In addition, they are combined with "Natural objects such as pieces of porcupine quills, horns, tambotie wood and seeds  ...[in some] designs." (Art of Africa. 2003).

A  recently recorded (specialty house catalog), and surprizing(!), use of eggshells is their being part of a swan replica.   The swan, which is illustrated, is  described as consisting of "two genuine goose eggs, cut and decorated ... with pearls, rhinestones, and golden braid."  The shape of the replica is quite swanlike,  even with its highly decorated (for the most part bejeweled) coating.  It sits atop a music box. 

C. Eggshell.  Ostrich (Struthio camelus Linnaeus, 1758) eggshell heishi(=shell) beads (thicknesses  ~ 1-2 mm) from Africa.  These beads are thought to be old on the basis of their thicknesses -- i.e., the thicknesses of most fairly recently laid ostrich eggshells are thinner, apparently because of DDT pollution (Polly Nobbs-LaRue, personal communication, 2006).  (© photo courtesy of Polly Nobbs-LaRue), from  http://www.rings-things.com)

Currently, eggshell art includes such things as painting, etching, and carving eggshells, coating them with decoupage, engraving and decorating them to resemble the creations of Carle Fabergè (even though the famous Fabergè eggs were not eggs, only egg-shaped);  indeed, there is an International Egg Art Guild.  Another current use involves decorating surfaces  of diverse shaped pieces cut from eggshells by a multistep process akin to "Ukrainian egg decorating" for use as pendants (See Figure E).  Attention is also directed to the carvings of Alan Rabon, two examples of which are here as figures F and G, and also to the "sculptures" by "Blackhawk" of Spokane, Washington -- e.g., an ostrich eggshell that depicts "the world atop a trio of brass elephants,"  a goose eggshell, that includes "an intricate pagoda... and a dragon in flight,"  and a relief  "enchanting fairy priness (sic) resting on a spider web" on a duck egg.  (Blackhaw, nd;  the fact that he also has sculpted dove, emu, rhea, swan and turkey eggshells is noted.)  

Eggshell.  Ostrich (Struthio camelus Linnaeus, 1758) eggshell (height  ~ 13.8 cm), "ErReR Hill Farms' Angus/Santa Ostrich Eggshell" hand painted by Kim Pesarchic.   (© photo courtesy of Shahira Hoffman, from  http://www.errer.com/shop/eggshells/ )   

E. Eggshell.  Circular pendant (diameter -3.3 cm) with a piece of an Ostrich (Struthio camelus Linnaeus, 1758) eggshell as the surface for the decoration, which was made by a multi-step process akin to "Ukrainian egg decorating," fashioned by Jane Auciello.   Frances S.  Dietrich collection.  ( © photo by Dick Dietrich)

F. Eggshell. "Celtic Cross" goose (species not identified) egg (height ~8 cm). Hand carved by Carving by Alan W. Rabon of GREAT EGGSpectations Studio, Auburn, Georgia.  (© photo by Alan Rabon www.alanrabonart.com

G. Eggshell. "Hummingbird " emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae (Latham, 1790)) eggshell (height ~20 cm). Carving by Alan W. Rabon of GREAT EGGSpectations Studio, Auburn, Georgia.  (© photo by Alan Rabon, from www.n-georgia.com/egg-sculptures.htm)

The fact that Ostrich eggs used as water containers in Botswana have diverse designs drawn on them seems also noteworthy here:  "The San women fill the egg shell at waterholes in rainy season and safely seal it with grass plug. They usually draw or engrave personal emblems denoting ownership of the container, they then either store it in camps digging holes into the sand or prop it against the hut walls. ...   Each egg shell has designs drawn on ...[it], a bird, snake or an animal or some geometric pattern.  It is difficult to trace the meaning of these designs. The Gwi Bushman's emblem may represent a snake, birds, animals or humans, the Kung carve only geometrical patterns similar to the designs of rock art. The animal, bird, and snake designs may act as an emblem of the tribes and geometrical designs may suggest the location of the buried egg shell." (Satyawadi, 1999).  And, I suspect that similar use has very likely existed in other places where ostriches live.

And what about the use of eggshells as chapeaux? – In Uncle Remus’s story  "The hyena went and had a bath, got himself up in his best clothes, complete with beads, for the dance, and, as a finishing-touch, put the egg-shell on his head and stuck the feather into it."  Was/is this a common use?

OCCURRENCES & NOTEWORTHY LOCALITIES:     Eggs are, of course, available wherever the birds live either naturally or in captivity;  today, that means just about anywhere in the world for just about any bird.   For craftspeople who want to work with eggshells, and do not get them from birds they raise, eggs from several different birds, and of diverse sizes, are available "clean-blown" and deodorized from several marketers, including those with internet web sites.

REMARKS:  The roots and use of the term eggshell seem to be obscure.  So far as egg, the following is one version:  "c.1340, from northern England dialect, from O.N.[Old Norse] egg, which vied with M.E.[Middle English] eye, eai (from O.E.[Old English] æg) until finally displacing it after 1500; both are from P.Gmc.[ProtoGermanic] ajja(m), probably from PIE[Proto-Indo-European] owyo-/oyyo- 'egg'..." (Harper, 2002).   For shell attention is directed to the first paragraph under the Remarks subheading in the SHELL entry.  In addition, the following seems noteworthy here "c1300 K. Alis 577 He fondith to creope..Ageyn into the ay-schelle. ...  a1618 RALEIGH Prerog. Parl. 57 Without the Kings acceptation, both the publicke and priuate aduices be but as emptie Egg-shels. 1799 HATCHETT in Phil. Trans. LXXXIX. 328 The carbonate of lime exceeds in quantity the phosphate..in the egg shells of birds. ..." (O.E.D.).

Eggs of birds of the same species, indeed of individual birds, range in size:  Nonetheless, the sizes
of "typical" eggs of a few well-known birds seem noteworthy;  they are given according to the lengths of the egg's longest axis and the circumference of its largest "circle" perpendicular to that axis:  Ostrich - (axis -15 cm;  circum. - 42.5 cm);  goose eggs - (axis - 7.2 cm;  circum. - 23 cm);  white leghorn chicken ("large") - (axis - 5.7 cm;  circum. - 16 cm)ruby-throated humming bird - (axis - .08 cm; circum. - 1.3 cm) For further comparison, it is said that 4700 bee hummingbird eggs, which are about the size of a small pea, could be put inside one ostrich egg.  Also, the ostrich egg, which is the largest egg of any living species, is about the size of a medium-sized cantaloupe, but some dinosaurs had much larger eggs – e.g., one in the American Museum of Natural History in New York is about the size of a basketball. (Differences..., nd).  

Contrariwise, the shapes of eggs of individual species tend to be more-or-less the same, and four main shapes -- based on their cross-sections that include their longest axis -- have been given the following designations:  Oval (the "typical" egg shape -- i.e., rounded, largest at one end and  tapering towards the other end), elliptical (ranging from nearly spherical to elongate), subelliptical (so-to-speak intermediate between oval and elliptical shapes with more marked tapering toward the ends and the broadest part nearer one of the ends), and pyriform (a so-to-speak extreme case of the oval shape with the larger end blunt, the broadest part nearer that end and a marked tapering toward the other end).  In addition, some experts recognize nearly spherical shaped eggs (a subtype of elliptical) and, for example, "grebe [especially western grebes and also great cormorant] eggs which may have a marked taper towards both ends ... sometimes referred to as 'biconical.'" (a subtype of subelliptical) as distinctive shapes. (Baicich and Harrison, 1997, p.20-21)    

According to Dubin (1987, p.122), "The earliest known African beads are disk-shaped forms made of ostrich eggshells recovered from Upper Paleolithic (10,000 B.C.) sites in Libya ... Today, ostrich eggshell is still used for some beadmaking in East Africa and large quantities of beads are made from this durable and accessible material in the Kalahair (sic) Desert by the Kung San."   Furthermore, "Turkana [who] are nomadic pastoralists [in East Africa] are well known for their ostrich eggshell beads, although today the collecting of ostrich eggshells is strictly controlled."  The procedure in making the beads is described as follows:  the women "chip the tough shell into rough shapes using stones or their teeth.  Holes are then drilled in the center, and the edges are smoothed on a stone.  Ostrich eggshell beads have been made this way in East Africa since at least 7000, B.C." (op.cit., p.125).   Also, "in the Gobi Desert, archaeologists have found beads, 12,000 years old, fashioned of ostrich and dinosaur eggshell ... [and] Some of the oldest beads in the world have been found in India.  Disk beads of ostrich eggshell ... from Patne in Maharashtra date to 23,000 B.C.”(op.cit., p.158).

Several reports elaborate on the just mentioned procedures that are used to make ostrich eggshell beads.  The following is a good example:   "Bushmen are good craftsmen of beadwork. Hatched ostrich egg shells are broken into smaller pieces by using fingers, stones and sometimes teeth. Holes are drilled in the centre of the bead by turning the drill between the palms of hands. The beads are put on string made of twisted sinew. Each bead is patiently chipped until it becomes round by using a springbok horn and a stone. To keep the beads together, while being polished, a paper like fibre made from a plant root is placed between each bead. A grindstone is moved up and down until the beads are even, round and smooth." (Satyawadi, 1999).

Procedures for preparation of the eggshells and methods of carving/sculpting include the emptying of the contents of the shells, cleaning and sanitizing the shells, and cutting the desired pattern (in some cases preceded by prior sketching it on the shell, in others just so-to-speak free-hand).  Alan Rabon uses a high-speed drill -- similar to dentists' drills -- that rotates at 400,000 RPMs.  (see Blackhaw, nd; and Rabon, nd)

In the past, Randi Andreassen (See Figure B) and two
Norwegian egg collectors, have displayed their eggs as exhibition “1001 eggs”  in major Norwegian cities (e.g., Bergen, Oslo, Stavanger and Trandheim) during the Easter season.  This exhibition collection, the largest in Northern Europe and one of the largest in Europe, includes eggs without designs (e.g., dinosaur and crocodile eggs) as well as eggs from  diverse fowl (e.g., chickens, ducks, geese, ostrich and swans) many of which have designs on them.

When I think about eggs, the following things often come to mind:   Goose eggs (= zero) – was it Aesop's story "The goose with the golden eggs" that led to "goose eggs" meaning naught? – Readers may recall the end of the fable when, after killing the goose to recover all its gold, the greedy owner found nothing (e.g., Ashliman, 2001);   Easter eggs  –  coloring them when young and again with our "kids";    All of one’s eggs in one basket –  Contrast the version widely, though I think incorrectly, attributed to Cervantes' (1605..., p.136-137), which is based on the cited translation: "It is the part of a wise man ... not venture all his eggs in one basket."  with that of Mark Twain (1894)'s in Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar "Put all your eggs in the one basket and -- Watch that basket!"
                In a completely different frame of mind I think about the collection of eggs donated in 2006 to the Peabody Museum of Yale University -- where our older son, as a toddler, used to go to see all sorts of things (the group of quonsets we married veteran students called home
was less than a block away from the museum).  So much for that digression.  The collection, which was made by an Iowan farmer, Ralph Handsaker (1886-1969), includes more than 3600 eggs, all emptied and catalogued, representing 467 species.  What a great contribution to science by a nonprofessional scientist ! !

Although I have found no evidence of such use, it would appear to me that guinea hen eggs either have been used or are of potential use, at least for making beads.  This belief is based on the fact that they are much “stronger/thicker” than most bird’s eggs.

The design of the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah, is said to have been inspired by a hollowed eggshell.  


***Resin - Vases that closely resemble emptied chickensize eggshells with their tops broken off  have been "crafted ...
with the look and feel of thick bisque porcelain" and marketed 'by the dozen' for filling with small candies etc. - [Close macroscopic examination suffices to distinguish these "eggshells" from those of natural eggs.]

Shell (i.e., seashell) -- Some jewelry with seashell as the featured material has been misrepresented as fashioned from eggshell.  [Determination of the identity of such pieces may require microscopic examination or even the involvement of experts utilizing so-called state-of-the-art laboratory equipment

REPLICAS:    Especially in the past, glass (commonly blown "milk glass"), white marble, plastic, rubber, and wooden "eggs" were often placed where farmers wanted their chickens to lay their eggs;  I suspect some of these "eggs" may have been painted or otherwise made attractive for use as Easter eggs or to fashion "egg art."  More recently, similarly constituted "eggs" and others said to consist of papier-mâché around plastic or resin (polymer) have been painted or covered with decoupage and marketed for use as parts of such things as Easter wreaths, hanging on Easter trees or even musci boxes. Some of the finest examples are blown glass that are said to be bronze-plated;  others have been handpainted on the inside, using the traditional technique of reversepainting on glass, with designs such fanciful butterflies.   Porcelain egg containers ("caches") and cloisonné "eggs" have also been used as functional and decorative items for untold decades.  Some vases shaped like empty eggshells with their tops broken off have been drafted from "resin with the look and feel of thick bisque pordcelain.  Egg-shaped soaps, highly decorated with all sorts of patterns, are widely available, especially in the United Kingdom.  Italian Capodimonte "egg lamps," highly treasured by some people, are an example of larger than life replicas (is that phrase an oxymoron?) -- the "egg" portions of these lamps have long axes that measure nearly 38 cm [15 inches].  Early this year (2007), a friend directed my attention to some jewelry that also seems noteworthy here: Shelle Bailey of Essex in northern New York fashions pendants, brooches and pins that are miniature birds' nests;  the nests consist of hand-woven gold, silver and/or copper wire;  "eggs" within these nests are appropriately shaped  -- e.g., agate, jasper, turquoise or freshwater pearls. 

One advertized group of eggs leaves much to the imagination, at least so far as its composition:  Illustrated as broken, with a duckling emerging from it, the description falsifies these as "real eggs [my underline]... ready to hatch -- just place in water ...and wait
48 to 72 hours for a new friend to break out of his shell..."  Incidently, the "friend" may be a dinosaur, turtle or duck, which obviously takes on water and enlarges to break the shell;  indeed, it  continues to grow, if left in water, after it "hatches."

Sony's "Rolly" music player is the late-comer on this list.  It is egg-shaped and about the size of a gooze egg. 

| Top | Home |

R.V. Dietrich © 2015
Last update: March 15, 2008
web page created by Emmett Mason