Mother of pearl is a hard, smooth, shining iridescent substance that forms the inner layer of the shells of certain molluscs, such as the oyster and abalone. It displays a mix of colours, ranging from deep cobalt blue and peacock green, to hues of purple, cream and pink.
Also known as nacre, mother of pearl is highly sought after as decorative pieces and used in the manufacture of jewellery, buttons, cutlery, guns, inlays in furniture, musical instruments – and now a limited Australian legal tender silver coin!
Australia’s mother of pearl industry
Australia’s commercial pearling industry began long before European settlement. Coastal dwelling Aboriginals in northern Western Australia harvested the abundant pearl shell by hand from shallow waters. Such was their success that they had enough surplus shells to engage in international trade. This began in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century with visits from the Macassan trepangers from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, which resulted in the exchange of trepang (sea cucumbers), turtles and pearl shell, for tobacco, rice, and axes.
The large, plate-like shells with stunning mother of pearl lustre were also traded domestically from Broome right across the country. From the deserts to the southern coast, pearl shells were sought after by Aboriginal peoples for cultural celebrations and rituals.
Western Australia’s modern-day pearling industry took off in the 1850s when European settlers began exploiting the value of the pearl fields in coastal areas such as Shark Bay. Other locations included Cossack, Onslow and Broome, which by 1910 was the biggest pearling centre in the world, home to nearly 400 luggers (ships) and more than 3,500 pearl fishermen.
The harvesting of mother of pearl shell, rather than the pearls themselves, continued to be the main objective of the West Australia-based pearlers, who provided almost three quarters of the world’s supply of pearl shell.
At the outbreak of the Great War, the price of mother of pearl fell dramatically as demand dropped with the invention and expanded use of plastics. During both World Wars, the industry came to a standstill as many workers enlisted. However, the post-war years saw its revival – this time, however, it was based on the cultured pearl industry, for which Broome is now equally renowned.
A stunning accompaniment to the Australian Abalone Shell 2014 1oz Silver Proof Coin, this release features a sculpted representation of an Australian white mother of pearl shell with a polished fragment of mother-of-pearl centrepiece, against a rippled pattern representing the ocean floor.
Presented in a classic Perth Mint display case, the stunning coin is accompanied by a numbered Certificate of Authenticity. No more than 3,000 of the 2015 Australian White Mother of Pearl Shell 1oz Silver Coin will be released by The Perth Mint.