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A Rare, Unusual 19th Century ‘Charm Curiosity’
British Fossilised Ammonite, ‘promicroceras planicosta’
Lower Jurassic Period, Approximately 190,000,000 Years Old
From Charmouth, Dorset
Ex English Private Collection

Although their origin was initially misunderstood, the naturally preserved remains of once living organisms known as fossils have been collected and valued by mankind for thousands of years. Throughout early history their mysterious existence was commonly explained by legends and folklore, often leading to widespread belief that they possessed supernatural or medicinal powers, a legacy which endures among some to this day. In more recent history, before their true nature and significance was fully comprehended, fossils were explained by the clergy and enthusiastically accepted by much of society as evidence substantiating the ‘Great Biblical Flood’.

For inestimable years, fossils had been collected and sold as simple ‘curiosities of nature’, however by the advent of the 19th century interest in collecting and seriously studying them was increasing.

The crumbling ‘Lias’, cliffs belonging to the Dorset seaside town of Lyme Regis and its neighboring village of Charmouth became particularly famous for fossils and its association with pioneering collectors, most notably, Mary Anning. Her spectacular discoveries and remarkably insightful recognition and interpretation of them, were instrumental in enabling eminent scholars of this emerging science to make their achievements. It is thought that the tongue twister, “She sells sea shells on the sea shore”, was invented in reference to her.

Few places can lay claim to such a unique heritage, so inextricably linked to geology and the historical science of palaeontology, as Lyme Regis and Charmouth, they are unquestionably worthy of the profound reverence in which they are held among scholars and enthusiasts of these subjects, both past and present. The diverse range of beautiful, Lower Jurassic fossils found there are often exceptionally well preserved, as such they are regarded as among the finest in the world and have become particularly prized by collectors. Today the area is a ‘World Heritage Site’ and designated site of ‘Special Scientific Interest’, (SSSI).

Probably the most well known fossil encountered from this area is the ‘Ammonite’, represented by a diverse group of varying size and appearance. They are an extinct mollusc related to todays ‘Cephalopods’, such as Octopus, Cuttle-fish and Squid. The protective shells are internally divided by a number of separate chambers which allowed the creature to control buoyancy, its head and tentacles emanating from within the final ‘living chamber’, which housed the soft tissue of the creature.

This uncommonly large and particularly fine specimen of ‘Promicroceras planicosta’, is very well preserved in calcite and beautifully marked, almost certainly the reasons which set it apart and selected for its special nature for use as a, ‘charm’, during the 19th century. This rare example of British folklore would have been hung from its suspension cord to work its magic, widely believed to be imbued with powerful magical properties and relied on to provide effective protection against serpents, to aid conception and cure infertility or to provide an effective cure for baldness.

Dimensions (Approximate)

Ammonite:  3.3cm (Across, at widest point)

suspension cord:  152cm