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Distinctive Collections: The Smallest Item

What is the smallest item in your collection?

While our Distinctive Collections have many small and fascinating items (a Sumerian clay tablet, a miniature edition of Shakespeare’s plays), the smallest item has to be this tiny seed pod amazingly filled with even tinier carved ivory animals. This item belongs to the James D. Reap, Jr. World War II Collection, which coincidentally also houses one of the largest items from Distinctive Collections (see: Scanning a Panoramic Sketch).


The little red seed comes from the red sandalwood tree, common in India and other tropic areas. Sometimes called the Red Lucky Seed, Circassian Seed, Jumbi-Bead, or magic charm bean, the hollow seeds filled with carved ivory animals (usually elephants) were likely sold or distributed as souvenirs that would bring good luck with each animal inside. This seed, like a fancy perfume bottle, has a carved stopper on top that fits just right. Inside easily and comfortably fits thirteen paper-thin little animals. The animals are intricately carved and some are quite recognizable. There is a camel and a giraffe, an elephant, and other four-legged creatures. Each one is only about 4 mm tall (the giraffe is 6 mm tall) and the seed with stopper measures 8 mm wide and 12 mm height.

We are not sure where Reap acquired it, but it was certainly while overseas between 1944-1946. After enlisting in the Navy in November 1943 and training at Bainbridge, MD and Fort Lauderdale, FL, he was then ordered to San Diego to join the Japanese invasion force. The USS White Marsh took Reap to Pearl Harbor, HI, where he was assigned to the USS Proteus, a submarine tender, as a radar and communications technician. He was stationed at various times at: Guam; Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands; Japan; and Panama. After the war, Reap was honorably discharged from Naval service on April 6, 1946.

Earlier this summer we had a chance to revisit this collection with James D. Reap, Jr.’s son and great-granddaughter during their visit to campus. They fondly remembered the little “ivory zoo” and son James J. Reap recalled his father proudly rolling out the sketch of Yokosuka Naval Base in his basement to show family and friends. The family is happy that the collection is now being preserved with Villanova University’s Distinctive Collections, and excited to see items shared online in the Digital Library.


James J. Reap, ’69 and his granddaughter, Abby, pose with items from the James D. Reap, Jr. World War II Collection.


1 People Like This Post


  1. Comment by Patricia Smith — January 16, 2020 @ 8:59 PM

    I have a seed pod exactly like this. I have no firm memory of where I got it but have had it since I was a little girl, playing with the miniature zoo. I am 66 years old now, so it was quite some time ago. My mother had pen pals and I somehow expect it came from one she had in India. Glad to see another set still also exists!

  2. Comment by Julene Beets — October 29, 2020 @ 4:13 AM

    Hi. I was so surprised to see this Item is on The Internet. I too have one that I also got as a little girl while taking a train trip from old Rhodesia to South Africa with my parents in the early 70’s. I have kept it all these years and although the bean is now a little brittle, it is still intact.

  3. Comment by Lorna Mikkelson — December 7, 2020 @ 9:51 PM

    I have one as well! Been treasuring it for maybe 40 yrs. I found mine in the bottom of a huge box of auction things I bid on here in Wisconsin. Know nothing about it or who had it. I would love to know more.

  4. Comment by Shannon — January 11, 2021 @ 1:27 AM

    I am shocked that I found these on the internet. Ive had these for close to 40 years. Was given to me from my mom. We both have no memory as to how or who or where she got them. Is this now a collectors item? Are they worth anything???

  5. Comment by Rebecca Oviedo — January 12, 2021 @ 11:43 AM

    We can’t comment on value, but clearly these are special and unique items to those who have come across them!

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Last Modified: August 14, 2019