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.
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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!
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.
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.
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???
We can’t comment on value, but clearly these are special and unique items to those who have come across them!
My grandmom had the Elephant seed and several other collectable Elephants. She was a private duty nurse to Roebling daughter in Trenton NJ and their summer home in Spring Lake NJ…
Roebling owned Roebling steel and cable company ,Roebling and Trenton NJ. Both my grandfathers worked for Roebling Steel in Trenton NewJersey.
My Poppy,my Dads father was a blacksmith My Pop-Pop was an Engineer and had been the first seasons pro football player fir the Ysnkees(yes a football team in the 20s,straight out of Rutgers University)and also minored in Physical Education and headed the Recreation Depth for Roeblings various workers teams like bowling,baseball,basketball etc…Tgese special steel wired cables are used on Brooklyn and Golden Gate suspension bridges and many others…
Thanks for the comment! We have a photo album by Emily Warren Roebling in our Digital Library you might be interested in: https://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:480639!
I too have 2 of these. Would love to know more about them. They came from my grandmother. Curious for more info.
We live in Sydney Australia. My husband bought our red seed with its ivory stopper and the little animals inside in the 1960s from a shop near the Malvern Station in Melbourne. It was a shop with small carved items. We are 87 and 77 and have just given the red seed to a young family who will treasure it as we have. The mother of that family did some research and forwarded your link to us. Thank you to the Collection Dept and to all those writing about theirs.
I have one of these ivory tiny elephants. It was my grandfather’s when he was in the army based in India. They were given out to the soldier’s for good luck or so I was told.
I have one given to me by my first grade teacher. I still have the original box from Shopping International Inc. Shipped from Norwich Vermont 02/07/1968.
I have one that my sister bought for me at Expo 1967 in Montreal Canada.
I too have this, but unfortunately one little guys missing.
My father worked with diamond drilling equipment and it was a gifted to us from some associates who visited Canada.
Love it ❣️
After my husband passed away in 2018 he left me a pea size m&m with 177 to 182 ivory elephants , need a microscope and wear a mask to see them. And I sure they don’t blow away, Fansinating ! It’s nice to know there are others out there. I’m actually looking for someone who collects these items? I have no use for them
I had one as a child, but I don’t know what happened to it. I think my father might have put it away to save it, but who knows where?
It was such a favorite of mine. We had world travelers in our home all of the time. I think it perhaps came from India.
I have a red seed with one ivory elephant hand carved with ivory stopper and “1940 New York Worlds Fair” printed on box. It is great condition in the original box. Mother woned then sister now in family since I was born 81 years! Value speculating based on age and condition and where from $1,500 – $20,000
We are loving the comments still rolling in after this was posted almost three years ago! It is great to read your stories!
I have a pod with six animal carved out of ivory excellent quality 70 yes old from afica how much would it be worth
Hi my mother had the same item from her uncle who served in India in the war. The item along with her jewellery box was stolen from Toton Nottinghan 3 weeks ago, could I ask if any one becomes aware of any coming on to the market, that you could let me know.
Long shot I know, but sentimental value to all the family
I have some I brought back from India in 1959 when I was 19 years old. I am 82 now. I saw them on the Antique roadshow once and they valued them at £100 each.
Where can I get the bean with the elephants in it. Had one as a little kid
Again we cannot comment on value or anything, but we have seen these listed for sale on ebay occasionally.
I have an elephant door stopper. On the. Bottom it has these numbers
607183 under this is HHLA
My father gave me one as a little girl living in Bharain….i have no.idea what happened to it but i loved it……often think about it and would absolutley love to buy one…..i live in uk and one source doesnt deliver to uk…
Any suggestions wouls be greatly recieved…….fingers crossed…
It has been a dream of mine to replace it…..
I bought one of these seed pods with tiny slivers of ivory elephants from a street vendor in Mahabalipuram, India (near what is now Chennai) in 1972. I be
Ie e the cost was 1 rupee. I have no idea what happened to it.
Oh boy i’ve been talking about these seeds for the last 50 years and stopping by at places all over New York City and Boston to find these seeds. Last time I had some was when I was at Rutgers university in 1974. I had a girlfriend Bernice, she was Asian she lived on my floor. We were really good friends. She showed them to me one day she put them in the palm of my hand and sprinkled out the little animals and I was just in awe and she show me where she got it in New Brunswick,NJ. There used to be a lot of these little Portuguese stores or maybe they were Asian I can’t really remember but I did buy them back then. But I never held onto it and I would love to get some more. Does anybody make them anymore. I’m guessing it would be from something other than ivory. Loved seeing this photo and reading the background story!!