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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.

 


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  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!

  6. Comment by Debra — March 11, 2021 @ 9:41 PM

    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…

  7. Comment by Rebecca Oviedo — April 23, 2021 @ 4:05 PM

    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!

  8. Comment by LJ Hatch — March 28, 2021 @ 4:43 AM

    I too have 2 of these. Would love to know more about them. They came from my grandmother. Curious for more info.

  9. Comment by Susan Wolkowicz — May 25, 2021 @ 1:17 AM

    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.

  10. Comment by Tina — June 2, 2021 @ 1:40 PM

    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.

  11. Comment by Jill Lowe — July 7, 2021 @ 1:07 PM

    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.

  12. Comment by Jan — August 20, 2021 @ 11:28 AM

    I have one that my sister bought for me at Expo 1967 in Montreal Canada.

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Last Modified: August 14, 2019