Modern times

The Mediterranean: the area of sea-silk. Map from Nicolas de Fer, 1709. Universit├Ątsbibliothek Basel
The Mediterranean: the area of sea-silk. Map from Nicolas de Fer, 1709. Universit├Ątsbibliothek Basel
In the late 15th and in the 16th century, the discovery of the Americas and the growing maritime trade bring new insights into the natural sciences. The invention of the printing press contributes to their dissemination. As a marine product the byssus of the pen shell enters in the first printed and illustrated nature books. Later we also find textiles of sea-silk, together with the noble pen shell. A large part of the still existing sea-silk items were once in natural history collections and cabinets of curiosities. Later, they found their way in the emerging natural history museums mostly based on these collections. Therefore sea-silk items are rarely found in textile collections.


Information on sea-silk is found in many travel books and diaries of young noblemen on Grand Tour. Later citizens went on Bildungsreise - educational and study tours -, they reported often of sea-silk and brought objects back home. Sea-silk textiles were also gifts in aristocratic circles of church and state.

At the end of the 18th century French and German textile companies experimented with sea-silk, however without commercial success. Later such fabrics are almost exclusively mentioned at different fairs and international exhibitions.

After 1900, Taranto and Sardinia experience a brief revival of sea-silk processing. The Second World War ended these efforts. Today, as the noble pen shell is protected, a revival of the production is illusory. More important, therefore, are the efforts to preserve the knowledge about this heritage and pass it on to future generations.