Cypraea annulus: The ringed cowrie
Cypraea annulus is a cream-colored shell with an orange band encircling its rounded dorsal side. They are generally 1.5-2 cm in length. These gold-ringed cowries are found throughout the Indo-west pacific region, from East Africa to the Central Pacific Ocean. This species was used, along with Cypraea moneta as currency. The two shell species were often considered to be of equal value, being so similar in size, shape and appearance. As with the money cowrie, Cypraea annulus was collected in the Maldives and subsequently shipped to Africa or India. From India they were transported to China where they were used for centuries. It is documented that in China until the 14th Century it was still possible to pay taxes in cowries. By 1851 cowries were so plentiful and inexpensive, that inflation was making it impossible to continue to use them. Whole cargo ships were devoted to nothing but the shells, and people had to count out thousands of them for each small purchase.