Ostrich Egg Cup

This is a decorative cup made from the shell of an ostrich egg and gilded in silver. It dates to 17th century Europe, although the specific country is unknown. The 1600s were a time of massive exploration and travel for Europeans. Merchant ships began to make regular routes between the Mediterranean and other continents, including Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Ostriches (and their eggs) were only one of the exotic species that amazed European consumers. Globalized trade introduced thousands of previously unavailable natural resources. In some cases, animal-based products like elephant ivory or ostrich eggs were more popular (and more practical) than their live counterparts. In other cases, the animal itself was a commodity. Nobility often exchanged big cats or monkeys as gifts and kept them in sprawling private zoos. Some collectors also trained and bred exotic birds.