The term conch describes several different snails that typically live on the ocean floor and have a signature spiral-shaped shell. Conch shells are highly prized among beach combers and shell collectors. Since conch shells can be exquisitely beautiful and highly sought after, how much are they worth?
A conch shell can be worth only a few bucks to hundreds or even thousands of dollars. A conch shell’s value depends on its species, the shell’s condition, its appearance, and to whom you sell it. Conches also command a higher price in certain parts of the world.
Conch shells are rare, even for regular beachcombers, and few are worth more than a few dollars. In this article, I’ll discuss what a conch shell is worth depending on various factors. Let’s dive right in!
What To Keep in Mind With Conch Shells
Conches are highly-prized seashells, thanks to their exquisite beauty and intricate design. However, not all conches have the same value, and certain varieties command a much higher price. Fortunately, you can still use the conches you find to create unique works of art or add to your home decor. Check out my article for more information: 12 Best Things to Do With a Shell Collection
Here are a few things to remember when picking up conches and determining their worth:
1. Avoid Picking Live Conches
Most people will tell you that live conches (ones with organisms living in them) are the best because they’re still in pristine condition. This is true because the mollusk continues to secrete substances necessary to form the shell. As such, these shells are often far more beautiful than those that have been floating around for a few weeks or months.
However, it’s crucial to check whether there’s a live creature in the shell and return it to the water immediately if you find one. Mollusks don’t survive long outside the water and will quickly dehydrate and die if left out too long. As such, it would be cruel to take them back home, even if the shell is sparkling clean and in excellent condition.
And ethical concerns aren’t the only reason you should leave living creatures alone.
Bringing home live mollusks from the beach can disrupt the marine ecosystem in ways you can’t imagine. For starters, by killing these mollusks you reduce the population, which means fewer conches in future generations as there are fewer reproductive opportunities.
Additionally, there are plenty of animals in the ocean that depend on these conches for their sustenance or eat conches as an essential part of their diet. Removing these organisms from the food chain risks disrupting the natural cycle and affecting all marine creatures in the process.
To determine if a conch is alive, hold it in your hand for a few moments to tell if it’s still alive. If it’s alive, you’ll likely notice some movement. You may also notice a claw popping out of the deep cavity as the creature starts to panic. If you’re holding the conch in your hand, the mollusk will probably be aware of the threat and start to move about.
Another way to check is to look for what’s called an operculum near the shell’s opening. This appendage is like a trapdoor that the creature uses to shut itself into the shell. If you notice such a door near the cavity, you can bet the creature is still alive. However, if you are still unsure, it’s best to leave the shell alone.
2. There Are Many Conch Varieties
If you’ve picked up a beautifully designed conch, it’s easy to imagine that riches are sure to follow. However, not all conch shells are created equal, and the species you find will determine how much it’s worth. While most shells on the beach won’t earn you more than a few bucks, certain shells are worth hundreds, even thousands of dollars.
Below is a list of the most valuable conch shells in the world:
This shell is named after the Roman goddess Juno, wife of Jupiter (the Roman counterpart of Zeus). The Junonia is smaller than most conches, and while they’re quite sturdy, it’s rare to find one washed up on the beach. As such, the Junonia is a high-coveted shell among beachcombers and shell enthusiasts.
The Junonia is a sea snail that lives at the bottom of the ocean and spends its entire life there. Even when it dies, the shell will likely stay buried in the sand rather than make it up to the surface. You may only spot a Junonia on the beach after an intense storm. However, this is only if it makes it to the shore in one piece.
These shells can be priced at a few hundred dollars, depending on the condition of the shell and the person you’re selling it to.
This shell isn’t exactly a conch but is also produced by a deep-sea snail and is similar in structure to some conch shells. This shell, whose name literally means the Glory of the Sea Cone, is one of the world’s most expensive and rarest shells, and it’s possible to make a fortune if you find one in pristine condition.
However, as mentioned, this shell is incredibly rare and comes from the deep sea, so you’re unlikely to find one that isn’t damaged.
Back in the 1800s, a Conus was sold for an exorbitant amount, three times the price of Johannes Vermeer’s most expensive painting at the time, Woman Reading a Letter. Unfortunately, divers and commercial trawlers have discovered where these snails live on the ocean floor, and the value of these shells has dropped since then.
However, if you spot a Conus Gloriamaris, you can be sure to make a few hundred bucks off it if you’re crazy enough to sell it in the first place.
The queen conch is probably the most famous shell known to us and one of the biggest conch shells out there. This shell is highly coveted for its unique appearance and because people enjoy the meat of the snail living inside it. However, as mentioned, avoid taking home shells with living creatures as it’s cruel and could disrupt the ecosystem.
Additionally, many states also have prohibitory laws on taking home queen conch shells. In fact, a woman in Florida was sentenced to jail for fifteen days for taking home forty queen conches, all of which had live specimens.
Thanks to its indescribable beauty and unique look, the queen conch can command an especially high price if sold to the right people. And if you’re fortunate enough to find one in your lifetime, it’s best to take it home and let it add to the aesthetic appeal of your house.
The Hawking conch is a more common sea shell species and is smaller than most of its contemporaries. And while these shells are still quite rare, most specimens are unlikely to fetch you even a hundred dollars.
However, these are still a bit more valuable than other shells of the same variety. If you’re on the East Coast of Florida or the Gulf of Mexico, you’re certain to find plenty of these specimens for your collection.
The goliath conch is a species of sea snail that happens to be one of the largest mollusks known to mankind. Additionally, its shell is the largest in the conch family, as indicated by the name Goliath who is a Biblical character of gigantic size.
The goliath conch can be found off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and is endemic to Brazilian waters. However, the species has shown up in other parts of the coast, and you may be lucky enough to spot a few on different beaches.
The goliath conch is moderately expensive, and you should be able to get a few hundred dollars for it if the shell is in good condition. However, this species is also quite rare, and it’s hard to find an unbroken specimen.
The Laksmi conch can be found primarily off the coast of the Indian Ocean, and you’re only certain to find it along the coast of India. This particular conch is of significant religious importance to Hindus in India and is used for particular ceremonies.
This conch is one of the few right-turning shells with an opening on that side. The Laksmi conch is used to produce sounds and create specific musical notes. However, it’s nearly impossible to find this shell on the beach, and thanks to its religious importance, the species isn’t aggressively hunted either.
And among conches, the Laksmi Shanka (conch) is perhaps the most expensive one out there. In fact, the Lakshmi conch sells for a particular price per gram of weight. The price range is between $10 and $30 per gram. As such, almost all Laksmi conches are bought and sold for thousands of dollars.
Unfortunately, you must be in India and have enough luck (or shell-hunting expertise) to spot this elusive species.
3. The Age of a Conch Matters
While this may not seem obvious, older objects often tend to carry a higher price, especially when it’s something as fragile as a sea shell. As such, even if you find a rare conch shell on the beach, the value of the shell will differ based on how old it is.
Fortunately, conch shells are sturdier than most regular sea shells, and they’re sure to last a long while, floating around the ocean until they wash up on shore.
French researchers discovered an 18,000-year-old conch shell they believe was used as a musical instrument! And considering how long it takes for a deep-sea conch to wash up on shore, you can bet they’re usually of advanced age.
Below is an easy and accurate way to determine the age of a sea shell:
- Every shell has ridges along its length, and studying these ridges will give you an idea of the age of the shell. For this, you’ll need a magnifying glass, a calculator, measuring tape, and a conch.
- To start, use the magnifying glass to zoom in and count the number of ridges along the length of the shell. If the number exceeds 100, stop counting and measure the length of one hundred ridges on the shell.
- Now, measure the length of the entire shell and record this number. Use the first measurement as a reference point for the number of ridges.
- For example, if 100 ridges equal 5 mm (0.20 inches), and the shell is 15 mm (0.59 inches) in length, you can approximate the total number of ridges to be 300.
- Divide the number of ridges by 365 to get the approximate age of the shell. This method is fairly accurate as scientists have found that most mollusks build one new ridge daily.
When you know the conch shell’s age, you will be in a better position to assess its value and decide if you want to sell it.
4. Who Buys the Shell Matters
As mentioned, the Laksmi conch typically costs a few thousand dollars. However, this shell is venerated in India and is likely to command the highest price in this region. However, if you want to sell this conch variety in Florida, where there are plenty of shells to choose from, the price may drop considerably.
Additionally, if you’re selling your conch shell to a shell store, you’re unlikely to get the bargain you’re looking for. Instead, it’s best to find a passionate shell collector and market your conch shells to them for the best price.
As such, the region where you sell the shell and the people you sell it to play a crucial role in the value of your conch.
5. You May Need a Permit
You can find a variety of sea shells at most souvenir shops at the beach. However, some of these stores require a permit to sell such a large number of sea shells. And if you’re running a business out of conches, you’ll likely need one too. However, selling one or two shells without a license shouldn’t be a problem.
Of course, the laws differ in each state, and it’s best to understand them clearly before selling your shells.
Additionally, if you’re exporting your conch shells you will need an official permit when sending more than three shells. The permits may also differ depending on the type of conch you’re sending. Remember that this permit is required regardless of whether you bought the shell at a store or found it while combing the beach.
If you visit another country and plan to bring back conch shells from there, you may need a permit in certain cases. However, if the shell is squeaky clean, you should be able to avoid this hassle. As such, it’s best to clean your shells properly before bringing them home.
6. Selling Conch Shells Isn’t Such a Profitable Business
As you can probably tell from the previous points, selling conch shells isn’t very profitable. Most conch shells aren’t that valuable, and the expensive ones are so rare that you’re unlikely to find enough for your efforts to be worth it.
Additionally, most of your profits may come from exporting conch shells to places where they are in higher demand. However, as mentioned, exporting more than three shells often requires a permit which can be expensive and complicated to obtain.
As such, selling conch shells isn’t profitable, and it’s best to restrict your sales to a few individual transactions. Otherwise, your best bet is to use these beautiful specimens to decorate your home and add aesthetic appeal.
7. Conches Can Be Hard To Find
As you can see from the previous points, conches like the queen conch, Lakshmi conch, and the goliath conch can be incredibly elusive. In fact, you can comb the beach for days without sighting them.
Additionally, specific laws are in place to prevent people from taking home more than a few specimens at a time. Also, some species of conch only show up near certain coastal regions and nowhere else. As such, if you aren’t at the right beach, you’re unlikely to find what you’re looking for.
Given how hard it is to find conch shells and collect them legally, it’s best to use them recreationally if you spot any.
Conch shells are beautiful and exquisite items created by some of the rarest creatures on the planet – deep-sea snails. It’s only natural that they hold a certain air of mystery and wonder and that we value them the way we do.
It’s a fault of human nature that something rare is automatically valuable, forcing people to look for conch shells in unethical ways. And while you can make a decent profit from certain conch specimens, it’s best only to do so if you find the shells normally and without harming the creatures that live inside them.