Shell babies were popular in the early 1900s as they could easily be ordered from catalogs. They emerged in the United States as early as 1869 and remained popular until about 1920.1 Also called “Babies on the Half-Shell” they were typically carved of white marble and were about two feet tall. The shell is symbolic of birth and resurrection and was generally used for children five years old or younger. The child, a sweet little pearl, is typically shown in slumber, swaddled in comforting drapery.
These two marble shell babies are almost identical and are located near each other in the Marble City Cemetery in Sylacauga, Talladega County, Alabama. They are infant sons of James Henry Lane and his wife Nancy Virginia Roberts Lane. James Henry died in 1898 at the age of four months and his brother, Taul Morris, died in 1903 at the age of six months.
The Shell of the baby on the right is similar to the Sears Catalog baby offered for $38.40 in Acme blue dark vein marble or $40.20 in white Rutland Italian marble. Carvers typically made the statuary their own with variations on the baby, the shell, and the resting space.
Marie Eugenie Reynal Thebaud (top, left) is buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Bronx, New York. She died in 1893 at the age of five months. Her little hand is reaching under her bed where plants survive in the cracked base of the statue.
Oddly elongated “Little Sammie”, (top, right) son of Isaac and Sarah Bloch, died in 1888 at one year old and is buried in the Live Oak Cemetery in Selma, Alabama.
The tombstone for Maurine Robbins, son of Robert P. and Anna A. Robbins in Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia, is different in that the child has angel wings. Maurine was three months old when he died on April 1, 1896. His mother, Anna, died just 24 days later.
This Baby-on-the-Half-Shell is in the Long Canes Cemetery in Abbeville, South Carolina. Hiram Tusten Bradley, the son of W. W. & M. T. Bradley lies on a tasseled pillow with unusual, curly hair. Hiram died in 1896 at the age of eight months. Hiram’s father, William Wideman Bradley Sr. was chairman of the Clemson college board of trustees and chief auditor of the United States Department of the Internal Revenue Service for South Carolina.2
This is the oldest shell baby monument that I have found so far.
Little Katie Chapman Talley died in 1869 at the age of nine months. Katie was the daughter of Captain Algernon and Annie Talley, also buried in Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery. Katie “Fell Asleep” and appears to be resting on a bed of flowers.
Beale Renaker, age 2
“Suffer Little Children to Come Unto Me”
Son of Cornelius Ammerman and Julia Beale Renaker
Battle Grove Cemetery, Cynthiana, Harrison County, Kentucky
Edwin Lithgow Smyser (1863-1863), Section C, Lot 13, Grave 4A, Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, Kentucky
Son of Frances Lithgow Smyser and Jacob Lewis Smyser.
in Granite and Marble
Inside front cover of Sears Catalog.
Tombstones and Monuments
Sears Catalog Cover, early 1900s
1Annette Stott, “The Baby-in-a-Half-Shell: A Case Study in Child Memorial Art of the Late Nineteenth Century,” Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide 7, no. 2 (Autumn 2008), http://www.19thc-artworldwide.org/autumn08/91-the-baby-in-a-half-shell-a-case-study-in-child-memorial-art-of-the-late-nineteenth-century (accessed March 24, 2022).
2 Find A Grave, Memorial ID 86762202, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/86762202/hiram-tusten-bradley (accessed March 24, 2022).
Sears Catalog available at Stone Quarries and Beyond — a great website for everything quarry and marble.
5/20/2022 updated to include Smyser and Renaker Shell Babies.