Chaney : The Unknown Treasure of St. Croix
Posted on April 19 2020
When I first arrived on St. Croix I spent most of my days snorkeling and treasure hunting. I was surprised to find something other than sea glass and seashells – I discovered “Chaney”!
For those who don’t know, chaney is shards of fine china which can mostly be found along the beaches and on plantations (if you are a hard core Chaney hunter like myself, you will find these shards everywhere including parking lots).
How did these miniature works of art come about? Well here’s a little history. First of all the name, a word made up by local children who used to smooth and round out these shards and use them as play money, combining the words “china” and “money” they became forever known as Chaney.
How did Chaney get here? Well, one explanation is that aboard passenger ships originating from Europe passengers found many of their luxury items, mainly their dinnerware had broken during their journey. China plates, tea cups, and urns being some of the items taxed upon weight caused these broken pieces to be thrown overboard in order to avoid paying the taxes.
The second explanation is rather simple, while washing fine china after a meal some items began to chip or simply break. Since there was no trash pick up in those days, garbage and other trash was tossed out the kitchen window.
Another very historic explanation came during the slave rebellions and the infamous ‘Fireburn’ in 1878. The slaves in desire of their freedom looted and burned these finely-appointed plantations and many of the items were destroyed.
The history and stories behind these shards is what attracts me and keeps me looking for more. I have suffered many back aches from walking with my head down and hunched over as well as odd stares and questions of what I had lost only to admit, I was looking for broken pieces of china. I was either laughed at or joined in my hunt.
Today, pieces of Chaney are used to make one-of-a-kind jewelry and has inspired many artists and photographers to feature Chaney in their work. Each piece is unique in design and how it is broken and shaped. Some are textured, some have complex patterns, flowers, ships, or windmills. The most common color found is blue and white, but many different colors have been found all over St. Croix including green, brown, red, swirls and even purple.
You are likely to find Chaney after a storm or light rain when the sea reveals what it has kept deep down in its belly or when the dirt is washed away uncovering pieces buried by time. However, a sure bet in finding Chaney is located in the jewelry shop of Crucian Gold. In fact, Brian Bishop, founder of Crucian Gold, was one of the Caribbean children who found value in the Chaney pieces, and subsequently became the first person on St. Croix to create jewelry from these pieces of Crucian treasure. Brain said: “I remember the girls using them as a token to play hopscotch. A piece was worth more to trade with if the edges had been worn smooth to make a more convincing ‘coin’.” Brian began making jewelry from local materials in grade school and by his late teens, he had developed the technique of setting Chaney in a bezel which could be worn as a necklace. Brian taught this technique to his sons, Nathan and Ben Bishop, and the family continues to make and sell their beautiful Chaney jewelry at Crucian Gold.
Good luck and happy hunting!
Interesting fact : At age 13 Impressionist painter Pierre August Renoir apprenticed as a porcelain decorator in France. Maybe you will find your own Renoir design.
– Terri Wunschel, Crucian Gold Jewelry Designer
This blog post was originally written for gotostcroix.com as part of their 100 things to do on St. Croix.