Author: Marjorie Ransom
Photographer: Robert K. Lui
Publisher: American University of Cairo Press, 2014

Format & layout

216 x 249 x 30 mm (8.5″ x 9.8″ x 1.2”)
264 pages
ISBN 978-977-416-600-6
Text and images on a white background

Silver in the land of Sheba

Photos, Illustrations & Diagrams

This is a beautiful hardcover book printed on glossy paper. The book opens with a map of Yemen and each chapter begins with a scenic image of Yemeni landscapes, setting the scene for the richly illustrated content to follow. Each spread contains images and text.

Images vary from museum-style images of jewellery and garments to candid photos of people either posing for the camera or general street and market scenes, showcasing the garments and jewellery in its cultural setting.


Silver jewellery from Yemen


“This book documents a disappearing artistic and cultural tradition with over three hundred photographs showing individual pieces rare images of women wearing their jewellery with traditional dress, and the various regions in Yemen where the author did field research. Her description of the people she met and befriended, and her explorations of the significance of a woman’s handmade jewellery with its attributes of power protection, beauty, and personal identity, will appeal to ethnic jewellery fans, ethnographers, jewellery designers, and art historians.

Amulet cases, hair ornaments, bridal headdresses, earrings, necklaces,, ankle and wrist bracelets are all beautifully photographed in intricate detail, interspersed with the author’s own photographs of the women who shared their stories and their hospitality with her. A chapter on the history of silversmithing in Yemen tells the surprising story of the famed Jewish Yemeni silversmiths, any of whom left Yemen in the late 1940s. this is the first in-depth study of Yemeni silver, illustrated with images of a world that is transforming before our eyes, and animated with the portraits of a precious legacy.”

An edited version of the book’s flap text.


Yemeni silver jewellery


The book is divided into nineteen chapters, which are grouped into four categories. The first section of the book is an introduction exploring Marjorie’s introduction to and journey in and through the Middle East. She shares her discovery and love for silver jewellery and explains how she and her husband became collectors, and how she later became a researcher and scholar of the subject. Marjorie also shares the geopolitical context of silver in Yemen and explain the different regional styles.

The second and third section is called The North and The South, and contain chapters focused on the different regions within these broader categories. Each chapter looks at a specific region, its people, lifestyle, and the garments and adornments that are typical of each region. Each chapter is richly illustrated with pieces from her collection.

Marjorie writes in an easy to read conversational yet factual and informative style, including anecdotes and stories from her travels, combined with academic research and anthropological and historical context.

The book concludes with comprehensive notes, acknowledgements, a bibliography, and an index.


Silver jewellery


In the Introduction chapter, Marjorie writes “Five years after my introduction to the Middle East, I married David Ransom.  … As we embarked on our tandem diplomatic careers, Arab silver jewellery became a joint pursuit. In the late 1960s, while posted in Jeddah, we learned that old family pieces were melted to make new jewellery for a bride. We began asking to see the baskets of discarded jewellery in silversmith’s shops destined for their melting pots and found lovely old Saudi pieces ready for destruction. Together we felt the urge to learn, document, and preserve an art form that we both found unique and beautiful. … David not only shared my enthusiasm but over the years, on his own, found some of our best pieces.”

Over their 30+ year diplomatic career, they collected almost two thousand pieces but it was only after their retirement, and as a widow, that Marjorie had the opportunity to formally study the history of traditional silver jewellery in Yemen. With the help of grants, she returned to Yemen on several occasions between 2004 and 2007. This book is the result of not only her years of collecting but also her subsequent studies.

It is a personal journey, a scholarly text, and a beautiful treasure all in one. Marjorie is currently working on the follow up to this book where she will tell the stories of the people who worked with and created these items, silversmiths themselves.

The book is highly regarded among Marjorie’s peers, including fellow contributors to The Zay Initiative’s blog, jewellery historian Sigrid van Roode and Middle East travel specialist Brid Beeler, as a valuable document and reference book. The Zay Initiative is honoured to have Marjorie as one of our esteemed Creative Advisors.