Birds' Nests are much celebrated as a peculiar luxury of the table, especially amongst the Chinese. They are found in caves on the sea-coast of Sumatra, more particularly towards its S. extremity, on the Island of Java, and on many of the Eastern Islands. The bird which constructs them, resembles the swallow. The nests differ from each other in size, thickness, colour, and weight; their diameter is commonly three fingers in breadth at the top, and their perpendicular depth in the middle seldom exceeds an inch. The substance of these nests is white, inclining to red, somewhat transparent ; their thickness is little more than that of a silver spoon, and their weight is from a quarter to half an ounce. They are very brittle, and have a shining gummy appearance internally, when broken, and are wrinkled, or slightly furrowed, on the surface. They are of three denominations, viz.
Head.-The cleanest and best are almost as white as writing paper, and as transparent as isinglass, having only a few downy feathers hanging about them. This is the kind which suits the China market, and is the only sort which should be taken. In purchasing them, be careful that they are perfectly dry; if so crisp as to break, the better, because they then weigh light; they are frequently damped to make them heavy, and are then tough and pliable. They are generally packed one with another, to the length of 12 or 15 inches, and secured with split rattans, to prevent their breaking. Always open the bundles before you weigh them, or you will have a good deal of dirt amongst them.
Belly.-These are of a darker colour, yellowish, but clear of dirt, and may with pains be made nearly equal to the head, by picking out the feathers, washing the dirt off, and laying them in the dew at night; but if left for the sun to shine on, they grow yellower, and spoil.
Foot.-These are very dirty and dark-coloured, having many feathers in them; this sort should be rejected, as it is not saleable at China.
On the Island of Java alone about 20 peculs are annually procured, and sent to China; they are sometimes brought in small quantities to Europe as presents.
Revised by Thomas Thornton.
Oriental Commerce, or the East India Trader's Complete Guide; …
London: Printed for Kingsbury, Parbury, and Allen, 1825.
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Last revised: 27 October 2014.