Remarkable "Ships of the Desert"

Cast Iron Dromedary Camel Bookends (LEO Design)

As wonderful as these cast iron bookends from the Twenties are, the camels they depict are even more remarkable creatures!  Their ability to survive in harsh, arid climes have earned them the nickname "The Ships of the Desert."

There are two basic varieties of domesticated camels: the single-humped Dromedary Camel found in Arabia (94% of camels) and the larger two-humped Bactrian Camel of Central Asia (Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan). Camels were first domesticated around 3000 years BC—and have been a reliable source of milk, meat and transport ever since.

In extreme conditions, a camel can go up to ten days without drinking water. It can also drink over 50 gallons of water in three minutes without harming its body or electrolyte system. But other physical adaptations make the camel extremely efficient water users. During dry spells, water can be extracted from those fatty humps and the animal's organs (like its kidneys) are designed to conserve and retain water.  A camel's nostrils even "re-collect" moisture during exhalation. During a drought, a camel can safely lose up to 30% of its body mass without cardiac failure and its brain is "cooled" by a specialized blood vessel network which protects it from undue heat. Long legs keep the animal far from the burning sand while a special breastbone elevates the camel (for cooling) when it lies on the ground at night. Its thick fur shields the body from the sun (and from heat reflected off the sand) and the fur changes to a lighter color in the summer (to better reflect heat and light).  A camel's urine contains very little water in it (making it rather syrupy) and its fresh droppings are dry enough to be burned immediately as fuel by camel herders.

The temperature fluctuations in a desert can be extreme and all that sand can make life difficult. The camel's thick fur, which shields it from excessive daytime heat, also protects it in the frigid desert nights—part of the reason a camel can survive body heat variations that would kill another animal—and also protects its body from whipping sand. A camel's nostrils can close tightly during a sandstorm and it has an additional (clear) eyelid which can sweep away a grain of sand which becomes lodged in its eye. And the camel's wide feet (and spreading toes) keep the animal from sinking into the sand.

The cast iron bookends, shown above, capture a rather regal camel at rest in the desert. They have remarkable detail and a very nice, aged patina. Click on the photo above to learn more about them.


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