The Mollusca collections are the largest in the UK outside London. They are global in scope, excel in both their marine and non-marine coverage, and have played a role in the history of conchology. They include shells collected well before the National Museum of Wales received its charter in 1907, but most crucially record the time and influence of J. R. le B. Tomlin (1864-1954), who from 1890-1899 worked as a schoolteacher in Cardiff. Tomlin amassed one of the largest of all private shell collections, linked by his research and exchange to all of the others in this database. His collection, which in 1919 incorporated that of J. C. Melvill (1845-1929), is associated with an extraordinary library and archive of manuscripts and correspondence. These helped its curators produce useful historical works including Dean’s “Conchological Cabinets of the Last Century” (1936), Dance’s “A History of Shell Collecting” (1986), and the “New Molluscan Names” series of publications by Trew (1987, 1990, 1992, 1993).
Type material is present in the Museum’s older collections (e.g. G. W. Chaster, L. W. Dillwyn, and W. E. Hoyle) but is concentrated in the Melvill-Tomlin bequest, accessioned in 1955. This includes hundreds of types of taxa described by Melvill, Tomlin, and many other workers and dealers from whom material was acquired. Examples include R. H. Beddome, H. Fulton, P. Pallary, A. Morelet, E. A. Smith, G. B. Sowerby (I, II & III), and C. M. F. Ancey (the last catalogued by Wood & Gallichan, 2008). Type material is also present in several post-1955 collections including those of T. Pain, D. Bosch, and B. Coles. Past curators at Cardiff, including J. D. Dean, S. P. Dance, P. G. Oliver, and M. B. Seddon, deposited types of species they described themselves, as have current staff and associates.
Other historically important Mollusca include much other material cited in taxonomic or faunistic publications, or from famous collectors such as A. R. Wallace (Rowson & Wood, 2015). Collections acquired in the modern era (post-1950s) include the archaeological Mollusca of J. G. Evans (accessioned 1989), fluid-preserved European, Madeiran and North African molluscs in the Holyoak-Seddon collection (made in the 1980s), and inventory material from several marine and non-marine expeditions in the UK and overseas (1990s-2000s). Collections with a strong local (Welsh) emphasis include those supporting UK identification guides (e.g. Oliver et al. 2016), and vouchering records, such as those of F. W. Wotton (accessioned 1898), J. Chatfield (accessioned 1978), A. O. Chater, and H. E. Quick (accessioned 2013).
- Dance, S. P. 1986. A history of shell collecting. E. J. Brill – W. Backhuys, The Netherlands. xv + 265 pp., 32 pls.
- Dean, J. D. 1936. Conchological cabinets of the last century. Journal of Conchology 20: 225-252.
- Oliver, P. G., Holmes, A. M., Killeen, I. J. & Turner, J. A. (2016). Marine Bivalve Shells of the British Isles. Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales. Available from: http://naturalhistory.museumwales.ac.uk/britishbivalves [Accessed: 14 February 2018].
- Rowson, B. & Wood, A. H. 2015. Shells from Alfred Russel Wallace in the National Museum of Wales. Mollusc World 37: 19-23.
- Wood, W. & J. Gallichan, 2008. BIOTIR 3: The new molluscan names of César-Marie-Felix Ancey, including illustrated type material from the National Museum of Wales. BIOTIR Reports, Studies in Terrestrial and Freshwater Biodiversity and Systematics, 3: vi + 162 pp., 22 pls.
Collection Manager: Mollusca Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales, Cardiff
Email: Harriet Wood
Tel: +44 (0)29 2057 3244
The Mollusca collections of Glasgow Museums include approximately 100,000 specimens. These date from the early 19th century to the present. The collection includes specimens of terrestrial, freshwater and marine molluscs from all over the world, but there is a particular emphasis on British and European faunas.
It offers an excellent representation of virtually all families, environments and geographic ranges with particularly good collections of freshwater bivalves, terrestrial molluscs from Europe, worldwide terrestrial island species and tropical marine species. The majority of the collection consists of dry empty shells, although there are over 600 specimens in spirit, mostly from Scotland. There are many examples of endangered and extinct species.
There is also a small collection of objects made from shells, including cameos, trinkets and jewellery; and several glass models of molluscs made by Blaschka of Dresden, some of which incorporate real shells.
Notable collections represented include those of David Robertson (1806-1896), Dr Carl A. Westerlund (1831-1908), Thomas Gray (1820 -1910), James Napier Milne (1841-1918), Robert P. Scase (d.1993), and S. Peter Dance. There are some important archives relating to the collections – particularly the R.P. Scase collection. There are also manuscript books published privately by Thomas Gray of some of the specimens in his collection.
Fred Woodward was a curator of the collection from 1980-1992, and was responsible for building up a good collection of freshwater mussels. He also conducted research on type material of a number of other collections in the UK, for example the Angas material in the Great North Museum: Hancock, Newcastle upon Tyne.
Apart from a small number of specimens on display at Kelvingrove Museum, the collection is housed in Glasgow Museums Resource Centre and can be viewed by appointment.
Type material consists mainly of paratypes of land snails, many of which have come from S.P. Dance. There are a small number of syntypes and one holotype, of Harpa virginalis Gray in Sowerby, 1860. The Australian slit shell named as Pleurotomaria westralis Whitehead, 1987 is represented by a specimen featured in Woodward (1986).
Other historically important Mollusca include some of the shells in Thomas Gray’s collection which date back to at least the 1840s, and probably earlier. There are also specimens from the 1881 HMS Alert expedition collected by Richard Coppinger.
- Woodward, F.R (1986). The Glasgow Museums and Conchology. Hawaiian Shell News 34 (6) 7-8.
- Dance S.P. (1974) The Encyclopedia of Shells. Blandford Press Ltd., England
- Scase, R. & Storey, E. (1975) The World of Shells. Osprey Publishing Ltd., England
Research Manager (retired) Glasgow Museums
Glasgow Museums Resource Centre, 200 Woodhead Road, South Nitshill Industrial Estate
Email: Richard Sutcliffe
The Mollusca collections date from the early days of the Museum, but were substantially expanded by the Natural History Society of Northumberland, Durham and Newcastle upon Tyne (founded 1829), in particular the Hancock brothers, John and Albany. They were instrumental in raising the money to get the museum’s new building built in the 1870s, and it remained The Hancock Museum until renamed the Great North Museum in 2009. The museum still houses many specimens from both the Hancock brothers’ collections. John, the younger brother, was a master taxidermist, but the marine invertebrate collections of his older brother Albany are arguably of greater significance.
Type material of Mollusca is found largely in the collections of Albany Hancock (1806-1873), Joshua Alder (1792-1867), and George French Angas (1822-1886), all three of whom were keen, locally-born naturalists.
Albany Hancock was a passionate naturalist from childhood, and helped found the Natural History Society, but initially trained as a lawyer. However, he eventually realised his talents lay elsewhere, and went on to write some seventy publications on natural history, including his seminal work, Monograph of the British Nudibranchiate Mollusca: with figures of all the species (1845-1855) published in eight parts, along with colleague Joshua Alder. Both contributed fine illustrations, though most were by Hancock. It was the most comprehensive account of the British nudibranchs yet produced. Albany was awarded the Royal Medal of the Royal Society for his work in 1858. Davis (1995) gives an account of the production and local support for this work, and its role in helping establish the fledgling Ray Society. Some of the specimens featured were acquired from nearby Cullercoats and other sites along the Northumberland coast. Most remain in the collection to this day, including the type specimens featured here. The collections also include radulae or “tongues” prepared by both workers, and specimens from Alder’s studies on local Mollusca including shelled species described by himself.
Angas was sent to school and “placed in an office” by his father, but soon left to spend almost 20 years in Australia, also visiting New Zealand, South Africa, South America, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. A successful artist, he published several books of lithographs of these places’ indigenous peoples, landscapes, and fauna, and became Secretary of the Australian Museum, Sydney, in the 1850s (Morgan, 1966; Whitley, 1969). Throughout his Australian travels he carefully dredged and collected shells, and on returning to England in 1863 began to write up his discoveries. In all he named over 500 new species, and was dubbed “The Father of Australian Conchology” by Iredale (1959). Many were named after people like J. W. Brazier, who collected for Angas in the Solomon Islands and to whom Angas hoped to dedicate “a good showy snorter of a Helix” (Whitley, 1969). Angas presented his marine types to the Natural History Museum in London, while his land-snails were bequeathed to his home city when he died.
Other historically important Mollusca in the collection reflect the broader historical trends in the development of natural history. The extraordinary shell paintings by George Gibsone (1762-1846), another founding Natural History Society member, deserve a special mention (see http://www.nhsn.ncl.ac.uk/resources/archive/naturalists-of-the-north-east/george-gibsone/). The hobby of shell collecting, especially popular in late Victorian times, left a wealth of large tropical shells, while early twentieth century acquisitions were better documented and focused on parts of the British Empire. Most recent material comes from local collectors, such as Durham University marine biologist Marie Victoire Lebour (1876-1971), who published extensively on the biology of several British molluscs (Russell, 1972).
Alder, J. & Hancock, A. 1845-1855. Monograph of the British Nudibranchiate Mollusca: with figures of all the species. Ray Society, London.
- Davis, P. 1995. George Johnston (1797-1855) of Berwick upon Tweed and the pioneers of marine biology in north-east England. Archives of Natural History 22: 349-369.
- Iredale, T. 1959. George French Angas: the Father of Australian Conchology. Australian Zoologist 12 (4): 362-371.
- Morgan, E. J. R. 1966. Angas, George French (1822-1886). Australian National Dictionary of Biography Vol. 1. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/angas-george-french-1708
- Russell, F. S. 1972. Obituary: Dr. Marie V. Lebour. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the UK 52: 777-788.
- Whitley, G. P. Conchologists of the past: George French Angas (1822-1886). Journal of the Malacological Society of Australia 12: 48-60.
Keeper of Biology Great North Museum: Hancock, Newcastle
Newcastle upon Tyne
Email: Dan Gordon
Mike G. Rutherford
Curator of Zoology Hunterian Museum, Glasgow
Graham Kerr Building, University of Glasgow
Email: Mike G. Rutherford
The Mollusca collections are the fourth largest mollusc collection in Britain, with 166,000 lots, and an estimated 750,000 individual specimens. The shell collections are regularly consulted by researchers – a recent, high-profile study focused on the prevalence of nematodes found entombed in the shells of land-snails (Rae, 2017). McGhie (2008) provides an introduction and a list of type Mollusca then identified, around a third of which are primary types.
Type material occurs in a number of contributed collections, mainly those of A. Abercrombie (India), R. D. Darbishire, Prof. A. C. Haddon (Torres Straits), Rev. J. Hadfield (Lifu, Loyalty Islands), L. J. Shackleford (especially Marginella), G. C. Spence (especially African land snails and Urocoptis), and F. W. Townsend (Persian Gulf). There is also syntype material from the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition (1902 – 1904) and some received from the Smithsonian Institution in 1973 in exchange.
Much of this material was described by James Cosmo Melvill (1845-1929) and Robert Standen (1854-1925), Assistant Keeper of Zoology at the Museum, in a series of over 25 papers (Trew, 1987). Melvill worked for his uncle’s business in Manchester from 1872-1887 and built up strong links with the Museum, the Manchester Anglican Diocese, and the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society. Manchester University conferred an honary doctorate in natural history upon Melvill in 1908 (Trew, 1987).
Other historically important Mollusca include many molluscs among over 1,500 specimens from the HMS Challenger voyage (1872-76). W. E. Hoyle, the first Director of the Museum, described the cephalopods of the expedition in the ‘Challenger’ reports. The collections grew from the Manchester Society for the Promotion of Natural History, which acquired one of William Swainson’s shell collections in 1825 and which also included the collection of Captain Thomas Brown. Type specimens relating to these two collectors have not been located to date (McGhie, 2008).
- McGhie, H. A. 2008. Catalogue of type specimens of molluscs in the collection of The Manchester Museum, The University of Manchester, UK. ZooKeys. 1. 1-46. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.4.32
- Rae, R. 2017. The gastropod shell has been co-opted to kill parasitic nematodes. Scientific Reports 7: 4745. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-04695-5
- Trew, A. 1987. James Cosmo Melvill's New Molluscan Names. National Museum of Wales, Cardiff. 1-84pp.
Curatorial Assistant Natural Science Manchester Museum
University of Manchester, Oxford Road
Email: Rachel Petts
The Mollusca collections currently comprise around 25,000 lots of specimens, held at the World Museum in central Liverpool. The collections were much larger before a firebombing raid in 1941 which unfortunately destroyed the majority of the collections built up through the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Thankfully one of the major components to survive, having been moved to safety, was the collection of F. P. Marrat (1820-1904) with many type lots. Marrat, a teacher who ran a shell and fossil shop in Lower Arcade, Liverpool, arranged the collections of the Liverpool Royal Institution and later those of Liverpool Museum, where he was employed for many years.
R. E. Winckworth’s (1884-1950) collection of British Marine Mollusca was one of the most complete ever formed and specimens rescued after the raid remain a large element of the museum’s marine holdings. Winckworth had the idea of dividing the waters around Britain into Sea Areas, which are used today in the recording schemes and atlases of the Conchological Society of Great Britain and Ireland.
Nora F. McMillan (1908-2003), the longest-serving mollusc curator at Liverpool, began work on the shell collection in 1933 and after the war set about rebuilding the collection with a strong focus on British marine material. She made the collections accessible to conchologists such as J. R. le B. Tomlin, at one time a schoolteacher in the city. Her publications include a biography of Marrat and his new taxa of fossil plants as well as of Mollusca (McMillan, 1985).
The personal collection of the Ulster naturalist A. W. Stelfox (1883-1972), rich in UK land Mollusca, was an important acquisition. Part of A. E. Salisbury’s collection is also held in Liverpool and includes some syntypic material from a wide range of conchologists, notably H. B. Preston.
The collection is mainly dry stored. Possible type material is isolated from the main collection and stored in a metal cabinet for easy access. The collections are used to provide comparative material for identification of UK shells acquired during museum field surveys and for general enquires. They also provide a very attractive, durable and popular exhibit in our handling centres and are frequently featured in other displays and exhibitions.
Type material is held from around 60 different collectors, but surviving primary types are mainly within the Marrat collection and includes many beautiful Oliva and Nassa. Other types are known to have been lost as a result of the bombing.
Other historically important Mollusca occur within the J. S. Gaskoin (1790-1858) collection of shells. These show development abnormalities and natural repairs after injury; another intriguing survival from the 19th century.
- Ford, W.K. 1953 Notes by J.R. le B. Tomlin, M.A. on Marrat’s species of Oliva. The North Western Naturalist. pp. 442-449. Reprinted by Liverpool Public Museums.
- Ford, W.K. 1953 Frederick Price Marrat 1820-1904. A Liverpool Conchologist. Liverpool Bulletin Libraries, Museums & Arts Committee vol. 2 No. 3.
- McMillan, N.F. (1985) Frederick Price Marrat ‘Conchologist etc.’ 33 pp. Merseyside County Museums.
Assistant Curator (Entomology) National Museums Liverpool
World Museum, William Brown Street
Email: Tony Hunter
The museum holds approximately four million specimens of (non-insect) invertebrates, a large portion of which are Mollusca (probably the third largest collection of Mollusca in the UK)
The Mollusc collections are divided into dry shell material and wet preserved material each of which is divided into British and ‘exotic’ collections. The dry collections are dominated by the A. E. Salisbury specimens purchased by the museum in the 1960s. This collection is worldwide in scope, marine and non-marine and consists of tens of thousands of shells. It is important as a reference collection as it attempted to represent all genera of shelled molluscs. It is particularly rich in non-marine species from Africa, India, Australia and the Pacific Islands.
The wet collections predominantly contain more recent material from around Britain and Ireland including large and scientifically important collections acquired through collaboration with a variety of institutions. These form an invaluable resource for the research of British marine fauna. Examples of collections acquired include deep sea benthos, Scottish sea loch specimens (Marine Nature Conservation Review), SEAs (Strategic Environmental Assessment) programme and AFEN (Atlantic Frontier Environmental Network). Voucher specimens from inshore monitoring surveys commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage have further enhanced the collections in recent years. Surveys focusing on protected marine features from Shetland to the Solway Firth including Limaria and serpulid reefs, maerl beds, saline lagoons and sea caves have all contributed scientifically valuable specimens to our holdings.
The exotic wet collections are dominated by Antarctic material from the Scottish National Antarctic expedition (1902-1904) and Antarctic octopuses collected by Professor A. Louise Allcock Curator of the National Museums Scotland Mollusca collection (1998-2002).
Aside from dry shells and wet collections, we also hold two large collections of radulae (A. J Peile & Gwatkin), models of Mollusca (including some Blaschka), and shell artefacts.
Type material The majority of type specimens of Mollusca in our collections are from the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition of 1902-4 led by William Speirs Bruce and named by J. C. Melvill & R. Standen. Authors of other types held include Edward Forbes, W. E. Hoyle, H. B. Preston and A. L. Allcock.
Other historically important Mollusca Collections:
- Louis Dufresne 1819
- Lord Byron’s expedition on HMS Blonde in 1826
- Edward Forbes – HMS Rattlesnake 1846-1850, Aegean Sea
- Edward Chitty – Jamaican land snails
- R. K. Greville – non-marine shells
- Lt. Col. A. J. Peile – Streptaxidae
- R.H. Beddome – non-marine shells (within the Salisbury Collection)
The Mollusca collection is one of the largest and oldest in the world, comprising an estimated 8 million specimens and around 60,000 type specimens. The marine collection is strong in deep sea material due to the Discovery, Challenger and Porcupine Expeditions. The cephalopod collection includes important historical material, with many significant type specimens and collection localities. The terrestrial and freshwater collections are the most geographically diverse and historically important in the world, spanning the late 18th to the mid-20th centuries. It has especially strong holdings of European, Eastern and Southern African, Indian, Southeast Asian (especially Burmese) and Australian material.
Material is stored in a number of ways, dry shells, whole animals in spirit, frozen tissue and microscope slides, and is used extensively by researchers, either during study visits or by means of loans. The NHM is therefore a hugely relevant and important repository and regularly acquires important new donations of type and general collection material from researchers around the world. The main visitor, enquiry and loan usage of the collections is from scientific students and researchers globally for taxonomic, phylogenetic, conservation, ecological and biogeographic studies.
Type material is held from a variety of historical and contemporary malacologists including H. & A. Adams, W. Benson, P. P. Carpenter, H. H. Godwin-Austen, A. Morelet, A. d’Orbigny, L. A. Reeve, L. Pfeiffer, G. B. Sowerby (I, II & III) and E. A. Smith among many others.
Historically important Mollusca occur in many of the collections. The British Museum was established in 1753 with the bequest of the Hans Sloane collection that included thousands of shells. During the next century the Sloane collection was merged with further donations such as those from the Royal Society, the Rev. C. M. Cracherode, the Earl of Tankerville, Joseph Banks and W. J. Broderip. These donations also resulted in the bequest of specimens from other historically important people such as the Duchess of Portland and the Duke of Calonne, and specimens from Cook’s voyages.
The collection of Hugh Cuming (1791-1865), comprising almost 83,000 specimens, was purchased for £6,000 in 1866. This was probably the most significant addition ever made to the molluscan section and the collection contained an enormous amount of primary type material described by many contemporary collectors and scientists.
In 1881 the natural history collections were moved to their new home, the British Museum of Natural History (now the Natural History Museum, London) in South Kensington, were they currently reside.
- Breure, A.S.H. & Ablett, J.D. (2011) Annotated type catalogue of the Amphibulimidae (Mollusca, Gastropoda, Orthalicoidea) in the Natural History Museum, London. ZooKeys, 138, 1–52.
- Smith, E. A. (1906). Mollusca. The history of the collections contained in the Natural history departments of the British museum. British Museum (Natural History). pp 701-730.
- Stearn, W.T. (1981). ‘The Natural History Museum at South Kensington: a history of the museum 1753–1980’. Natural History Museum. Links
Senior Curator in Charge, Mollusca Section Natural History Museum, London
Email: Jonathan Ablett
Tel: +44(0)20 7942 5996
Curator of Marine Gastropoda and Historical Collections Natural History Museum, London
Email: Andreia Salvador
Tel: +44 (0) 207942 5115
The Mollusca collections are an eclectic mix of aquatic and terrestrial species. The two most noteworthy collections are those of Linter and Montagu, which have remained discreet from the consolidated collection.
Miss Juliana Emma Linter (1844-1909) was born in Teignmouth, Devon to a well-known musical family. At an early age she went to study in London and was a regular reader at the British Museum. Later she made a collection of land-snail shells that is outstanding in its breadth and quality. Miss Linter started her collecting in the 1880s and bought collections from India made by W. Theobald and Colonel Skinner. Skinner’s collection had many specimens belonging to the “Helices” (Miss Linter’s favourite group of molluscs) as well as rare specimens from T. V. Wollaston’s collection. She was a member of the Malacological Society of London, and although she did not attend meetings (Smith, 1903), she wrote frequently to conchologists of the day and traded to the extent where she was described as a shell dealer by Tomlin (1949) (Tomlin also gave her name as Jane, seemingly incorrectly). After Linter’s death, Miss Florence Jewel (her executor and fellow conchologist) wrote to the Museum to donate the collection of around 15,000 specimens.
Colonel George Montagu (1753-1815) was born in Lackham, Wiltshire. At the age of 17 he joined the army and fought with his regiment in North America. He was later able to focus fully on scientific study and made major contributions to British ornithology and marine biology (Cleevely, 1978). One of his most important works was ‘Testacea Britannica: a Natural history of British shells, marine, land, and fresh-water, including the most minute: systematically arranged and embellished with figures’ (Montagu, 1803). Later he also published a supplement to the first volume. Montagu used his own collection of shells for the descriptions and illustrations. Initially Montagu left the collection to his son Henry D’Orville, who donated it to RAMM in 1874.
The Montagu collection is enormously significant taxonomically, particularly for the British and European fauna. Many of his species names are still in use. In January 2020 Arts Council England awarded the collection at RAMM ‘Designation Status’. This is a reflection of its outstanding quality and research potential – it is Britain’s most intact and taxonomically-important, early 19th-century collection of British shells (1800-1816). The GB Mollusca Types project (2016-2018) helped make it possible to deal with the Exeter material, and also that at the Natural History Museum, London in particular detail. The resulting papers (Oliver et al., 2017 and Oliver & Morgenroth 2018) also give a biography, a full list of taxa, and details of the collection’s connections to many other British conchologists. Achieving Designation Status would not have been possible without the types project.
Type material is concentrated in the Montagu collection, which holds over 80 type lots of taxa described by Montagu in Testacea Britannica, and included in this database. A number of other type lots, of taxa described by G. B.Sowerby III and G. K. Gude, have already been identified in Miss Linter’s collection.
Other historically important Mollusca are likely to be uncovered by ongoing research on both collections.
- Cleevely, R. J. 1978. Some background to the life and publications of Colonel George Montagu (1753–1815). Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History 8(4): 445–480. https://doi.org/10.3366/jsbnh.1918.104.22.1685
- Montagu, G. 1803. Testacea Britannica
- Oliver, P. G., Morgenroth, H., and Salvador, A. 2017. Type specimens of Mollusca described by Col. George Montagu in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter and The Natural History Museum, London. Zoosystematics and Evolution 93 (2): 363-412. https://zse.pensoft.net/articles.php?id=13073
- Smith, E. A. 1903. [Obituary notice, J. E. Linter.] Proceedings of the Malacological Society of London 9 (2): 89.
- Tomlin, J. R. le B. 1949. Shell sales. VI. Proceedings of the Malacological Society of London 27 (6): 254.
Collections Officer Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter
Bradninch Offices, Bradninch Place, Gandy Street
Email: Holly Morgenroth
The Mollusca collection includes 588 lots of specimens, representing around 550 Linnaean species. The collection only contains dry shell material. Although small, the collection is of considerable worldwide significance. It was that of the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), who described and named over 800 molluscan species, including many of the most familiar and widespread.
By 1731, Linnaeus had started collecting shells, with most of them from places he had never visited. Through his many correspondents, he obtained shells by other collectors, including shells from Cook’s Endeavour voyage (Linn. Corr., 15:395) and from Danish naturalist Otto Friedrich Müller (1730-1784). The collection was inherited by his son, Carl Linnaeus the Younger (1741-1783).
The shells, along with most of Linnaeus’ scientific collections, were purchased in 1784 by Linnean Society founder Sir James Edward Smith (1759-1828), and after Smith’s death, were purchased by the Linnean Society from Smith’s widow in 1829. Being a botanist, Smith tended to neglect the shells, adding material that had little relevance to the originals, and giving away some original Linnaean shells to other enthusiasts.
After Smith’s death, the collection was left in serious disarray, and made worse through mishandling and poor curation. The first serious investigation of the collection by a malacologist was not until the 1850s, when Sylvanus Hanley (1819-1899) attempted to put things in order. Unfortunately, Hanley’s attempt was not completed, and he was also responsible for mounting many specimens on wooden tablets with ‘coarse blue paper’, which is still evident on many of the specimens today (Dance, 1967: 5). However, the resulting Ipsa Linnaei Conchylia (1855) remained ‘the only comprehensive study of the Linnaean molluscs’ until Peter Dance of the British Museum (Natural History) reviewed the collection (Dance, 1967:5). Before Dance’s study, the last major attempt was in the 1950s by Henry Dodge, and while his reports were ‘extremely useful in many ways’, Dodge never saw the Linnaean shells, and relied almost solely on Hanley’s unreliable Ipsa (Dance, 1967:6).
Dance’s comprehensive 1967 study of the Linnaean shells brought many former identifications into question and highlighted the difficulty of positively identifying types in the Linnaean specimens due to the following factors:
- Most of the specimens lack locality data, which must be inferred from knowing who was sending specimens to Linnaeus and where those collectors travelled.
- Linnaeus was known to make many descriptions based on other works and illustrations at the time, and it is difficult to show whether he owned a described specimen before or after he published its description.
- Linnaeus the Younger and James Edward Smith added to and mixed in their own specimens with Linnaeus’ originals, reducing the scientific value and throwing into question the provenance of many specimens.
- The collections had been historically poorly handled and poorly curated.
As a result of the factors listed above and further complications outlined by Dance, almost all of the Linnaean specimens in the collection have been identified as ‘possible, unverified’ syntypes, lectotypes, or paralectotypes, but only about one-fifth of these have been verified as type specimens, including 17 neotypes.
For anyone studying the Linnaean shells, reading Peter Dance’s 1967 report is recommended, where Dance also provides a comprehensive list of the names of those who gave shells to Linnaeus, or provided information that he published. The list includes brief biographies and place names. In 2007, former Honorary Curator of the Zoological Collections of the Linnean Society Kathy Way also noted that:
One factor that must be taken into account by taxonomists wishing to cite Linnaean material in their revisions is that the Zoological Museum of the University of Uppsala holds over 1000 lots of Linnaean mollusca which have been listed by Wallin (1993) and should be consulted before lectotype designations are made (Way, 2007:42).
Dance, S.P., ‘Report on the Linnaean shell collection’, Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London, Vol. 178(1), 1967, pp.1-24.
Hanley, S.C.T., Ipsa Linnaei Conchylia. The shells of Linnaeus, determined from his manuscripts and collection… Also, an exact reprint of the Vermes Testacea of the ‘Systema Naturae’ and ‘Mantissa’, London, 1855.
Tunstall, M. to Linnaeus C., Linnaean Correspondence, Vol.15, 15 June 1772, pp.365-396, https://linnean-online.org/777773656 [accessed 11/02/2022].
Wallin, L., Catalogue of type specimens. 4. Linnaean specimens. (Second revised version). Uppsala University Zoological Museum, Uppsala, 1993.
Way, K., ‘The Linnaean shell collection at Burlington House’, Gardiner, B. and Morris, P. (eds), The Linnean, Special Issue No. 7, 2007, pp.37-46.
Linnean Society Online Collections: https://linnean-online.org/
The Linnean Special Issues: https://www.linnean.org/our-publications/the-linnean/the-linnean-special-issues
Example of specimens mounted by Hanley. The blue paper can still be seen on many of the specimens.
Head of Collections The Linnean Society of London
Burlington House, Piccadilly
Email: Isabelle Charmantier