Great Men of the World of Molluscs

In this paper, I will only cover a few of the more important "ALL-TIME GREATS" and their contributions to the world of molluscs - there have been a great many, plenty of them amateurs (i.e., folks who do things just for the love of it, not for payment!)


(They study the shell part of molluscs - their external Skeletons!)

George Eberhard Rumpf (often referred to as Rumphius) (1627-1702) Holland: Rumphius wrote the first large-scale written account of the natural history of South Pacific molluscs. He originated most of the names of the common Pacific shells, as we know them today, and was also the first person to report on the fatal bites of cone shells. What is even more fascinating to some, is that he continued to do good science even after going blind - working only by feel!!

Margaret Cavendish Bentinick, second duchess of Portland (1714-1786) England was an attractive, wealthy lady who had an insatiable taste for collecting shells. She entertained such dignitaries as King George III, Rousseau (French botanist), Captain James Cook, Sir Joseph Banks, and George Humphrey (shell dealer). She hired Daniel Solander, the knowledgeable conchologist and student of the great Linnaeus, to curate and prepare a catalogue of her huge, growing collection.

Hugh Cumming (1791-1865) England: his name is almost synonymous with conchology - no man has ever equaled the amount of material nor discovered a larger number of new shells. (nearly 2,000 species). Today, his collection resides in the British Museum of Natural History in London

Philippe Dautzenberg (1849- 1935 ) Belgium: an outstanding conchologist, accumulated rarities and old collections. By the age of 65, he had acquired more than 30,000 species and a magnificent library. His well documented collection is preserved in the Institute Royal des Sciences Naturelles in Brussels

Some of the other great conchologists are: 

        Sowerby: (Note: there were actually four Sowerbys (three major, one minor), all from the same family. Some of them also sold shells to collectors, so they were sometimes accused of describing (i.e., naming) new species just to make money from them!  Two of them were illustrators (they drew things very well - in this case, shells!) of considerable skill, and their work fetches a high price to this day.)


Malacologists: (Scientists who study molluscs - bodies and all!)
(Note: Some tricky parts here - so beware!)

Thomas Say (1787-1834) is known as the father of malacology. He did a lot of the initial organizational work ("Taxonomy") on how various species of molluscs are related to each other, and also described many species in the process.

Dr. Martin Lister, (mid 1800s ) England Physician: Dr. Lister's great work Historia Conchyliorum, consisting of a thousand engraved plates of world-wide species, was for years the only reliable source of illustration for most species.

Johann Chemnitz (late 1700s ) Denmark clergyman: wrote eight enormous volumes on the shells of the world. His beautiful colored plates, long and accurate descriptions, attention to locality data, when he had it, and classification were a great stimulus to others in the field.

Henry August Pilsbry (1862-1957) USA: produced superior research for seventy-five years at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. He described over 3,000 species and genera, and for some time also served as the editor of the Nautilus, America's oldest mollusc journal.

R. Tucker Abbott (1919 - 1995):  This remarkable man was one of the "bridges" between the old and the new schools of Malacology.  His nearly unbelievable productivity (he founded and edited the journals Johnsonia and Indo-Pacific Molluscs, published a large number of books both for Malacologists and Conchologists of all sorts, described many species, founded the Bailey-Matthews Shell museum, taught and supervised graduate Students for many years......) was only matched by his generosity of spirit and the keen interest he took in all aspects of Conchology in the United States: Tucker Abbott, Ruth Turner, Jim Harasewych, A.H. Verrill and Bill Clench, are largely responsible for the renaissance and transformation of the study of Molluscs (in North America) in the latter half of our century, and Tucker, along with such other notable authors as Phillip Dance and Percy Morris, was instrumental in preventing shell-collecting in North America from declining into obscurity, by providing a wealth of affordable, largely non-scientific shell identification literature. For a great Biography, see Lynn Scheu's article on the COA website.

Some other great malacologists were:

  • Georges Cuvier (1769-1850) France
  • H. M. de Blainville (1777-1850) France
  • Comte de Lamarck (1744-1829) France  (Note:  Lamarck was an exceptional scientist - a true pioneer in many areas.  He is unfortunately most widely known for one of his theories which was proven wrong - he hypothesized that animals and plants could pass on to their offspring characteristics they acquired during their lifetime, - in effect, an early version of the theory of Evolution!  For example, if a supposed ancestor of the giraffe had a short neck, but found that leaves on trees were good to eat, according to Lamark's theory, if the animal kept reaching up and stretching to reach higher leaves, he might stretch his neck, and would pass this characteristic along to his offspring.  Over time, each generation would have a longer neck, until the modern giraffe was reached!  This was proven wrong when the laws of genetics were discovered - only mutations can be transmitted to the next generation - not "acquired characteristics"!!)
  • Gerard Paul Deshayes (1796-1875) France
  • Edger Albert Smith (1847-1916) England
  • August A. Gould (1805) USA
  • W. G. Binney (1833-1909) USA
  • William Healy Dall (1845-1927) USA - he described a large portion of the molluscan fauna of the Pacific Northwest of N. America.
  • Charles Hedley (1862-1926) Australia
  • A. Hirase (mid twentieth century) Japan

A good number of very skilled malacologists are of course alive and hard at work today (there are many more species to be described than have already been found so far, and DNA and advanced dissection work are revising our taxonomic understanding - sometimes radically!).  Some of these will be covered in an upcoming addition to this section. Meanwhile, I would appreciate any information that would help in this task! (Contact me)