Who Were They?: Giants in American Malacology

by Peggy Williams

Addison Emery Verrill, 1839-1927. A student of Louis Agassiz, he was professor of zoology at Yale and Assistant, U.S. Fish Commission. He wrote on New England shells, Bermudian natural history, and cephalopods. He ccontributed to the study of the "Blake" expedition (a deep sea trawler sent to study the ocean floor).

William Healy Dall, 1845-1927. Explorer, paleontologist, historian, malacologist, naturalist, Dall lived to the age of 82 and worked and published to the year of his death. another of Agassiz's students, he wrote 1,607 articles and books on mollusks, geology, Alaska and general natural history. He traveled in alaska, Europe, the northwest U.S., Florida, Georgia, and Hawaii. He was honorary curator of mollusks at the U.S. National Museum (USNM) (the Smithsonian) from 1868-1927 and Paleontologist for the U.S. Geological Survey from 1884-1927. Numerous shells were named by and for him including Conus dalli and Knefastia dalli.

Charles Torrey Simpson, 1846-1932. A biologist and conchologist, he was awarded an ScD degree at the University of Miami at the age of 80. He named many Florida shells with W H Dall and studied tree snails (Liguus) in Florida and Haiti, naming several.

Carlos de la Torre, 1858-1950. A Cuban, de la Torre earned doctorates at the Univeristy of Madrid (PhD) and in Pharmacy and later an MD at the University of Havana. He was a naturalist and malacologist and founded a publication on mollusks in Cuba. He wrote mainly about Cuban land snails.

Henry Augustus Pilsbry, 1862-1957. An Iowa farmboy who became a newspaper reporter first and final curator of the Conchological Section, Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia. He was editor of The Nautilus magazine for 59 years and was given three honorary Doctorates of Science. He was the first president of the American Malacological Union.He traveeled to Florida, Cuba, Hawaii, Japan, Australia, the West Indies, Galapagos, south and central America and published about 3,000 articles on mollusks and barnacles. His Land Mollusca of North America (North of Mexico) is a benchmark work.

Thomas Say, 1787-1834. America's first malacologist/conchologist. Born in Philadelphia, he was a pharmacist and naturalist, traveling in Georgia, Florida and west of the Mississippi. He named many shells and our local Olive, Oliva sayana was named for him in the year he died of fever.

Edmund Ravenel, 1797-1871. A South Carolinian, Ravenel was a professor of chemistry and hospital aministrator, among other jobs. He published a catalogue of the mollusca of South Carolina. Ravenel's scallop, Euvola raveneli is named for him.

Louis Agassiz, 1807-1873. Born in Switzerland, educated in Europe, he was a zoologist, icthyologist and paleoconchologist (fossil shells). He founded and directed the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) at Harvard, now one of the premier malacological collections and research institutions in the world. A nutmeg shell, Agatrix agassizi, is named for him.

Timothy Abbott Conrad, 1803-1877. Born and died in Trenton, NJ, he was a conchologist and paleontologist who participated in a survey of Tampa Bay and consulted on fossils at the Smithsoniial Institution. Many local shells were named by him and some for him: Turbonilla conradi, Transenella conradina.

Charles Baker Adams, 1814-1853. A New Englander, he named well over 100 shells, mostly Caribbean before his death in St Thomas, Virgin Islands at 39 of yellow fever.

Henry Hemphill, 1830-1914. A mason and bricklayer, he was an amateur conchologist who moved from Delaware to California. He died of arsenic poisoning in curing shells. Turbonilla hemphilli, a local shell, is one of at least five Florida shells named for him by various authors.

George Washington Tryon Jr, 1838-1888. Born and lived in Philadelphia all his life, he was a businessman and a founder and director of the Conchological Section of the Academy of Natural Sciences, Phiiladelphia (ANSP), another of our premier malacological institutions.He wrote the Manual of Conchology, volumes 1-9. A murex and a turrid are named for him.

Walter Freeman Webb, 1869-1957. Born on a farm in the midwest, he became a very famous shell and natural history dealer. At age 13 he began collecting and selling bird's eggs and sold over 20,000 eggs and 10,000 bird skins from 1883-1903. He worked as a stenographer, then a nurseryman, and continued selling natural history items in New York and later St Petersburg, Florida. He was America's largest shell dealer with 25,000 species in stock in 1930. A co-founder of the St Petersburg Shell Club, he published the Handbook for Shell Collectors and several catalogs of shells which are collector's items now. He died at 88 in St Petersburg.

Paul P Bartsch, 1871-1960. A native of Germany, Bartsch became a US citizen in 1888. He worked as an aid in the Division of Mollusks at the US National Museum (Smithsonian) from 1895 until he got his PhD at the University of Iowa in 1905, then became curator in 1914, until 1946.He traveled for molluscan research to the Philippines, Gulf of California, deepsea expeditions off Puerto Rico, and Cuba. He was charter member and second president of the American Malacological Union. He published numerous articles on the taxonomy of molluscs. We have many Florida shells named by him; Bartschia is a genus of Buccinidae.

Angelo Heilprin, 1853-1907. A native Hungarian, he came to America at the age of three and became a professor of Invertebrate Paleontology and Geology at the Acadamy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia. He led numerous expeditions to central and south America, Florida and Bermuda and died of a tropical fever contracted on the Orinoco River. Many of our fossils were named by him.

Katherine Jeannette Bush, 1855-1937. A marine zoologist and malacologist, she earned at PhD from Yale and worked there with A E Verrill and later at the Smithsonian. She published many names of Florida mollusks, mostly miniatures, including several Turbonillas.

William Gilbert Fargo, 1867-1957. A civil engineer from Michigan, he was an amateur ornithologist and conchologist, and was honorary curator of birds and paleozoology at the Museum of Zoology at the University of Michigan. He retired to Florida and collected fossil mollusks in St Petersburg. He wrote the section onTurridae in Olsson and Harbison's Pliocene of Southern Florida, a landmark fossil shell book.

Alpheus Hyatt Verrill, 1871-1954. Born in Connecticut, he was an author and naturalist, educated at Yale School of Fine Arts. He collected in the West Indies and Central America and moved to Florida where he became a shell dealer. He wrote many children's books, including Strange Sea Shells and Their Stories, a whimsical (and sometimes wrong, due to current misunderstanding of molluscs) book for children.

Paul P McGinty, 1877-1956. An architect from Georgia, he retired to Florida in 1923 and collected tree snails (Liguus) in Florida and Cuba. His son, Tom, continued his interest in conchology.

Percy A Morris, 1899-1969. A Connecticut yankee, Morris worked at the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale from 1928-1969. He wrote A Field Guide to the Shells (Atlantic and Gulf Coasts) and also one for the Pacific Coast and Hawaii, which are still used extensively by collectors (recently revised and expanded).

Maxwell Smith, 1888-1961. An amateur conchologist, he wrote several books, including reviews of Volutidae, Tritons, Harps and Helmets, and East Coast Marine Shells. He lived in Florida for 22 years and several Florida shells are named for him.

Jeanne Sanderson Schwengel, 1889-1961.An amateur malacologist, she was president of the American Malacological Union in 1952 and wrote, with L. M. Perry, Marine Shells of the Western Coast of Florida, a still-useful publication (though now outdated). She named several Florida shells.

Robert Tucker Abbott, 1919-199_.
Born in Watertown, MA, he was a malacologist, photographer and author of many shell books and a popular speaker. His career included curatorships at Harvard, USNM (Smithsonian), ANSP (Philadelphia), Delaware Museum of Natural History (the duPont Museum) and president of AMU. He was an honorary member of just about every shell club in America and many overseas. His American Seashells, especially the second edition (1974), is still THE shell book for the US. He made malacollogy popular with the public and easy to understand. He was to be founding curator of the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum on Sanibel and died just before it opened.

source: American Malacologists by Abbott