Thousands of Mollusks added to the museum’s scientific collections in 2023

Mollusk collections often stem from exploration, whether on a global or local scale. Personal collections frequently find their way to museums, especially when accompanied by available data. Our holdings have recently expanded with two significant acquisitions.

During the past summer, Kathryn Eickhoff-Smith generously donated the Read family collection, comprising approximately 10,000 marine and land snail shells from worldwide origins. This collection embodies the collecting endeavors of sisters Ella Howard Read (1845-1914) and Clara Anne Read (1850-1928) from Massachusetts.

While they didn’t gather the snails themselves, they likely acquired or traded for these shells through connections to their family’s involvement in whaling operations in New Bedford. These shells, treasured for their beauty and novelty, were showcased in exquisite custom-made cabinets, a common practice of that era. The specimens were transported back to the museum still in the cabinet drawers by Mollusk Senior Collections Manager Alex Kittle (pictured below) who drove to Naples, Florida to pick up the collection last fall.

The Read sisters’ father was associated with the Willimantic Linen Company, and many of the smaller shells were stored in boxes produced during the latter half of the nineteenth century with the company’s logo. The image below shows the label on one of these small boxes.

The second collection originates from Laura Zeller, a longstanding shell collector based in the Baltimore area. Comprising 210 lots of tiny specimens, this collection primarily features specimens from the United States, Thailand, and other distant locations.

The next step for both collections involves matching the shells with their respective data. While the Zeller collection benefits from an index and notecards, the Read family collection presents a greater challenge, potentially requiring collaboration with other museums to piece together details such as possible collection dates.