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Mirabilistrombus listeri, Strombidae
11-03-2018, 10:05 AM,
Mirabilistrombus listeri, Strombidae
Image 1, below, shows my specimen of Mirabilistrombus listeri. I recently purchased this beautiful shell online and have been researching the history of the holotype of this species. I hope this account will be of interest to members and visitors.

The first specimen recorded in England was in the collection of John Tradescant the Elder(c.1570-1638}, gardener to Charles I. He had accumulated a vast collection of curiosities, including shells, in his travels abroad.
The collection was passed to his son, John the Younger (1608-1662) and on his death was bequeathed to Elias Ashmole. It is not certain if the specimen of M. listeri was included in the bequest as it is not in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, which houses the Tradescant collection today.
The first description and illustration of what is believed to be the Tradescant specimen appeared in 'Historiae Conchyliorum', published between 1685 and 1692, by Dr. Martin Lister (1639-1712), physician to Queen Anne and a great naturalist, often called the father of conchology. The exquisite engravings in 'Historiae Conchyliorum' were done by Lister's two daughters, Anne and Susannah, who were teenagers when the work was started.
Lister's briefly described the specimen as a Buccinum (whelk) which he named Bilingue Canadense, but the accompanying illustration is unmistakably the species we now know as Mirabilistrombus listeri. See image 2, below.
There is no record of who owned the specimen at the time of Lister and it does not appear in any records until 1783 when the same specimen was bequeathed to the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow, by Dr. William Hunter FRS who had acquired the shell from the executors of the estate of Dr. John Fothergill FRS who died in 1780. Both these men were avid collectors of shells.
In 1852, an article was published in 'The Annals and Magazine of Natural History; Zoology, Botany, and Geology', Volume 10, by Thomas Gray Esq. of Glasgow, under the heading, 'On a species of Strombus in the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow'.
Grey gave a full scientific description of a shell which he believed to be that described by Lister and named it Strombus listeri or Lister's Conch, the common name it retains to this day.
He was perhaps unaware (or did not care), that Lister's engravings were done by one of his daughters as he wrote 'In describing it anew we propose to give it the name of the author, and the only one we believe has figured it, who's work is a lasting memorial of unwearied diligence and perseverance'. The name, Strombus listeri Gray, 1852 was the accepted name of this species until 1998, when it was placed in a separate genus, Mirabilistrombus, by Gijs C. Kronenberg in an article in the journal Vita Marina, Volume 45. The species accepted name is now Mirabilistrombus listeri (Gray, 1852).
The choice of the new genus name, Mirabilistrombus, is an interesting one.
For many years, the Tradescant specimen was the only one known to science, but around 1870 another specimen of this shell was acquired by Mrs. de Burgh, a well known shell collector. Not knowing the existence of the Tradescant specimen, she asked George Brettingham Sowerby II, conchologist and illustrator, to name and describe her acquisition. Sowerby duly obliged and published an article in 'The Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London', 1870 entitled 'Forty Eight New Species of Shells'. Sowerby named the shell, Strombus mirabilis (Wonderful Conch). So, Kronenberg's new genus name comes from Sowerby's specific epithet.
Sowerby's fine illustration of the shell, from the same publication, is shown in image 3, below.
The de Burgh collection, which also included the holotype and only known specimen of Thatcheria mirabilis, was purchased by the British Natural History Museum in 1919 and the Sowerby shell is now in its collection, catalogued as Strombus mirabilis Sowerby II,1870 and numbered 19601621.
The Tradescant specimen is still in the Hunterian in Glasgow under the name Strombus listeri, catalogued as GLAHM:161089.
In September 1986 this old and famous specimen met with a very unfortunate accident.
The shell had been loaned to the Glasgow Museum and Art Gallery to be displayed in an exhibition on 'The History of Shell Collecting' and was to take pride of place in the exhibition.
On the morning of the 2nd September, the day before the exhibition was due to open, a sign was being erected above the exhibits using a portable scaffolding tower, when the heavy sign slipped and fell onto the display case containing the shell and tipped it over. The case lid came loose and the contents of the case spilled onto to the floor. The Tradescant shell was crushed under the case and broke into several pieces.
The shell was uninsured, so the Glasgow Museum paid £5,000 in compensation to the Hunterian which included £1,000 for the cost of repair by a ceramic restorer.
The damaged shell was found to contain sedimentary material which showed that it was not a live-collected specimen.

M. listeri was once considered extremely rare. It was included in the book 'Rare Shells' by S.Peter Dance in 1969. Very high prices were paid for specimens, but deep sea cable laying revealed that M.listeri is fairly common in the Bay of Bengal and prices have fallen considerably. Good specimens may now be obtained online for less than £30. Most collected specimens come from deep sea trawling off the coast of Thailand.

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