200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 72: “Samuel Stutchbury’s Catalogs ”

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reproduction of the title page an 19th century natural history auction catalog
Title page of the Stutchbury auction catalog featuring the personal shell collection of William Bligh.

Samuel Stutchbury’s Catalogs

Samuel Stutchbury (1798–1859) was an English naturalist who accumulated a vast collection of specimens and artifacts. He regularly sent books and papers to his friend T.B. Wilson, one of the Academy’s first presidents. In the Academy’s Malacology Library is a bound book of miscellanea from Stutchbury that includes his copies of catalogs from two of the major natural history auctions of the 19th century. Stutchbury attended both, and he noted the prices paid for every lot.

The first auction was the 1822 sale of the personal collection of Mrs. Betsy Bligh, wife of Admiral William Bligh, who is famous for being the victim of the 1789 mutiny on the British naval ship HMS Bounty. The 1,024 lots of shells contained many collected on journeys to the southern seas by Mrs. Bligh’s husband. Some shells came from the time when the admiral served as sailing master on James Cook’s fateful third voyage. The second sale was that of the collection of Charles Bennet, the fourth Earl of Tankerville (1743–1822). Held in 1825, this sale comprised 2,487 numbered lots, representing one of the world’s finest private shell collections. Both catalogs have descriptions and figures of new species by English naturalist William Swainson and were intended to be scientific papers. To have both of these rare, original catalogs is a feather in the Academy’s cap.

Check out Marveling at Mollusks at the Academy to find out more about our Malacology Collection.

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