200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 51: “Shells at the Shore ”

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Page from Shells of the Jersey Shore (1891) showing common mussels.
Two common mussels from Shells of the Jersey Shore

Shells at the Shore

Academy malacologist Henry Augustus Pilsbry (1862–1957) had a remarkably productive and influential career studying snails, clams, and other mollusks. He wrote approximately 3,000 papers, named more than 5,000 species, and collected specimens throughout the United States and the world. He enjoyed sharing his love of discovery with the broader public. In 1891, he published Shells of the Jersey Shore to better acquaint visitors to the “sea shore and its many forms of life.”

The book contains accounts of the more common species plus illustrations and descriptions to aid identification. Some accounts are quite engaging! On the common mussel (Mytilus edulis), Pilsbry comments: “Mussels are considered edible, but I would not recommend them to anyone but book-reviewers and other natural enemies of mankind.” He regards the soft or sand clam (Mya arenaria) to be “by far the choicest of our food clams; but all its tenderness and sweetness are concealed beneath a rude and unpolished exterior, as the novelists say.”

Marvel at mollusks at the Academy! Our exhibit on the mezzanine above the main entrance showcases nearly 100 specimens of clams, scallops, conches, cowries, land snails, chambered nautiluses and many other mollusks from the world-class scientific collections of the Academy’s Malacology Department.

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