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  One happy find on the beach is all it takes to get you hooked on seashells - they are irresistible, inspiring, fascinating.. But the scientific side of shell collecting is where it gets really interesting! How do you find the name of any shell?  

Why Collect Seashells?

Seashells can be classified as natural history objects (same as i.e. fossils or minerals). Looking at archaeological digs from around the world, seashells turn up everywhere! Apparently humans have loved and treasured shells from the beginning. There is evidence that we treasured, collected, loved, wore and traded seashells from the earliest possible time. Collecting shells is one of the oldest traditions in human history.


Specimen Seashells and Collectors - what are they? 

You can collect shells just for their amazing shapes and beauty (like most people do) - or you can be curious to find out more: Look at their names, where they come from, how common or rare they are and their potential scientific interest. You could start collecting scientifically, i.e. specimen seashells with data (a data label with accurate recorded origin information, see info below), which should always be carefully kept with each shell. The scientific (and monetary) value of each specimen seashell depends on what it is (ID), where it is from (locality), how complete it is (condition), its size and how rare it is (availability). If you continue, you'll become an amateur Conchologist (someone who collects and studies seashells). Conchology is a very interesting part of Malacology (the study of molluscs) and also part of Invertebrates study in Marine Biology.


Collectors will usually look at journals, magazines and books that delve into the subject. While hunting for information about seashells or contact other collectors online, you'll also learn about International Seashell Exhibitions and Trade Shows happening around the world, where collectors meet, discuss, show and trade their shells. Rarity / availability is a particularly interesting issue: New shell species are being discovered all the time - often hotly debated - and named, described and illustrated in quarterly or annual scientific magazines. Obviously, newly discovered species may be rare and exciting! Knowledge is key: Amateur collectors, who started as kids picking up a shell on a beach and got curious, looking for more until they knew more about their favourite shells than anyone else.. Some of those amateur shell lovers are now recognized as world experts in their chosen field and are describing new species in their spare time..


Scientific Seashell Data / Labels: 

Specimen seashells have data tags or information labels. The info should include:

NAME / ID: A scientific name - this typically includes: Genus and species name, the Author (the person who first named and described the species) and the publication year. Some specimens also have a local variant / form name or subspecies tag.

LOCALITY: Country or region of origin and any known details on habitat (i.e. depth, collecting method, local area info, i.e. "by diver, at 10m, on sand near coral", etc.). Locality info typically depends on the source: We often scuba-dive in remote areas, so this allows us to supply shells with very detailed data, incl. GPS info to 100m radius. We also may source shells from old collections (may have less info). Deep water trawled shells may carry even less data, depending on which boat they came from and how accurately fishing logs were kept.

SIZE: Specimen size in millimetres, which represents the largest measurable distance between the outermost points of a specimen (exception: Spiny Bivalves - shell body is measured without spines).

DESCRIPTION: Mentions typical features, condition, shape, colour, pattern, presentation and/or major differences to other forms of the same species.

OPERC / PERIO: Some species have an operculum (hard shell 'door" attached to the animal's foot, i.e. in Turbo Shells) or periostracum (soft outer shell surface coating, i.e. on Syrinx Shells), so we may comment on presence / absence of operc or perio when describing a specimen shell.

REFS / IMAGES: Data labels may include references to a particular publication (i.e. image in a shell book).



Seashell Books - why do I need at least one?

Aside from coffee table seashell books, there are also scientific reference books that illustrate seashells especially to help you with identification: They show related seashell species side by side, with names and lots of helpful info, like average size, locality / distribution, etc. Holding a shell in your hand and finding a matching image in a book is the perfect way to identify your own shell collection. If you can't find a good match based on the images in your book (after all, there is a lot of variety in natural seashells), the book will help you narrow it down (i.e. tell you which family or group your shell belongs to). So once you have pinpointed the group you are looking for, it's much easier to find out the exact species / subspecies / colour form. With the right book you can find your shells very quickly.



Seashells online

You can also find lots of seashell images online. Internet search engines are very helpful for:

- More Images: Armed with a tentative scientific name (ID) or name of a family, you can type that into a search engine to quickly look up additional images for comparison. Or if you only have a (usually Latin) scientific species name (i.e. on a price list) and are unsure what it actually looks like, just type its name into your browser to look for images. Bear in mind that not all IDs posted on the internet are correct (not everyone's an expert), but among several images there are usually some correct ones.

- More Detail: You are trying to find a name for the shell you are holding and the image you have found looks close but still a little different? Use the internet to find related info, i.e. try looking up other species in the same group (i.e. other species with the same Genus) at established scientific databases, such as www.marinespecies.org. Often the correct name you seek is one in the same group or family.


Conversely, the internet can be really unhelpful. If you don't know where to start, it is pretty useless: You're looking at a shell - it has no data, no name! Maybe you know where it came from, but nothing about the species, group or family of shells it belongs to. This is a difficult issue to resolve without a book. Leafing through a good reference book (i.e. 'Australian Marine Shells' - if the shell came from a local beach) will put you on track in a couple of minutes! Quickly and efficiently compare your shell to images until you find a close-looking match that provides the starting point ( i.e. a group or genus) and that's like a real fast shortcut to finding more matches online. On the other hand, without a book you could easily spend hours surfing the net without getting anywhere.

A good reference book = a shortcut.



Which is the right seashell book?

We need to look up information on shells quickly or compare shells to images on a daily basis in our office. To work efficiently, we need to find specific info as quickly as possible. Having the right reference book available saves us lots of time, so we have compiled a list of really helpful books and sell these online on our BOOKS page. When looking for an ID, any of these books will allow comparing a shell against images of close matches, all side by side on the same page. You can see immediately where your species might fit in the range of colour forms or look up subspecies in a second, just by turning a page. You just need to have the right book!

Shell collectors may only use just a few well-chosen books - but those we will use all the time. Depending on what you collect, you would usually have at least one general shell reference book ('Encyclopedia Of Gastropods' is a good one!) to narrow down options or look up worldwide information. You'll also want a book or two just about your favourite seashell family.

It's great fun to be able to identify your own shells quickly and efficiently just by turning a page. You can look up which subspecies and varieties there are, what they look like, how rare they are, where they come from, etc.. Armed with the ID and basic info, browsing online is also way faster, way more fun!



Specimen Shell condition & grading

When ordering Specimen Seashells online, you'll want good quality, mature and beautiful shells. We conservatively grade all specimens we offer as follows:

GRADING: Notes the condition of a specimen shell by a commonly accepted International Standard of GRADING terms.

SPECIMEN SEASHELL GRADING (Shells are viewed under good lighting with the naked eye)


Shells are without any discernible blemish or flaw. The specimen will be fully adult and of typical size for the species.


Shells that have a very minor flaw or blemish which is hard to perceive, shows up only under close scrutiny and in no way detracts from the look of the shell.


Shells have a noticeable flaw or blemish which does not detract from the look of the shell.


Shells have more than one noticeable flaw, growth line or blemish consistent with the species, but the overall presentation is very good. These shells are generally excellent value and suitable for aesthetically pleasing collections, being considerably less expensive than GEM specimens.


Shells with small chips, noticeable growth lines, nacre lifts, blemishes or other obvious flaws, where the overall appearance and presentation of the shell is obviously not perfect. NOTE: Several large sized or rare species are only available in F+ condition or less.


Shells with major chips, growth lines, nacre lifts, blemishes or other obvious flaws. Very fresh dead collected but otherwise good specimens are also often classed as F/F+. NOTE: Some shell species are only available in F/F+ condition or less.


Shells that are either badly damaged, obviously juvenile or dead, but suitable as a representative of the species or for study purposes. 
NOTE: Some shell species are only available in F or dead condition.

No grading system can possibly do justice to every specimen and most Specimen Shells will require further description. Since seashells are difficult to photograph well (image may not clearly show flaws or can be tampered with), the above Intl. grading terms are widely accepted for seashell descriptions.



Our Money-Back-Guarantee:

Grading and photographing seashells well is not easy. As specimen seashells are by definition highly individual objects, there is still no better way to evaluate them than holding a shell in your hand and looking at it. So we are offering you a ‘Money Back Guarantee' for all our specimen seashell items, which means that you can return any of them for a refund (or online shop credit if you prefer this) to the full value of the item(s) returned, excluding shipping cost.

In short, if you do not like the shells we have selected for any reason, you can send them back for a full refund or exchange if you wish.



Not what you are looking for?

See also non-graded Seashells and Starfish for Decoration / DECOSHELLS.