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  It only takes one happy find on the beach in childhood to get you hooked - seashells are irresistible, inspiring and fascinating.. The scientific side of shell collecting is Marine Biology - and that's where it gets really interesting! How do you find out what species your shell is? Read on for more info!  

What are specimen seashells? 

All seashells are natural history objects and collectibles (same as i.e. fossils or minerals). Looking at early archaeological digs, seashell finds turn up everywhere. Apparently we humans have always enjoyed collecting, wearing and using shells - basically, since people could walk, they loved seashells! Aside from collecting shells as ornaments, you can decide to expand your collection for scientific value - and become a conchologist (people who collect and study specimen seashells). Conchology is a branch of Malacology (the study of molluscs), which is in turn a part of the Invertebrates research in Marine Biology.

What defines a specimen seashell is primarily data (a label with accurate recorded origin information, see info below), which is carefully packed with each specimen. Overall value of specimen shells is mostly dependent on data, condition (graded to International Standard), size and availability. There are many fabulous International Seashell Exhibitions and Trade Shows every year around the world, where collectors can meet, discuss, show and trade shells. New shell species are being discovered all the time - and named, described and illustrated in established quarterly or annual journals / magazines. Interestingly, many amateur collectors know more about their favourite group of shells than anyone else, so they are widely regarded and acknowledged as world experts in their chosen field of study.



Scientific seashell data (Labels): 

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

NAME: 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. Sometimes there is also a local variant / form name or subspecies designation.

LOCALITY: Country or region of origin and any known details on habitat and depth. Locality info typically depends on the source: For example, we frequently scuba-dive remote areas and can often supply shells we have found with very detailed data, incl. GPS info (i.e. 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 always represents the largest measurable distance between the two outermost points of a specimen (except spiny Bivalves and Spondylidae, where the 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 shell doors (Nerites, etc.), so we may include info on presence / absence of the operculum (shell door) or periostracum (soft surface coating).

REFS / IMAGES: References to previously published information or images: Data labels may include refs to a particular publication (i.e. Image in a shell book).



Seashell books - What shell is this? 

Other than coffee table books showing shell pictures, there are great reference books for collectors that show images of a species side by side, along with name and other helpful information, like average size, locality / distribution, etc. Holding a shell in your hand and find a matching illustration in a book can be quite daunting. It is difficult even for experienced collectors to clearly identify shells based on a single image, when there's such variety in shape, size, colour and patterns as you'll find in natural seashells. So how do you go about it? If you have accumulated some lovely shells and want to investigate them further, i.e. have you identified them all correctly? A good book is usually the best place to start, as it will give you a scientific name and image that looks close to matching (if it doesn't, you have the wrong book!). So once you have a tentative ID, how do you to verify if your shell is indeed that species? Here is where the internet may help..



Seashells online

The internet is extremely helpful in 2 major ways:

- More Images: Armed with a scientific name, you can look up additional images of any species online by typing the name in your search engine. Comparing your shell against many images of any given species (incl. all its variations) and looking at them side by side is the best way to establish a firm ID (other than asking an expert / finding a clear match in a reference book).

Specimen shells are frequently listed online for sale or as a reference only by their scientific (Latin) species name (i. e. on our pricelists). If you're unsure what a shell species looks like (if all you have is a name), you can look up its image via the latin species name. Bear in mind that anyone can post images to the internet, but not everyone is an expert!

- More Detail: You are still trying to find a name for the shell you are holding and the additional images you see online for it still don't quite match? It is easy to use the internet to find out more on any subject or a missing detail - just look up other species in the same group (for example other species with the same Genus) at established scientific databases, such as www.marinespecies.org.

Conversely, the internet is unfortunately much less helpful when you don't know where to start! For example: What group / family of shells am I even looking for? Unless you just need a few specific images or details online, it quickly becomes tedious.. You'll do a lot of time clicking, typing and searching - time you could save by starting with the right book.



The right seashell reference

We are collectors and dealers of seashells, which means that we need to look up information all the time. We compare shells to images or require a quick overview of a whole seashell family in response to customer queries. Here is where the right book makes life easy: It presents you with options that help you identify shells quickly. You can compare your shell immediately 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, subspecies or local ranges.

As a typical collector, you may only use just a few well-chosen books - but those you will use a lot. Depending on what you collect, you would usually have at least one general shell book (i.e. the Encyclopedia Of Gastropods) to narrow down options (besides answer all those questions people will inevitably ask once they know you like seashells!) and at least a book or two just on your special collecting interest. After all, it's a lot of fun being able to identify specimens with a range of subspecies and varieties - and to track down more online, particularly if you can make a beeline for the right results.. Having the both internet and good books available is living in an ideal world: Once you have the right scientific name from the book, it gets easy to find exactly what you are looking for.



What is grading?

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.