10 May 2005

Cast from the past: the first American papers on American mollusks

Thomas Say’s article titled “Conchology” that came out in the winter of 1817 in the First American Edition of the British Encyclopedia by William Nicholson was the first paper on American mollusks written by an American author1, 2. The first edition of the Encyclopedia is apparently very rare; the digital collection of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia provides a copy of the 3rd 1819 edition. The figure on the right shows Say’s drawing of Helix albolabris (now Neohelix albolabris) from Plate 1, one of the land snails Say described in his article.

A few months later, in May 1817, the first issue of the Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences was published, in which Say had his second paper on American mollusks3. Among the species Say described, without drawings, was Succinea ovalis.




1. Weiss, H.B. & Ziegler, G.M. 1931. Thomas Say: early American naturalist. Charles C. Thomas.
2. Johnson, R. I. 1975. First paper on the conchology of the United States by an American author, Thomas Say, 1817. Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History, 7:265-267.
3. Say, T. 1817. Description of seven species of American fresh water and land shells, not noticed in the systems. Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 1:13-16. [The Academy’s Web site gives the publication date of this first issue as May 1817.]
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