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This post is devoted to a very little-known conchological book, entitled “The Little Conchologist” and said to be authored by “Rev. T. Wilson”. Peter Dance has just published a noteworthy paper on this booklet and its history [1], from which the following is derived.

Although the book does not give a year of publication, it is issued by Darton and Clark, Holborn Hill, London. According to a bibliographic source quoted by Dance the first edition was published in 1837 [2]. It has been established that Rev. T. Wilson was the pseudonym adopted by Samuel Clark, who became in 1836 or 1838 a partner in the publishing firm Darton and Clark. The book has a small size (94 x 71 mm), a mere 70 pages, and four steel-engraved plates, one of which, the frontispiece, is hand coloured.


From the Preface we learn that ‘The Little Conchologist’ is intended as “manual for constant reference to those who are learning, till they have acquired a ready habit of discriminating the Genera that are found on the British Coasts”. Nevertheless some land snails are mentioned (and figured) too.


The caption for the Frontispiece, Plate II, fig. 7, says: “Helix hortensis  Garden Snail” [= Cepaea hortensis (L., 1758)] [2].
The shell is sketchy (to use an understatement), but it is dextral and otherwise shows some characteristic features (reflexed lip, descending suture).


The caption to Pl. II fig. 8 says: “Helix Pomatia  Eatable Snail” [= Helix pomatia (L., 1758]. The description on p. 33: “H. pomatia, eatable snail; abounds in Buckinghamshire, Surrey, Bedfordshire, and some other counties. Eaten in considerable quantities on the Continent during Lent; and once used as an article of food in our own country”.
The shell is correctly illustrated as dextral, but the heavy coloured spiral bands may be a bit confusing for this species, which is often found with a softer colour pattern or unicoloured. Peculiar is the word ‘once’ in the last sentence of the description, suggesting that during the beginning of the 19th century Englishmen already might have forgotten the taste of snails in garlic sauce, as opposed to Frenchmen who continue to be lovers. More about this in some future posts.

According to Dance this book is superior in one aspect to other contemporary pocket guides on shells: its rarity.

[1] Dance, S.P., 2014. The Little Conchologist – a very little book! – Mollusc World 35: 18–19.
[2] Dance (in litt.) added: See also Tomlin’s Book Notes, Addendum to Book Notes 34, Proc. malac. Soc. Lond. 27 (2): 73 (1946). Tomlin says he has acquired a complete copy of The Little Conchologist. He adds that Guy Wilkins [at that time at The Natural History Museum in London] had an almost complete copy with the date 1837 pencilled in, that he had a note from Sherborn definitely assigning that date to the book, but that Wilkins doubted the date ‘because in 1837 the firm of publishers was Darton & Harvey’. My conclusion is thus the publication date of the first edition remains somewhat mysterious.
[3] Particular thanks are due to Peter Dance, who kindly sent me the figure and additional information on his paper and turned up the relevant literature for this post.