Tag Archives: 1892

The fate of the Morelet collection

When Arthur Morelet died in August 1892 he left a considerable collection of shells (but due to lack of an inventory we do not know the precise size of the collection). His two daughters soon decided to sell it and in the Crosse archive we found two letters that allow for a partial reconstruction [1].

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The first letter, dated 31 October 1892 by his daughter Marie Huguette Aurélie [2], also on behalf of her sister, was written with misspellings (“Nous sommes bien embarassées ma soeur et moi, pour la vente de la conchyliologie de mon pauvre père et vraiment j’ai recours à vous comme à un ami. Que nous conseillez-vous de faire et dans quels journaux faut-il faire des annonces. / M. Ponsonby m’écrit que M. Sowerby de Londres achèterait la collection en bloc. / Peut-on s’en rapporter à ce Monsieur, que vous devez connaître je pense. / enfin, Monsieur, comment devons-nous nous y prendre pour faire connaître aux Etats-Unis la vente de la collection ?”). It may be summarised as follows: the two ladies wanted advice from Crosse about the sale of the collection and asked him if Sowerby (who was prepared to buy everything) was a good choice and if there was a possibility to find someone in the U.S.A. who would be interested in the collection.

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The second letter was written by Emile Striffling, notary at Dijon, on 24 November 1892 and made clear that the collection had been sold to the shell dealer Hugh Fulton but that he had asked for type material still in the possession of Crosse (“la collection de coquilles a été vendue à Monsieur Fulton de Londres. Celui-ci s’entendra avec vous pour la reunion des types qui sont entre vos mains mais il me demande la nomenclature de vos types. Voulez-vous avoir l’obligance de me l’adresser pour Dimanche, M. Fulton devant venir à Velars ce jour là?”).

Fulton must have been very quick to offer parts of the collection to his clients, because already a few months later (4 February 1893) the British Museum (now NHMUK) started the registration of many lots from Morelet’s collection. Other parts have ended up in the MHNG (Breure, 2016), MNHN (likely via de former collection of the Journal de Conchyliologie), and NMW in Europe, and MCZ and ANSP in the U.S.A. Pilsbry (1893) reported that the ANSP had obtained “over 250 species of land and fresh-water shells, mainly of Africa, India and South America. As they are all new to the collection, and accompanied by reliable data, the great value of the series will be apparent. The additions to our collection of Helices are especially notable, many rare and long needed species being secured”. Another part of Morelet’s collection came to the same museum via the collection of Andrew D. Brown (who died in 1887), with whom Morelet apparently had been in exchange.

Although Sowerby and Fulton may have been competitors in this case, they soon joined forces and established their firm Sowerby & Fulton in 1897. It cannot be excluded a priori that some errant lots from the Morelet collection were dispersed under this label after that date.

Breure ASH. 2016. Annotated type catalogue of the Orthalicoidea (Mollusca, Gastropoda, Stylommatophora) in the Muséum d’histoire naturelle, Geneva. Revue suisse de Zoologie 123: 57–103.
Pilsbry HA. 1893. Report of the Conservator of the Conchological Section. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 45: 563–565.

[1] The Crosse archive is in the private possession of W. Backhuys.
[2] She was the eldest daughter of Morelet; the letter was written on paper with black margins, typically used by people who recently lost a relative.