THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

08 September 2010

No-one wears white after Labor Day... a post-summer treat

Summer's gone; day's spent with the grass and sun.  But we don't mind, at least not when we can offer up some summery sea-shells such as these:

Shell

It's one of the many delicate copperplate, hand-coloured engravings contained in Thomas Say's American Conchology (New Harmony, Indiana, 1830-[1838]) [1256.f.21].  This particular specimin is Fulgur Pyruloides, and 'inhabits our soutern coast'; he reported that he 'never found it so far north as New-Jersey'.

Say's pioneering work is devoted to the cataloguing of American shells, a work he pursued in partnership with his wife, Lucy, and who produced many of the drawings in this volume.

They had married in secret during a scientific expedition to New Harmony, the utopian community founded by Robert Owen.

New-harmony 
Here, the Says continued their studies, wrote, drew and coloured their work, and oversaw the output of the community's School Press.

As the great bibliographer, Streeter commented, 'A work as extraordinary for having been produced in the wilderness as for its elegance and the importance of its contribution to natural history'. 

Say, who died in 1834, is honoured in the naming, among other creatures, of the Caribbean mud crab, Dyspanopeus sayiLucy moved back east, where she 'longed for the freedom I used to enjoy when I lived on the Banks of the Wabash'  She was elected as the first female member of the  Academy of Natural Sciences Philadelphia in 1841; she died in 1885.

[M.S.]

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