Hans Sloane's collection of shells

The great collector Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) began acquiring shells during his travels in the West Indies in 1687-9. The examples he collected there included many species that had not previously been seen in Europe.

After Sloane returned to England, his friend Martin Lister (1639-1712) included these shells alongside others from Sloane's collection in his amibitious work, Historiae Conchyliorum (1685-92). Lister's book, which was beautifully engraved by his daughters, was an important work in promoting conchology (the study of shells) as an activity that could lead to an understanding of nature. By contrast, later in the century, collectors like the Revd C.M. Cracherode (1730-99) spent large sums on shells that they prized primarily for their beauty and variety. Cracherode's magnificent collection also came to the Museum when he died.

Sloane continued to collect shells after he returned to London. Like other collectors of shells, Sloane often added to his collection by buying or trading examples from other shell collectors and from naturalists. His huge collection included examples that he had obtained from Engelbert Kaempfer (Japan), Mark Catesby (America), his friend the merchant William Courten, and the pirate William Dampier (South Seas).

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Hans Sloane's collection of shells

© 2003 The Natural History Museum
Sloane's shells

  • Cracherode's shells

    Cracherode's shells

  • Sloane's shells

    Sloane's shells

  • Preserved specimens

    Preserved specimens


More information


K. Sloan (ed.), Enlightenment. Discovering the (London, The British Museum Press, 2003)

A. MacGregor (ed.), Sir Hans Sloane, collector, sc (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)


Museum number

On loan from the Natural History Museum various


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