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H. A. Pilsbry papers


Held at: Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia [Contact Us]1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA, 19103

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Henry A. Pilsbry (1862-1957), Dean of American Malacologists, was associated with the Academy of Natural Sciences for 70 years. At the Academy, he served as conservator, curator and head of the Department of Shells, but he was also the internationally recognized authority in the field of land mollusca. He wrote and edited many volumes of the Manual of Conchology and, from 1889 until his death, was an editor of the journal Nautilus, which he founded. A member of many scientific expeditions, he traveled all over the United States, to the Caribbean, South America, Mexico, Hawaii and other Pacific Islands, and to Australia.

Pilsbry was born on December 7, 1862 on a farm near Iowa City, Iowa to Dexter R. and Elizabeth Anderson Pilsbry. Pilsbry was “interested in animals and plants from an early age, and made collections of them as a boy,” (American Malacological Union, page 1). He obtained his education from the public schools of Iowa City and earned his bachelor’s of science degree from the University of Iowa in 1910. During his scholarship at the University of Iowa, his interest in geology, fossils, and zoology developed under the teaching of Professor Samuel Calvin. According to Pilsbry, “after his school days, [he] had to make a living and worked in newspaper and book printing houses in Iowa City and Davenport, Iowa, and finally New York, [but] all [his] spare time … was spent in country trips mainly after fossils and mollusks,” (Pilsbry, page 58).

George W. Tryon of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and author of the Manual of Conchology responded to a letter Pilsbry sent regarding shells and “changed the course of [his] life,” (Pilsbry, page 58) by asking him to visit him in Philadelphia. Pilsbry took the position of Tryon’s assistant at the Academy of Natural Sciences on December 1, 1887 and, after the death of Tryon on February 8, 1888, became Conservator of the Conchological Section and served as editor of the Manual of Conchology from 1889 to 1932. He also founded and edited the Nautilus, a publication previously titled the Conchologist’s Exchange, in 1889. He served as conservator of the Conchological Section from 1888 to 1895 when its budget was transferred to the Department of Mollusks. He became the curator of that department and continued in that capacity from 1895 until his death.

During his tenure at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Pilsbry became known as “the world’s leading authority on North American land shells” (Unidentifiable obituary). He established himself as the leading authority on Cirripedia, or barnacles, “since Charles Darwin … through his 1907 monograph, mainly based on the collections of the United States National Museum,” (American Malacological Union, pages 2-3). He authored more than one thousand scientific papers and many volumes including Land Mollusca of North America.

Pilsbry served as consulting malacologist to the Bernice P. Bishop Museum in Honolulu; honorary foreign correspondent of the Zoological Survey of India; corresponding member of the Zoological Society of London; and honorary member of the Conchological Society of Britain and Ireland, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Madrid, Royal Zoological Society of Belgium, the Birmingham (England) Natural History and Philosophical Society, and the California Academy of the Sciences. He also served as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and as a member of the American Society of Naturalists and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In addition to serving as a member of the American Malacological Union, he also had the honor of serving as its first president. He received the Joseph Leidy Award from the Academy of Natural Sciences in 1928. In 1954, the Academy created the Henry A. Pilsbry Chair of Malacology in his honor. He earned honorary degrees of doctor of science from the University of Iowa in 1900, the University of Pennsylvania in 1940, and Temple University in 1941.

In 1957, Pilsbry suffered a heart attack while in his office at the Academy of Natural Sciences. He recuperated at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia and then traveled to visit with his daughter in Florida. He died in Lantana, Florida on October 26, 1957. At the time of his death, he was survived by his two daughters, Elizabeth and Grace. His wife Adeline Avery Pilsbry had died on November 13, 1924.

Pilsbry is described as “among the most productive taxonomists ever to pick up a magnifying glass; … [his] immersion in the world of shelled creatures was so intense and over such a long period … that he became a veritable institution,” (Smith).


American Malacological Union. “Scientific Contributions Made from 1882 to 1939 by Henry A. Pilsbry, Sc.D.," 1940.

Pilsbry, Henry A. “The First Years,” Frontiers: A Magazine of Natural History. December 1937.

Smith, Charles H., Joshua Woleben and Carubie Rodgers. A Biographical History of Biogeography. (accessed December 22, 2009).

Unidentifiable Obituary (located in Biographical Files, Archives of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia).

This collection contains the professional papers of Henry A. Pilsbry between the years 1885 and 1957. The collection is arranged into six series: "Correspondence," "Subject files," "Manuscripts," "Index card file of species," "Publication papers," and "Audio material." Pilsbry’s correspondence is by far the most valuable part of this collection. It reflects an extensive international network of scientific investigation of which Pilsbry was a central figure. The correspondence is largely related to the identification, exchange and taxonomy of specimens from around the world. The bulk of this collection consists of Pilsbry’s working files and drafts of published material that came from those files, including a draft of the second volume of Land Mollusks of North America. The materials in this collection would be of interest to anyone researching the professional life of Henry Pilsbry, the history of the Academy of Natural Sciences, or especially the history of malacology.

The “Correspondence” series contains letters received by Dr. Pilsbry from his colleagues, and from specimen collectors from around the world. Over the course of his career at the Academy of Natural Sciences, Pilsbry would receive specimens from researches all over the world. After having found the received specimens to be unique, Pilsbry would publish information about the species in the journal. Some of the papers in this series originally accompanied specimens, others present questions regarding specimen identification, collection or taxonomy. In addition to scientific queries, this series also includes correspondence sent from Pilsbry’s peers regarding expeditions and publication. These letters are of particular interest to anyone researching the life and methodology of Dr. Pilsbry, or to anyone studying the history of malacology. About half of the letters have been processed and are arranged in alphabetical order by the sender’s last name; the remaining unprocessed portion is grouped into folders with date range expressions.

The “Subject files” series contains papers that are essentially Dr. Pilsbry’s working files. After he published information on various species, he cut out passages from the publications and glued that information to sheets of paper. As Pilsbry continued his research, he would add notes to the pages in preparation for republishing the updated information. In this way the subject files served two functions: as ready reference material for Pilsbry’s on-going research; and as drafts for manuscripts or journal articles. The papers in this series contain printed text and illustrations in addition to Pilsbry’s handwritten notes and sketches. Many of the working files in this series were published, but some were not. Once identified, the unpublished papers would be of significant interest to malacologists.

This collection of papers in general provides insight into Pilsbry’s research habits and information gathering behaviors, as well as his dedication to the advancement of knowledge. As each of the papers in this series is a work-in-progress, dates have not been assigned to the majority of the folders in the inventory list. The folders are labeled by species, and the order that was imposed prior to this project has been preserved.

Much of Dr. Pilsbry’s research that is presented in the “Subject files” series ultimately led to the publication of scholarly articles and monographs. The “Manuscripts” series presents Pilsbry’s research in the form of drafts for publication. The series is divided into three subseries, “Manuscripts of Taiwanese and Japanese species descriptions,” “ Land Mollusks of North America, volume 2," and "Other manuscripts." The “Manuscripts of Taiwanese and Japanese species descriptions” subseries contains drafts of published works that present Pilsbry’s information on mollusk species in those two regions. The second subseries contains a draft of Pilsbry’s monumental work. This monograph is still used as an authoritative reference source for the study of mollusks. The draft included in this collection shows Pilsbry’s working notes, and contains four folders of galley proofs for the entire volume. This subseries is arranged by page number. The third subseries contains two more of Pilsbry's manuscripts: “Mexican Species of the Philomycial Slug Pallifera,” and “Charles Darwin as a Specialist on Barnacle Systematics” which can be found at the end of the “Manuscripts” series.

The “Index card file of species” series contains another component of Pilsbry’s research methodology that compliments the “Subject files” series. In addition to the working files described above, Pilsbry kept a collection of hundreds of 3x5 index cards on which he gathered citations for printed material on species of mollusca. The size of this series demonstrates the expansiveness of the body of knowledge that Pilsbry remained aware of and contributed to through the decades of his professional work. The cards were probably at some point in alphabetical order, however, that order has been compromised.

The “Publication papers” series contains records related to the publication of the Manual of Conchology. Dr. Pilsbry served as editor of this journal from 1889 to 1932. The journal was one of several vehicles for Pilsbry to make public new information relative to the study of mollusks and shells. Unlike the “Manuscripts” series, the “Publication papers” series does not contain information about the publication’s subject. Rather, the papers serve as a record of how the journal was published and distributed. These papers consist mainly of individual and institutional subscription lists. The series also includes correspondence regarding journal issue contents; paid receipts from the publishers or binders; and some reports from the Academy of Natural Science’s Publication Committee. Pilsbry’s involvement with the Manual of Conchology is readily apparent in this series, as his signature appears on most if not all of the receipts, and a majority of the correspondence is addressed to him. This series has research value to anyone with a specific interest in the history of this publication, or anyone interested generally in the practical process of academic journal publication during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. In addition to the papers related to the publication of the Manual of Conchology, this series also contains some correspondence from around 1940 regarding the publication of Pilsbry’s monographs by the Science Press, which was run by the Academy of Natural Sciences. The series is arranged chronologically.

As implied by the series title, the “Audio material” series contains some recorded audio footage featuring discourses on malacology by Dr. Pilsbry and some of his colleagues. One of these colleagues is Axel Olsson, with whom Pilsbry kept a professional relationship for about thirty years, as evidenced in lists of Pilsbry’s publications and correspondence files in this collection. The magnetic tape reels date from the 1950s, towards the end of Pilsbry’s career. The series also contains audio material on the rare medium of recording wire. The content of these materials cannot be determined without the proper playback equipment. The series is arranged chronologically

The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.

This collection was minimally processed in 2009-2011, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers. When citing sources from this collection, researchers are advised to defer to folder titles provided in the finding aid rather than those provided on the physical folder.

Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article, More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections, the project team tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages, in 23 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 2-3 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections, replace acidic folders or complete any preservation work.

Some of the files once located in this collection have been relocated to the H. A. Pilsbry Biography File of the Archives of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Eric Rosenzweig
The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the Archives with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.

Collection Inventory

Chronological sets, 1890-1954.
Box 1 Folder 1-30
Alphabetical series, 1890-1956.
Box 1 Folder 31-55

Pectin aequisulcatus, 1901.
Box 2 Folder 1
Zonitidae, undated.
Box 2 Folder 2-3
American Malacological Union, 1937.
Box 2 Folder 4
Natural Science Foundation, 1953-1955.
Box 2 Folder 5
Thaumastus, undated.
Box 2 Folder 6
Argentinian snails, undated.
Box 2 Folder 7
Sphaeridae, undated.
Box 2 Folder 8
Pedinogura and helix, undated.
Box 2 Folder 9
Holospira, undated.
Box 2 Folder 10
U. S. National Museum Holospira collection, undated.
Box 2 Folder 11
Holospirinae, undated.
Box 2 Folder 12
Bostrichocentrum, undated.
Box 2 Folder 13
Holospira photographs, undated.
Box 2 Folder 14
Holospira, haplocion, undated.
Box 2 Folder 15
Coelostemma, undated.
Box 2 Folder 16
Eucolodium, coelucentremm, arcisospira, undated.
Box 2 Folder 17
Epirobia, propilsbrya, undated.
Box 2 Folder 18
Jamaican land snails, undated.
Box 2 Folder 19
Indian land snails, undated.
Box 2 Folder 20
Land snails: bulimulidae and acavidae, undated.
Box 2 Folder 21
Zoogeography of Florida, undated.
Box 2 Folder 22
Tenebra and duplicaria dall, undated.
Box 2 Folder 23
Cataloging standard for species entries, undated.
Box 2 Folder 24
Punctum patulum, undated.
Box 2 Folder 25
Pleurodonte marginatoides, undated.
Box 2 Folder 26
The collection and preservation of mollusks, undated.
Box 2 Folder 27
Polygyra rugeli, undated.
Box 2 Folder 28
Helix, undated.
Box 2 Folder 29-30
Testacella, undated.
Box 2 Folder 31
Limacidae and micrarionta, undated.
Box 2 Folder 32
P. corneus and p. palladus, undated.
Box 2 Folder 33
Fossils sent to Argentina, undated.
Box 2 Folder 34
Nudibranchs, undated.
Box 2 Folder 35
Coilostele, undated.
Box 2 Folder 36
Species introduced at Port Republic, New Jersey, undated.
Box 2 Folder 37
Hydrobiidae, undated.
Box 2 Folder 38
Tridentata, undated.
Box 2 Folder 39
Vertiginidae, undated.
Box 2 Folder 40
Escambia clams, undated.
Box 2 Folder 41
P. hirsuta, undated.
Box 2 Folder 42
Pleurotomaria, undated.
Box 2 Folder 43
Marine mollusks of Panama, undated.
Box 2 Folder 44
Ancylidae, undated.
Box 2 Folder 45
Snails of British Guiana, undated.
Box 2 Folder 46
Polynesian zoogeography, undated.
Box 2 Folder 47
Ancylus coloradensis locality, undated.
Box 2 Folder 48
Fresh water bivalves, undated.
Box 2 Folder 49
Chitons - Polyplacophora, undated.
Box 2 Folder 50
Land snails, undated.
Box 2 Folder 51
Barnacles, undated.
Box 2 Folder 52
Partulidae, undated.
Box 2 Folder 53
Buccinidae, undated.
Box 2 Folder 54
Family ranellidae, undated.
Box 2 Folder 55
Various species, undated.
Box 2 Folder 56
Liguus, undated.
Box 2 Folder 57
Ariolimax, undated.
Box 2 Folder 58
Pupillidae, undated.
Box 2 Folder 59-61
Achatinellidae, undated.
Box 2 Folder 62
Formosa, undated.
Box 2 Folder 63
Arion, undated.
Box 2 Folder 64-65
Arionidae, undated.
Box 2 Folder 66
Succineidae, undated.
Box 2 Folder 67-69
Nautilus, undated.
Box 2 Folder 70
Cochlicopa lubrica morseana, undated.
Box 2 Folder 71
Endodontidae; Anguispira, undated.
Box 2 Folder 72
Anguispira, undated.
Box 2 Folder 73
Arionidae, undated.
Box 2 Folder 74
Land mollusks of Smokey Falls, Ontario, undated.
Box 2 Folder 75
Tona or Dolium, undated.
Box 2 Folder 76
Vertigo, undated.
Box 2 Folder 77-78
Sonorella, undated.
Box 2 Folder 79
Slugs, undated.
Box 2 Folder 80
Helminthoglypta, undated.
Box 2 Folder 81
Limax, undated.
Box 2 Folder 82
Oreohelix, undated.
Box 2 Folder 83
Land snails, undated.
Box 2 Folder 84
Gastrocopta, undated.
Box 2 Folder 85
Plates for publication, undated.
Box 2 Folder 86
Fossil barnacles, undated.
Box 2 Folder 87
Helicidae of Japan: Eulotella acusta mastigeulota, undated.
Box 3 Folder 1
Helicidae of Japan: Buliminopsis, undated.
Box 3 Folder 2
Helicidae of Japan: Trishophita, undated.
Box 3 Folder 3
Helicidae of Japan: Euhadra, undated.
Box 3 Folder 4
Helicidae of Japan: Ganesella, undated.
Box 3 Folder 5
Helicidae of Japan, undated.
Box 3 Folder 6-7
Land mollusks of Japan and Taiwan, undated.
Box 3 Folder 8
Helicidae of Japan: Aegista coelorus plectotropsis, undated.
Box 3 Folder 9
Clausiliidae of Japan and Taiwan, undated.
Box 3 Folder 10
Clausiliidae of Japan and Taiwan: Stereophaedusa, undated.
Box 3 Folder 11
Clausiliidae of Japan and Taiwan: Tyrannophaedusa, undated.
Box 3 Folder 12
Clausiliidae of Japan and Taiwan: Zaptychoid groups, undated.
Box 3 Folder 13
Clausiliidae of Japan: Hemiphaedusa, undated.
Box 3 Folder 14
Clausiliidae of Japan and Taiwan: Nesiophaedusa, undated.
Box 3 Folder 15
Clausiliidae of Japan and Taiwan: Luchuphaedusa, oophaedusa, undated.
Box 3 Folder 16
Clausiliidae of Japan and Taiwan: Euphaedusa reinia pseudonenia, undated.
Box 3 Folder 17
Clausiliidae of Japan and Taiwan: Megalophaedusa, undated.
Box 3 Folder 18
Japan: Operculates, zonitidae, endodontidae, undated.
Box 3 Folder 19
Genera of zonitidae, undated.
Box 3 Folder 20
Zonitidae; endodontidae, undated.
Box 3 Folder 21
Land operculates - Japan and Luchu Island, undated.
Box 3 Folder 22
Operculates, undated.
Box 3 Folder 23
Macrochlamys, undated.
Box 3 Folder 24
Kaliella, sitala, undated.
Box 3 Folder 25
Hirasiella, hirasea, fametesta, undated.
Box 3 Folder 26
Diplommatinidae, undated.
Box 3 Folder 27
American and Hawaiian land shells, undated.
Box 3 Folder 28-29
American and Hawaiian land shells: Pupoides pupilla, undated.
Box 3 Folder 30
American and Hawaiian land shells: Bifidaria, undated.
Box 3 Folder 31
Bermuda cerion, undated.
Box 3 Folder 32
Carychium, undated.
Box 3 Folder 33
Land snails: Onchidella, undated.
Box 3 Folder 34
Marine mollusca of Patagonia, undated.
Box 3 Folder 35
Peruvian nenia, undated.
Box 3 Folder 36
South American land snails: Nenia, undated.
Box 3 Folder 37
South American land snails, undated.
Box 3 Folder 38
Pilsbry on Ecuadorian shells from Richard Hoffstetter, undated.
Box 3 Folder 39
South American land snails: Peruina, undated.
Box 3 Folder 40
South American land snails: Hugh Watson correspondence, undated.
Box 3 Folder 41
South American land snails: Temesa, undated.
Box 3 Folder 42
South American land snails, undated.
Box 3 Folder 43
Helicigona, undated.
Box 3 Folder 44

Pilsbry: "Taiwan (Formosa); complete list of land and fresh-water shells known up to 1908," and E. A. Smith: "Formosan Melaniidae", undated.
Box 4 Folder 1
Taiwan: Helicidae, circa 1905.
Box 4 Folder 2
Taiwan: Zonitidae, circa 1905.
Box 4 Folder 3
Taiwan: Endodontidae philomycidae auriculidae, circa 1905.
Box 4 Folder 4
Taiwan: Freshwater mollusks, circa 1905.
Box 4 Folder 5
Taiwan: Operculates, circa 1905.
Box 4 Folder 6
Taiwan: Land shells, circa 1905.
Box 4 Folder 7
Taiwan: Loose pages at the end, circa 1905.
Box 4 Folder 8
"Land Snails of Japan," draft, undated.
Box 4 Folder 9
"Types and Figured Specimens in the T. H. Aldrich Collection, Johns Hopkins University", undated.
Box 4 Folder 10
"Distribution of Eulota quaesita", undated.
Box 4 Folder 11
"Land Snails of Japan," maps, undated.
Box 4 Folder 12
Japan: Marine mollusks, undated.
Box 4 Folder 13-14
Notes on snails from unidentified manuscript, undated.
Box 4 Folder 15
Japan: Freshwater mollusca auriculidae, undated.
Box 4 Folder 16
Japan mollusca, undated.
Box 4 Folder 17
Japan mollusca: Unionidae cyrenidae, undated.
Box 4 Folder 18
Japan mollusca: Blanfordia, undated.
Box 4 Folder 19
Japan freshwater mollusca, undated.
Box 4 Folder 20
Preface and Introduction, undated.
Box 4 Folder 21
Pages 1-90, undated.
Box 4 Folder 22
Pages 91-180, undated.
Box 4 Folder 23
Pages 181-240, undated.
Box 4 Folder 24
Pages 241-300, undated.
Box 4 Folder 25
Pages 301-360, undated.
Box 4 Folder 26
Pages 361-420, undated.
Box 4 Folder 27
Pages 421-480, undated.
Box 4 Folder 28
Pages 481-570, undated.
Box 4 Folder 29
Pages 571-630, undated.
Box 4 Folder 30
Pages 631-690, undated.
Box 4 Folder 31
Pages 691-750, undated.
Box 4 Folder 32
Pages 750a-Index, undated.
Box 4 Folder 33
Galley proofs: pages 1-160, undated.
Box 4 Folder 34
Galley proofs: pages 161-288, undated.
Box 4 Folder 35
Galley proofs: pages 289-384, undated.
Box 4 Folder 36
Galley proofs: pages 545-573, and Index (i-ix), undated.
Box 4 Folder 37
"Mexican Species of the Philomycial Slug Pallifera", undated.
Box 4 Folder 38
"Charles Darwin as a Specialist on Barnacle Systematics", undated.
Box 4 Folder 39
Index card file of species, circa 1890-1950.
Box 5-6

Subscription list, circa 1881.
Box 7 Folder 1
Subscription lists, 1885-1890.
Box 7 Folder 2
Subscription lists, 1888-1891.
Box 7 Folder 3
Subscription list, circa 1889.
Box 7 Folder 4
Library subscription lists, circa 1890.
Box 7 Folder 5
Publication Committee reports, 1904-1915.
Box 7 Folder 6
Paid receipts, 1906-1907, 1913-195.
Box 7 Folder 7
Paid receipts, 1909-1910.
Box 7 Folder 8
Correspondence regarding subscription, 1928-1931.
Box 7 Folder 9-10
Correspondence with publishers, undated.
Box 7 Folder 11
The Science Press papers, circa 1940.
Box 7 Folder 12

Audio tape: Lecture by Dr. Pilsbry, Axel Olsson and Max Smith at St. Petersburg, circa 1950.
Box 8 Reel 1
"Shells of the Caribbean", 1954.
Box 8 Reel 2
Wire recording: Pilsbry lecture on the history of zoological nomenclature, undated.
Box 8 Reel 3
Unidentified wire recording, undated.
Box 8 Reel 4

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