Miss Linter, Victorian shell collector extraordinaire
13 February 2019
The scientific importance of the 15,000 exotic land snail shells donated to RAMM by enigmatic Victorian shell collector, Miss Juliana Emma Linter, is only just coming to light.
She amassed most of her collection between 1890 and 1909, buying shells at auction and exchanging them with many of most recognised European mollusc scientists of the day (malacologists). Born in Teignmouth, she lived most of her adult life in London. Little more is known of her life or how she financed her passion for shells. One shell alone cost her £4 at an auction in 1891, about £350 in today’s money.
Unusually for such an expert, she did not publish any scientific papers. Her contribution to conchology (the study of mollusc shells) was well-recognised at the time and scientists describing new species named at least eight in her honour. The very same shell that Sowerby used in 1890 to describe a species of giant land snail from South Africa as Achatina linterae is present in her collection at RAMM. This specimen is a permanent reference to that species and is known as a holotype.
The scientific importance of the collection
New research has revealed the importance of the collection; an importance that has increased with time. Widespread habitat loss threatens many of the species in her collection and some have become extinct. The extinction of another of the Hawaiian species in her collection was recorded in January when Lonely George, a Hawaiian tree snail and the last of his kind, died in a captive breeding programme on the island. Her collection is invaluable to taxonomic research and provides a baseline for wider biodiversity studies worldwide, especially concerning conservation.
The collection’s importance has also been elevated by the loss of others. The extensive collection of the renowned German scientist Hermann W Strebel was lost during the bombing in of Hamburg in the Second World War. Miss Linter acquired shells from him and these are now some of the few remaining remnants of his life’s work.
The 15,000 shells in the Linter collection are about one quarter of RAMM’s shell collection. There are eleven possible type specimens in the Linter collection alone and further research is likely to reveal more.
Recent research into RAMM’s shell collections
Morgenroth H., Oliver P.G. & Breure A.S.H, 2018. The Miss J. E. Linter (1844-1909) collection of land snails in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter, England: A provisional assessment. Colligo, 1(2).
Additional Type and other Notable specimens of Mollusca from the Montagu Collection in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter. Oliver PG, Morgenroth H (2018). Zoosystematics and Evolution 94(2): 281-303.
Type specimens of Mollusca described by Col. George Montagu in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter and The Natural History Museum, London. Oliver PG, Morgenroth H, Salvador A (2017). Zoosystematics and Evolution 93(2): 363-412.
Shells from the Linter collections on RAMM’s collection database.