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  One happy find on the beach is all it takes to get you hooked on seashells - they are irresistible, inspiring, fascinating..  So - what next? What to do with the shell you found?  

I just found a shell - does it have a name? ..Can I keep it?

If you're in Australia and just found a shell on the beach, you can generally keep it, particularly if it is dead (empty). The Fisheries Department in your state will be the place to find out exactly what the rules are. So the next question is what is the shell called (yes, it will have a name!). To find out more, let's do a little detour:


Why Collect Seashells?

Seashells are classified as natural history objects (same as i.e. fossils or minerals). Looking at archaeological digs from around the world, seashells turn up practically everywhere, even miles away from the nearest ocean. There's  evidence that humans loved, treasured and enjoyed shells - collected them, wore them and traded them - for tens of thousands of years, since pre-history.


Specimen Seashells and Collectors

Most people collect shells just for their amazing shapes and beauty - or if you're curious, you can find out more: What is my shell called, where does it come from, how common or rare is it? What might it be worth? Every shell has potential scientific value, but for that you have to look at it scientifically: If you write date, time and location on a label and keep it with the shell you just found, you have created a potential 'specimen seashell' with data (a data label with accurate recorded origin information, see info below!). Both scientific and monetary value of each specimen seashell depends on what it is (ID), where it is from (locality), how complete it is (condition), the size and how rare it is (availability). If you treat every shell carefully like this and continue to collect shells, you'll become an amateur Conchologist (someone who collects and studies seashells). Conchology is a very interesting part of Malacology - the study of molluscs, which are part of Invertebrates (animals without spine) in Marine Biology. So how do you identify what you have?


Seashell Books - why do I need at least one?

The quickest way to find out what your shell is called is by using a scientific reference book, because flipping through images in a book is much faster than typing. Reference books illustrate seashells especially to help you with identification. They show all the related seashell species side by side, with names and lots of helpful info, like origin, average size, etc. So holding a shell in your hand and flipping through the book is the fastest way to start the ID process: Find out what your shell is called. If you still can't find a perfect match in your book (after all, there is a lot of variety in natural seashells), the book will give you a starting point ID (i.e. the name of the closest matching seashell family may already tell you which group your shell belongs to). So if you enter the group ID name from the book online, you'll narrow down the search to find the exact species or subspecies much faster! The more shells you look at, the faster you will learn to recognise them.


Clubs and Shows

Most collectors will look online, at journals, magazines and books about seashells. The problem is, there are LOTS of different shells. Where do you start? If you're new to this, before hunting for information about seashells online, see if you can find a shell club in your city (always easiest to learn if you can ask questions!). If not, there are several good shell collector chatgroups online and generally they will also post info on International Seashell Exhibitions and Trade Shows - maybe one near you? Shows are amazing opportunities to learn more - it's where young and old beginner and experienced collectors meet, discuss, show and trade their shells. Rarity / availability is a big issue, as new seashell species are being discovered all the time, being named, described and illustrated in scientific seashell magazines. Newly discovered species are exciting and knowledge is key: There are famous amateur collectors, who started as kids picking up a shell on a beach. They got curious, looking for more information - until years later they found that they now knew more about their favourite shells than anyone else on the planet. Some of those amateur collectors never went to uni but are now recognized as world experts in their chosen field, describing new species in their spare time.


Seashells online

You can also find lots of seashell images online. Internet search engines are really helpful for:

- More Images: Armed with a tentative scientific name (ID) or name of a family, you can type that into a search engine to quickly look up additional images for comparison. Or if you only have a (usually Latin) scientific species name (i.e. on a price list) and are unsure what it actually looks like, just type its name into your browser to look for images. Bear in mind that not all IDs posted on the internet are correct (not everyone's an expert), but among several images there are usually some correct ones.

- More Detail: You are trying to find a name for the shell you are holding and the image you have found looks close but still a little different? Use the internet to find related info, i.e. try looking up other species in the same group (i.e. other species with the same Genus) at established scientific databases, such as www.marinespecies.org. Often the correct name you seek is one in the same group or family.


Which is the right seashell book?

We need to look up information on shells quickly or compare shells to images on a daily basis in our office. To work efficiently, we need to find specific info as quickly as possible. Having the right reference book available saves us lots of time, so we have compiled a list of really helpful books (see our BOOKS page). When looking for an ID, you just need to have the right book!

Shell collectors like us may only use just a few well-chosen books - but those we will use all the time. Depending on what you collect, you would usually have at least one general shell reference book ('Encyclopedia Of Gastropods' is a good one!) to narrow down options or look up worldwide information. You'll also want a book or two just about your favourite seashell family - or your local area.

It's great fun to be able to identify your own shells quickly and efficiently just by turning a page. You can look up which subspecies and varieties there are, what they look like, how rare they are, where they come from, etc.. Armed with the ID and basic info, browsing online is also way faster, way more fun!


So what's a Scientific Seashell Data / Label? 

Specimen seashells all should have data tags or info labels kept with them. The information should include:

NAME / ID: A scientific name - there are always at least 4 parts to this: Genus and species name, the Author (the person who first named and described the species) and the publication year. Some specimens also have a local variant / form name or subspecies tag.

LOCALITY: Country or region of origin and any known details on habitat (i.e. depth, collecting method, local area info, i.e. "by diver, at 10m, on sand near coral", etc.). Locality info typically depends on the source: We often scuba-dive in remote areas, so this allows us to supply shells with very detailed data, such as GPS info to 100m radius. Or we may source shells from old collections (may have less info). Deep water trawled shells may carry even less data, depending on which boat they came from and how accurately fishing logs were kept.

SIZE: Specimen size in millimetres, which represents the largest measurable distance between the outermost points of a specimen (exception: Spiny Bivalves, where the shell body is measured without spines).

DESCRIPTION: Mentions typical features, condition, shape, colour, pattern, presentation and/or major differences to other forms of the same species.

OPERC / PERIO: Some species have an operculum (hard shell 'door' attached to the animal's foot, i.e. in Turbo Shells) or periostracum (soft outer shell surface coating, i.e. on Syrinx Shells), so we may comment on presence / absence of operc or perio when describing a specimen shell.

REFS / IMAGES: Data labels may include references to a particular book / publication (i.e. page or image).


Specimen Shell condition & grading

When ordering Specimen Seashells online, you'll want good quality, mature and beautiful shells. We conservatively grade all specimens we offer as follows:

GRADING: Notes the condition of a specimen shell by a commonly accepted International Standard of GRADING terms.

SPECIMEN SEASHELL GRADING (Shells are viewed under good lighting with the naked eye)


Shells are without any discernible blemish or flaw. The specimen will be fully adult and of typical size for the species.


Shells that have a very minor flaw or blemish which is hard to perceive, shows up only under close scrutiny and in no way detracts from the look of the shell.


Shells have a noticeable flaw or blemish which does not detract from the look of the shell.


Shells have more than one noticeable flaw, growth line or blemish consistent with the species, but the overall presentation is very good. These shells are generally excellent value and suitable for aesthetically pleasing collections, being considerably less expensive than GEM specimens.


Shells with small chips, noticeable growth lines, nacre lifts, blemishes or other obvious flaws, where the overall appearance and presentation of the shell is obviously not perfect. NOTE: Several large sized or rare species are only available in F+ condition or less.


Shells with major chips, growth lines, nacre lifts, blemishes or other obvious flaws. Very fresh dead collected but otherwise good specimens are also often classed as F/F+. NOTE: Some shell species are only available in F/F+ condition or less.


Shells that are either badly damaged, obviously juvenile or dead, but suitable as a representative of the species or for study purposes. 
NOTE: Some shell species are only available in F or dead condition.

No grading system can possibly do justice to every specimen and most Specimen Shells will require further description. Since seashells are difficult to photograph well (image may not clearly show flaws or can be tampered with), the above Intl. grading terms are widely accepted for seashell descriptions.



Our Money-Back-Guarantee:

Grading and photographing seashells well is not easy. As specimen seashells are by definition highly individual objects, there is still no better way to evaluate them than holding a shell in your hand and looking at it. So we are offering you a ‘Money Back Guarantee' for all our specimen seashell items, which means that you can return any of them for a refund (or online shop credit if you prefer this) to the full value of the item(s) returned, excluding shipping cost.

In short, if you do not like the shells we have selected for any reason, you can send them back for a full refund or exchange if you wish.



Not what you are looking for?

See also non-graded Seashells and Starfish for Decoration / DECOSHELLS.