Portrait photograph of Miss Linter

Miss Linter and her shell collection

Miss Juliana Emma Linter was an incredible collector of shells. There is not much information on her personal life. What we do know comes from letters between RAMM and her executor Miss Florence Jewell, census records and two obituaries.

Born in Teignmouth, Devon, on 19 July 1844 she was the fourth of six children. She was the only girl. Both her father, William, and grandfather were musicians. Miss Jewell wrote that Miss Linter left 6 Saxe Street in Teignmouth to study in London and was for many years a regular reader at the British Museum”. In 1881 at the age of 36 the census records her as a “biological student” living as a boarder in Grosvenor Road, Twickenham . However, there is no evidence that she was formally enrolled in any college or university. Later she moved to Arragon Close on Richmond Road and then to Saville House.

In 1895 she was elected a member of the Malacological Society of London. But she rarely went to meetings. Miss Linter never married and she died on 30 August 1909 after two years of ill health.

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Photo of Miss Linter with shells and a letter

In 1892 Miss Linter donated around 800 fossil shells to RAMM. A letter she wrote to F. R. Rowley, RAMM’s curator, reveals this was a test! Only when she was happy with RAMM’s display of her fossils did she ask if RAMM would like her more important collection of land snail shells.

‘For many years I have been collecting exotic land shells, in fact, my collection is about as complete as it can be, and I have spared no expense or labour in making it and keeping it up to date, by securing representatives in the finest condition of all new species found and described’.

25 July 1902 Letter from Miss Linter to F.R. Rowley

25 July 1902 Letter from Miss Linter to F.R Rowley
Photo of Miss Linter and some of the land snail specimens she gave to RAMM

Miss Linter bequeathed her land snail collection to RAMM in 1909. It includes over 15,000 shells. Some are just a couple of millimetres long and the largest the size of a human hand.

She never owned a house. Instead she lodged at various London residences. It makes you wonder where she kept such a vast collection.

The shells were collected all over the world. But not by Miss Linter herself. She bought shells at auction, often paying large sums for an individual shells, and swapped shells with other collectors.

 

Since the Victorian era there has been a rapid loss and degradation of natural environments such that many species have become endangered or even extinct. The Linter collection predates this biodiversity loss and therefore contains many species that fall into this category.

These Hawaiian tree snails are all species that are critically endangered or extinct today. Humans introduced the giant African land snail (Lissachatina fulica) to the island of Hawaii in 1936 as a cheap source of food. It reproduced rapidly and before long the population was out of control. It was hoped that a species of predatory snail, the rosy wolf-snail, would feed on the African snails and reduce their numbers. But when the rosy wolf-snail chose to feed on the native Hawaiian snails instead which breed very slowly. Many species only give birth (yes, their young are born live rather than in eggs!) to less than 10 babies each year.

By introducing two new snails to the island’s fauna humans are responsible for several native species becoming extinct. The only records of them are now in museum collections such as this one.

A specimen of Cyclostoma formosa from Madagascar

Sales of natural objects were common during the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries. We have evidence that Miss Linter bought many of her shells from dealers or at shell sales. The sale of the Sir David Barclay collection was particularly renowned for the quality of the shells and lasted over three days in 1891!

She paid £4 (around £350 today) for this specimen of Cyclostoma formosa from Madagascar. It is listed on the front of the sale catalogue as “extremely rare”. This shows that Miss Linter had considerable means and was willing to pay these high prices for rare shells.

A specimen from collection of the late Major Skinner from Ceylon

“I began with the splendid collection of the late Major Skinner from Ceylon; this nucleus, which was rich in Ceylon and Indian forms, has considerably grown and I never lose an opportunity of acquiring any new or exceptionally rare species that are in the market. My correspondents are from all parts of the globe and hardly a week passes without my receiving more or less new material”.

5 August 1902 Letter from Miss Linter to F.R. Rowley

Some specimens named after Miss Linter

Victorian society permitted very few ladies to join scientific societies. Thus scientific study, including publishing research papers, was almost exclusively carried out by men.

One way a male scientist could give women credit for the scientific work they did was to name a species after them. Miss Linter corresponded with many of the important (male) conchologists of the day, sending them specimens she believed to be new species. As a result several species bear her name in recognition of her incredible knowledge and shell collecting activities:

  • Achatina linterae Sowerby, 1890
  • Bulimus fulminans var. linterae Sowerby, 1890
  • Buliminus (Napaeus) linterae Kobelt 1899
  • Chloritis linterae Gude, 1905
  • Opithostoma linterae Sowerby 1896
  • Plectopylis linterae Möllendorff, 1897
  • Papuina linterae Möllendorff, 1897

Some specimens in the collection are of particular scientific importance. They are known as ‘types’. They are the exact specimens the scientist used when naming and describing the species for the first time. This is the type specimen of Achatina linterae.

Sowerby described this as ‘A very handsome species, of which the type (at present unique) is in Miss Linter’s collection. It is distinguished from its congeners chiefly by a conspicuous row of brown blotches a little removed from the suture.’

A type specimen, Achatina linterae, from Miss Linter's collection

There is still a lot to learn about this collection. While most of the notes and labels are in Miss Linter’s hand, some are not. This will give clues to who owned the shells before her. There may be many other type specimens in the collection too. But with 15,000 shells to research it will take some time!

Learn more about Miss Linter’s shell collection https://perma.cc/K7GA-DU9L

Two of the 15,000 shells in the collection, boxed with a label

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