Mollusc Gallery

In 2001, shortly after assuming directorship of the museum, Don Kaufman went to the basement of Upham Hall to check out the museum's storage room. In a corner of the room, he found three large barrels; after prying open the lids, he discovered thousands of shells wrapped in newsprint from the early 1950s.  After a little investigative research, he discovered that the shell collection had been obtained by Doc Hefner fifty years before. That discovery sparked Dr. Kaufman's desire to create a new gallery to showcase the museum's incredible specimens of marine, freshwater, and terrestrial molluscs. That desire became a reality a decade later, when the Mollusc Gallery opened in November, 2011.    It houses nearly 25,000 specimens, many of which were collected or acquired by Doc Hefner or Dr. Daniel.  Over the years, Miami faculty and friends have collected and donated thousands of others. 

In the excerpt below, taken from Doc Hefner's 1962 report, he recalls the story behind the Great Barrier Reef collection—which consists of over 2,000 specimens—that inspired the creation of the Mollusc Gallery. 

"The acquisition of three collections of Florida and Gulf Shells gave us many duplicates that fillled our cabinets and overflowed into various storage boxes and barrels.  It occured to me that some of this surplus might be profitably exchanged for materials from distant marine habitats.  The Australian Barrier Reef was noted for centuries for the wealth of its Molluscan Fauna and it was to this area that I turned for possible exchanges of our surplus Florida and Gulf shells. 

I wrote to the Australian Museum of Sydney, Australia, with an inquiry as to the possibility of finding young collectors who might be willing to exhange some of their Australian materials for our surpluses.  I received a reply from Dr. D. F. McMichael who was then associated with the Australian Museum.  He stated that he had inserted an ad in the "Shell News" of the museum expressing my offer to exchange shell collection items.  In response to this notice, I received eight replies and exchanges were arranged to the mutual satisfaction of the participants.  One of my exchanges was with a dealer in shells and he offered the information that an extensive collection of Barrier Reef shells was being put up for sale by the collector.  The price for his material was set at $1000.00 Australian, which was more than ten percent above our currency in the international exchange rates.  The shells were being offered by the dealer, Mr. B. Beutel, who was acting as the collector's agent.  All correspondence was emphatic in statements of the value of this material and, impressed by the apparent sincerity of the dealer, I went to the director of Miami's Alumni Association (John Dolibois) with a question as to whether an alumnus might be found who would be willing to advance the stated purchase price.  In less than two weeks, Mr. Dolibois called me to announce that he had found a patron of the Alumni Association who had been a world traveler, and had been on the Barrier Reef where he had admired and appreciated the gorgeous shells and corals of the region.  This gentleman was Mr. A. S. Iddings who was already a valued benefactor for Miami in the presentation of the magnificent Mechanical Globe of the Geography and Geology building.  He offered to advance the purchase price of the shells and the differences in exchange and shipping costs were contributed by our curator.

It was only after this transaction was completed and twelve packing boxes of shells on their way that we learned that the collection which we had acquired had been that of Mr. O. H. Rippengale who, in collaboration with Dr. McMichael, had written the volume on Queensland and Great Barrier Reef Shells in 1961.  A copy of a letter from Mr. Rippengale to Mr. Beutel states, in effect, 'I have reached a point where I must either give up my business or my hobby; I have therefore decided to sell my shell collections.'  Many of the shells which we acquired in this transaction are obviously the specimens which served as models for the fine illustrations in Rippingale and McMichael's book."