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Malacological Journals and Newsletters, 1773-1990

from: Bieler, R.& A. R. Kabat, 1991. Malacological journals and newsletters, 1773-1990. The Nautilus, 105(2): 39-61


Malacologists all over the world are often overwhelmed by the enormous diversity of journals and newsletters in our field. It is virtually impossible for any one library to possess all these journals, let alone keep up with the new serials arising every year. The purpose of this paper is to introduce some order to this chaos by providing complete bibliographical data on the corpus of malacological serials. It has been over three decades since the useful, albeit cursory, compilation of Jutting and Altena (1958) who listed only 36 titles. More recently, Bürk and Jungbluth (1985) provided a detailed index to most of the German malacological publications; this valuable reference essentially supersedes previous German efforts such as Buschmeyer's (1938). A brief treatment of malacological serials as part of the history of conchology was presented by Dance (1986:145).

Scientific journals began in 1665 with the appearance of the Philosophical Transactions [London] and the Journal des Sçavans [Paris]. It would take another century for the start of the first malacological journals: the late 1700's German serials of J. S. Schröter who published four short-lived serials dealing primarily with fossil mollusks (Friess, 1982: 93-95). However, "modern" malacological journals did not come into full bloom until the mid 1800's, with several European titles (all now defunct). The oldest currently published malacological journal is the Archiv für Molluskenkunde [1868, under an earlier title]. The Zoological Record, Mollusca Section [1864] is an abstracting source and not a contributed journal.

As the historian Derek Price (1986: 5-6, 18-19) has noted, the total number of scientific journals has doubled every fifteen years, for a 5% increase per year. Yet, obviously this exponential rate of increase cannot continue infinitely; eventually a saturation point representing logistic growth will be reached. The proliferation of new journals in the last decade does not seem to indicate that the field of malacology has reached its carrying capacity, although the recent demise of certain journals may initiate this trend.

Equally important is the usage of scientific articles: how widely they are read and cited by others. Price (1986: 118) used Lotka's law and the Pareto distribution to determine that "... about 10 percent of all published papers have never been cited, about 10 percent have been cited once, about 9 percent twice, and so on, the percentages slowly decreasing...". This widely quoted statement [usually paraphrased as "10 percent of all published papers never subsequently cited" (Wheeler, 1989: 11)] is the inevitable consequence of what the sociologist Robert Merton (1968: 61) diagnosed as "insanabile scribendi cacoethes" [= the itch to publish].


We undertook this project over a two year period, entailing considerable bibliographic research and correspondence. We compiled a master list based on the serial holdings of seven major malacological libraries: Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia; Delaware Museum of Natural History; Field Museum of Natural History; Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris; Museum of Comparative Zoölogy; The Natural History Museum, London; and National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Then, this list was augmented by extensive correspondence with various colleagues who checked certain geographical sections, as well as with the editors of shell club newsletters (addresses obtained from the American Malacological Union membership list and various other sources); these individuals are listed in the acknowledgements. Unfortunately, no replies were received from some shell clubs and certain other clubs are no longer extant and we were unable to find any complete sets of their newsletters.

While most of the major malacological research libraries have complete sets of the principal journals in the field, the same is certainly not true for the numerous shell club newsletters. It is to be regretted that some museums extend little effort to keep even the newsletter of their own national malacological society. We are aware of the difficulties in treating this "grey" literature and we strongly recommend that malacological libraries endeavor to maintain holdings of these newsletters (especially those published in their country) to the greatest extent possible. The development of online computerized catalogues of library holdings will allow researchers to readily locate these serials.


Herein we have attempted as complete a compilation as is possible of all the malacological serials (journals and newsletters) that have come to our attention. As the reader may be aware, it is not always easy to differentiate between malacological journals and newsletters. Generally, scientific journals publish original research articles and are intended as part of the permanent scientific record. They typically have an editorial review board to maintain scientific standards, and they are often published by a scientific institution or scholarly society. Newsletters usually serve as a vehicle for news and information within the respective organization, and in the case of shell club newsletters they disseminate knowledge in layman's terms, offer advice for beginners in the field and are often simply meant to entertain.

Shell club newsletters are not only of interest to the scientific community because they occasionally provide such original data as biogeographical or habitat information, but also they become permanent scientific record once they (sometimes unintentionally) publish taxonomic statements, especially new species names and type designations. There is obviously no distinct line between journals and newsletters, seeing that some of today's journals started in newsletter format, while some self-proclaimed "journals" hardly deserve that label. We made no attempt to sort the malacological serials into these two categories. We have usually excluded those shell club newsletters which are completely restricted to internal communications, such as membership lists and announcements of upcoming events.

We do not include multi-volume malacological treatises that were issued "in parts" over long time periods but represent a single encyclopedic compilation and not a diverse journal. For example, Kiener's Iconographie des Coquilles Vivantes; the Martini-Chemnitz and Küster editions of the Systematisches Conchylien-Cabinet; Philippi's Abbildungen und Beschreibungen...; Reeve's Conchologia Iconica; the Rossmässler-Kobelt Iconographie der Land- und Süsswasser-Mollusken; Sowerby's Thesaurus Conchyliorum; and the Tryon-Pilsbry Manual of Conchology are all excluded from this paper. We also do not include symposia volumes, including those of regular meetings, unless specifically issued in serial format.

Several of the French titles in this list actually represent compiled reprints, by one author, of malacological articles from various journals. We have included them since they are obscure and are sometimes cited as if they were serials themselves.

We noted several interesting aspects regarding the etymology of the titles of these various serials. Obviously, most are based on "mollusk", "malaco-", "conch-", or "shell"; others from generic names or famous malacologists. One should note several titles that have been used more than once: Argonauta, The Conchologist, Journal of Malacology and Tide Lines.

For completeness, and in appreciation of the fact that there is also some intended humor in our field of science, we have included five satirical "serials" in our listings. Three of them, titled Conchologica Nonsensica, The Double Helix and Slug Newsletter, are easily spotted, but The Slug and especially the cleverly produced Journal of Molluscan Behaviour are less obvious. These parodies were not included in our statistics.

In compiling this list, we also noted several journals with "malacological" titles, although they do not qualify for inclusion herein as they are not about mollusks at all, or are not exclusively about mollusks. We list them here to avoid future confusion: Nautilus: A monthly miscellany... [1845-1846; Sag Harbor, New York]; Astarte, A Journal of Arctic Biology [1951-1983; Tromso]; The Conch Shell [1953-1966; Bishop Museum, Honolulu]; The Conch: A Biafran Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis [1969-current; Paris]. An exception is made for the larger shellfisheries journals (which also cover crustaceans). Here we draw an arbitrary line between those that are included (e.g., Journal of Shellfish Research), and others that are not (e.g., Proceedings of the ... th National Shellfish Sanitation Workshop). Coche (1983) lists numerous serial publications in shellfisheries and aquaculture.

We would greatly appreciate information regarding any additions or emendations to this list, since it is our intention to publish future "Addenda". There are several shell club newsletters for which we were unable to obtain full data, despite repeated enquiries. In some cases, the shell clubs themselves do not know the full history of their own newsletter(s). These titles are indicated by an asterisk; the information needed is noted. It is imperative that the Zoological Record also be informed of new publications; editors should send copies (or announcements) of their publications to: Mollusca Section, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 513D, England. The authors will gladly provide editors with a list of the major malacological research museums that should also be informed of new malacological publications.


It is worthwhile to consider the role of malacological journals, not only within the field of malacology, but more broadly within the biological sciences. We have found that there are 157 currently published malacological serials. According to The Serials Directory, 3rd Edition, 1988-89, there are over 118,000 current serial titles in all fields of knowledge (excluding newspapers). More specifically, according to the 1988/89 Zoological Record Serial Sources (1990: vi), there are 5,540 current journals in the zoological sciences that are recorded for the Zoological Record. Obviously, the malacological journals are a very small part of the whole of scientific literature. Yet, their importance in the field of malacology is far greater than might have been suspected. In order to evaluate this, we have analyzed the titles recorded in the Zoological Record, Mollusca Section, to determine the proportion of malacological articles published in malacological serials. The results are as follows:


Year Number of titles % published in malac. serials Number of malac. serials
1880 181 23.2% 12
1930 1,023 24.7% 8
1980 3,904 26.0% 120

[The results for 1880 are based on the entire sample; those for 1930 and 1980 are each based on the average of three subsamples of 100 entries].

It is a remarkable consistency that over the last century, about 25% of all malacological titles covered by the Zoological Record have been published in malacological journals. The malacologist is (or should be) cognizant that malacological journals are rarely read by non-malacologists, while non-malacological journals usually reach a wider audience. Hence it is not surprising that the bulk of malacological journals are devoted to papers on systematics, evolution, and organismic-level studies; more reductionist malacological studies (e.g., biochemistry, molecular and cell biology) are invariably found in the appropriate non-malacological journals.

It is also worthwhile to consider the geographic distribution of malacological serials in relation to the distribution of malacologists and more broadly in terms of the overall scientific literature. It is obvious that most journals are published in Europe and the United States; a more detailed analysis reveals several interesting aspects. Altogether, thirty-one countries are represented by malacological serials. We have counted 286 serials (374 including changes in titles) of which 157 (54.9%) are still published. Of the 157 current serials, we informally consider 45 (28.7%) to be professional journals and the remainder as newsletters. The countries with the most serials (and the numbers of serials - not counting changes in titles) are: USA (117); Great Britain (22); France (19); Japan (19); Australia (17); Italy (14); and Germany (13). The distribution by world region is as follows:

Region Total number of titles Number of serials* Number currently published
Europe (12) 121 94 51
Africa (1) 6 5 3
Asia (5) 29 25 14
Oceania (4) 39 29 20
North America (3) 171 125 65
Central and South America (6) 8 8 4
[world totals] (31) 374 286 157

Numbers in parentheses indicate the number of countries.

* Not counting changes in titles.

More specifically, it is obvious that no one malacologist can read, let alone make reference to, all these malacological serials. In his scientometric analyses, Price (1986: 67 ff.) noted that the usage of the scientific literature is a function of the inverse square law. That is, given the total number of serials in a field, half the reading will be done from the square root of that total number. Applying this valuable heuristic concept to the field of malacology, we note that there are 157 currently published malacological serials. The square root of 157 is 12.5. Therefore, one can conclude that despite the overabundant diversity of current titles, only about 11-12 will account for half the total usage of malacological serials by malacologists.

An informal poll ["Of the following malacological journals, which eleven do you consider to be the most important?"] of nine professional malacologists revealed a remarkable consensus of opinion: (a) 5 journals were listed by all 9 respondents; (b) 5 journals got 6, 7 or 8 votes; (c) 3 journals got 3, 4 or 5 votes; and (d) 5 journals got only 1 or 2 votes. Altogether, a total of thirteen [13] journals received at least 3 votes; this represents only 8.2% of the total number of current malacological serials.

It does not seem to be essential for a malacological research library to subscribe to every current malacological publication. Indeed, a compilation of the subscription prices for these 13 journals comes to almost $350 (at individual or member rates), which is reasonable when compared to other fields of science. No malacological journals are issued by commercial (for-profit) publishing houses, which are often much more expensive than institution or society journals (Feldmann, 1989). In the field of systematics, it is obviously important to have complete runs of the major journals, including those that are now defunct. It is difficult to estimate the current cost of obtaining a "complete" malacological journal library; certainly in excess of $50,000 as one rarely sees these items in book dealer catalogues and there are relatively few comprehensive private malacological libraries that are potentially available.

Another element of interest is the overall numerical abundance and growth of the malacological literature, including all publication sources. Solem (1974: 7-8) has estimated the size of this literature and his results are comparable to ours; Schopf (1967) provided similar calculations for the Ectoprocta [= Bryozoa]. Based on direct counts and estimates from the Zoological Record and Ruhoff (1980), we have compiled data on the total number of malacological publications, on an annual basis. As of 1990, we have determined that approximately 167,000 such publications have appeared. The cumulative totals from antiquity to the following years are: 1875 (9,000); 1900 (19,330); 1925 (34,965); 1950 (57,115); 1975 (106,060); and 2000 (estimate 210,000). This literature is doubling every 25 years which seems rather dramatic; however, Price (1986: 5-6) documented that the overall scientific literature is doubling every 15 years and certain fields even faster, thus malacology is actually increasing at a slower rate than the overall scientific literature field.

A matter of considerable nomenclatural importance is the description of new species and higher taxa in newsletters or non-professional journals. All too often, these non-refereed papers are not widely available, and the type specimens are commonly not deposited into recognized museums (for further discussion, see Lillico, 1990 and Loch, 1990). We hope that the forthcoming revision of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature will resolve these problems.

In conclusion, these analyses reveal several interesting aspects of the field of malacological journals and newsletters, including their importance in the field of malacology and their geographic distribution. It seems that the quantity (if not quality) of malacological journals will continue to increase arithmetically (if not exponentially), especially as new computer desk-top publishing techniques tempt private individuals to start up their own journals.


Bürk, R. and J. H. Jungbluth. 1985. 140 Jahre Molluskenkunde im deutschsprachigen Raum 1844-1984. Ungarisches Naturwissenschaftliches Museum, Budapest, 348 pp.

Buschmeyer, H. 1938. 70 Jahre Molluskenkunde (1869-1938). Senckenbergische Naturforschende Gesellschaft, Frankfurt am Main, 108 pp.

Coche, A. G. 1983. List of serials, newsletters, bibliographies and meeting proceedings related to aquaculture. FAO Fisheries Circular, 758: vii + 1-65.

Dance, S. P.1986. A history of shell collecting. E. J. Brill, Leiden, xvi + 266 pp., 32 pls.

Feldmann, R. M. 1989. On the costs of journal subscriptions. Journal of Paleontology, 63: 958.

Friess, H. 1982. Johann Samuel Schröter (1735-1808) a pioneer in palaeontology. Archives of Natural History, 11: 83-98.

Jutting, W. S. S. van B. and C. O. van R. Altena. 1958. A list of printed malacological periodicals. Basteria, 22: 10-15.

Lillico, S. 1990. Scientific journals are better. Hawaiian Shell News, 38(2): 5-6.

Loch, I. 1990. Species descriptions in newsletters. Hawaiian Shell News, 38(10): 8-9.

Merton, R. K. 1968. The Matthew Effect in science. Science, 159: 56-63.

Price, D. J. deS. 1986. Little science, big science and beyond. Columbia University Press, New York, xxvi + 301 pp.

Ruhoff, F. A. 1980. Index to the species of Mollusca introduced from 1850 to 1870. Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology, 294: 1-640.

Schopf, T. J. M. 1967. The literature of the phylum Ectoprocta: 1955-1963. Systematic Zoology, 16: 318-327.

Solem, [G.] A. 1974. The shell makers: introducing mollusks. New York: John Wiley & Sons, xiv +289 p., 12 pls.

Wheeler, A. G. 1989. The pressure to publish disreputable science. The Scientist, 3(14): 11, 13.