Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum

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A view of the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum in Sanibel, Florida, with the Raymond Burr Memorial Garden in the foreground

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is a museum of seashells, conchology, and malacology. The museum is located in the city of Sanibel, Florida on Sanibel Island on the Gulf coast of Southwest Florida.[1] The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum opened to the public in 1995, and operates as an information and reference center for national and international scientists, students, and shell enthusiasts, particularly those who are interested in the marine, terrestrial, and land mollusks of the Gulf of Mexico and Florida. The Museum, which is a facility of the Shell Museum and Educational Foundation, Inc., received its first accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums in March 2010.

Sanibel Island is one of the better seashell collecting spots in the world (comparable to Jeffreys Bay in Africa and the Sulu Archipelago in the Pacific). Many of the museum's exhibits were collected on the island's own beaches. The museum also owns a considerable collection of Fijian cowries and cones donated by actor Raymond Burr, who owned a shell-strewn island in the Fijis.[2]

Facilities and programs[edit]

In addition to its 34 exhibits, public programs, and in-house resources, the Museum has embarked in many collaborations with national and international educational and research institutions, and offers facilities in its collection and research area for visiting researchers, interns, and students. Resources are used by national and international professionals in the fields of environmental and marine sciences, biology, and ecology. The Museum also offers a formal field trip program for Lee County public school 4th-graders on a cost-sharing basis.

The Museum has established strong ties with many public and private sector organizations, including the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization, Smithsonian Institution, American Malacological Society, Conchologists of America, Museu de Zoologia and Universidade de São Paulo in Brazil, Florida Museum of Natural History, Conchologists of America, Southwest Florida Library Network, Sanibel Public Library, The Sanibel School, Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce, Lee County’s Visitor and Convention Bureau and the Tourism and Development Council, and shell clubs throughout Florida.


On the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum website,, it is possible to search the museum's collection database. There is also an illustrated shell identification guide to the shells of southwestern Florida, with a special emphasis on the islands of Sanibel and Captiva.


The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum began with a gift of land from brothers John, Francis, and Sam Bailey in 1990 (in memory of their parents, Frank P. Bailey and Annie Mead Matthews). Noted malacologist R. Tucker Abbott, Ph.D., was a consultant and eventually founding director. The museum building was designed by architect George "Tutts" Tuttle Jr., from Captiva Island.

In 1993, the Museum opened its campaign office and acquired a bank loan to complement a construction grant from the State of Florida Cultural Facilities Program. The Grand Opening was on November 18, 1995. In February 1996, malacologist José H. Leal was hired as director. In 1997, the Museum became the publisher, with Dr. Leal as editor-in-chief, of The Nautilus, the second-oldest English-language shell science journal in the world.

In July 1999, the Museum liquidated its original bank debt and, in May 2000, established its Cultural Endowment Fund. In 2003, the Museum underwent the American Alliance of Museums' (AAM) Museum Assessment Program, and in 2004, the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ Conservation Assessment Program. The Museum became increasingly more professional in its goals and operational procedures, and moved from being a local attraction to a well-established and recognized natural history museum.

In 2006, the Museum received a $240,000 Cultural Endowment Matching Grant from the Florida’s Division of Cultural Affairs. As of 2008, its endowment surpasses $1.2 million.

In 2014, the museum changed it name from the "Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum" to the "Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum".


  1. ^ The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum
  2. ^ Lowry, Betty. "Sanibel -- It Rhymes With Shell". Society of American Travel Writers, 1998.

Coordinates: 26°26′27″N 82°06′08″W / 26.44079°N 82.10225°W / 26.44079; -82.10225