Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum

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A 2014 view of the museum building with the new shell banners (photos by Henry Domke) in place
A 2011 view of the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum in Sanibel, Florida. The Raymond Burr Memorial Garden is in the foreground

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is a museum devoted to every aspect of seashells, conchology, and malacology, including the paleontological and archeological aspects of the study of shells. The museum is located in the city of Sanibel, Florida on Sanibel Island on the Gulf of Mexico 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 freshwater 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.

Sources of shells[edit]

The museum's exhibits include numerous shells from all over the world. However, many shells in the museum are from Florida and a substantial number are from Sanibel and Captiva islands. This is because Sanibel Island is one of the best seashell collecting spots in the world (comparable to Jeffreys Bay in Africa and the Sulu Archipelago in the Pacific). The museum also owns a collection of Pacific Ocean cowries and cones donated by actor Raymond Burr, who owned an island in the Fijis, and who led the efforts to raise funds to build the museum. Outside the museum is a memorial garden dedicated to Raymond Burr, and inside the museum is a small exhibit about him as a film actor, philanthropist and shell collector.[2]

Part of the exhibit on scallops

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.

Part of one exhibit shows a growth series of the very attractive shell Scaphella junonia, which is found (but only quite rarely) on the island of Sanibel.


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 (a database with photographs) to the seashells 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.

An exhibit showing how the Calusa Native American people used the shells of the locally-occurring large whelks to create tools.

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