History of the Club
EARLY HISTORY OF THE SANIBEL-CAPTIVA SHELL CLUB
In March of 1961 the Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club was formed with 27 members. By January of 1963 we had 188 members. Dues were $2 single and $5 family. Meetings were originally twice per month, but were dropped to once per month at the end of the year. The first Honorary Members of the club were Dean Hollister, Dr. R. Tucker Abbott, and Alger Blaine. The club created and then revised its original Constitution and By-Laws. By 1965, in addition to the officers (President, First VP, Second VP, Recording Secretary, Corresponding Sec’y. and Treasurer), the club also utilized eight Committee Chair positions: Historian, Conservation, American Museum Collection, Membership, Program, Shell Show, Publicity, and Meeting Hostess. Also in 1965 the club voted to hold official meetings only November through April, with April being the Annual Meeting and Dinner (held at the Coconut Grove, and dinner cost $3.50).
In November of 1961, the first newsletter of the SCSC was written to the membership by Churchill Hudson and Maude Nickerson. The monthly meetings alternated between the Sanibel Community House and the Captiva Community Center. At first, speakers were members who researched selected Gastropods and then educated their fellow members. Then came members with slide programs such as “Shelling Around Australia’s Coastline” by Thelma Hartley; “Shelling in the Pirate’s Den (Jamaica)” by Selma Lawson, “Rare Shells, Part I” by Jean Cate; and “Weird and Rare Shells of the Gulf of Mexico” by Dan Steger. Eventually, the speakers sometimes included noted shell experts such as Dr. William Clench and Dr. R. Tucker Abbott. The January 1962 meeting had 80 attendees: 24 married couples and 32 singles. The February meeting had 175 (gasp) attendees! There were record turn-outs for meetings at which a Judge or Judges explained the whys and hows of what they look for in their judging. Summer meetings included Box Suppers held at members’ homes. The December meeting was always a Christmas party and dinner which featured an exchange of gift-wrapped shells. Once a year they held an all-day-bring-your-lunch-and-bathing-suit (and presumably shells) get-together at some member’s beachfront home (usually on Captiva). The newsletters of the 60’s (between one and three per year) referred to women as “Mrs. So-and-So,” and kept members well informed about all activities of the club. Personal news was also included: who got married, who had a baby, and items such as “Priscilla Murphy and Esperanza Woodring went on a ten-day shelling trip to Bimini.”
The club was very active in giving talks and leading local shelling trips for various school science groups and Girl Scout troops who were here on field trips to our islands. The club maintained two display cases in the Collier Arcade in downtown Ft. Myers. This became front-page news in the News-Press, and resulted in a wider membership base. The Ft. Myers News-Press and The Islander gave club activities thorough coverage. Members wrote articles on particular shells or shelling trips to keep the club more “visible.” Club members also exhibited in the Edison Shell Pageant held each year. Various Board members attended annual meetings of the American Malacological Union each year, where they “learned a lot…and secured meeting speakers and Judges for the Fairs.” During the 60’s the club was also very active in purchasing new shell books and then contributing them to both the Sanibel and Captiva libraries.
In January of 1962, the first of seven “Shell Counts” was held. On one specific morning you could shell anywhere on either island and then bring your findings to a hot-coffee-and-doughnuts location to record what you found. “70 men and women braved the chill of early morning to bring in 128 species.” By 1964, there were 162 official beachcombers who brought in 165 different species. Of these, twelve types had not been found previously. “The one you never saw before may be the one we’re looking for!” was the motto for this program. In 1966 three “new to Sanibel” shells were identified: a tun, a glass bubble, and a siphonaria limpet. In addition to the Shell Counts, every Junonia found on our beaches was supposed to be registered with club member Edie Mugridge!
The Shell Fair Committee of the Sanibel Civic Association asked our new club in late 1961 to work out a set of rules and classes for the exhibits for the Fair the following March. So our club’s first Shell Show was at the 25th Fair in 1962. Division A, Scientific, included 17 Classes. Division B, Artistic, included 7 Classes. There were 67 Scientific exhibits that year, judged by (you guessed it) Dr. R. Tucker Abbott. One year later, in 1963, that was 140 Scientific exhibits and two Judges. The 1964 Shell Show had 264 adult entries and 38 children’s exhibits. Children’s entries “were self-collected, self-arranged, self-named, and all came from Sanibel and Captiva.” The adult entries, however, included shells that came from all over the world. The SCA continued to ask the club to run the Shell Show until 1967. At the 1996 SCA Annual Meeting they “decided not to ask any outside organization to handle future shell exhibits at the Shell Fair.”
The “live shell show” also came under the sponsorship of our shell club in that first year of participation (1962). There were 14 aquariums, and most shells for the exhibit were dredged by various island residents, among them Hayes Hudson and Aden Stonecypher. In addition, there were many types of fish, including a “father seahorse who obligingly birthed his babies during the show.” The Live Tank Exhibit has continued under the club’s sponsorship since then. The Sanibel School students did not become involved until the early 1980’s.
The Shell Club members quickly became involved in other areas as well: gathering and selling the “raw” shells, making and selling the arrangements they created at the Driftwood Workshop (today’s Shellcrafters), and providing local member Art League Judges for the “Division B Art Display and Artistic Arrangements.” During the 60’s the Shell Fair raffle consisted of first a “shell box” and then a “shell table” that club members created and filled. All proceeds from all of these activities went to the Sanibel Civic Association. Starting in 1965, all entrants to the Shell Show (then, as now, inside the building) received a Sanibel shell as a memento – a forerunner to the baggies of shells we give out today. Also in those early years, show entrants signed a guest book. In 1965 the book included over 3,000 signatures from all 50 states and several foreign countries.
The club created a “SHELL HANDBOOK - Conservation, Collecting, Cleaning” which was used widely for many years. The booklet was reprinted at least three times. The first edition was 5,000 copies. The next printing of 10,000 (yes, ten thousand) copies was distributed by the Lee County Chamber of Commerce at various county Welcome Centers. Another edition of 10,000 copies was distributed by the San-Cap Chamber of Commerce, the Sanibel Improvement Association, the Sanibel Civic Association, the Captiva Civic Association, and Francis Bailey. The club created a poster for the South Florida Conservation meeting to educate the public against wholesale live shelling, and the poster was thereafter hung in the Sanibel Chamber of Commerce building. “Too many collectors have taken too many live shells until now those shells are scarce.” In the early 60’s Joe Gault had created a cartoon featuring a pig taking too many live shells from the beach: “Take all the dead shells you can carry, but leave the live ones to marry.” Based on this theme, the SCSC created conservation flyers (first printing of 50,000) for distribution. Sadly, there is no copy of that flyer in the club archives. “Our club is now taking steps toward initiating legislation to protect our mollusks and prevent over-collecting of live specimens,” Harvey Meyer wrote in the last newsletter of the decade.