The passion to collect shells arose in the Upper Palaeolithic, and at-tended all the cultural evolution of Man. The breakthrough will come in the 16th century with the beginning of the great geographical explorations: the first large shells from the South Seas and the Caribbean which came in Europe received an immediate and resounding success. Beautiful and rare, and thus highly sought af-ter, they began to enrich the collections of Naturaliain the Wunderkammern,ex-traordinary places, filled with collections of a disparate and chaotic expression of richness which arose in all courts of Europe.
The mid-19thcentury is called the Golden Age of Conchology thanks to Hugh Cuming ,who began to collect shells, especially in Chile and Argentina, and after from Easter Island to Polynesia and Philippines. At his death, a huge collection of nearly 53,000 shells of 19,000 species remained, that the British Museum bought.
The shell collector has an unrealizable ambition: to hold all the shells of the world. Conscious of the impossibility of realizing this dream, he often specializ-es in one group (generally a family). Today, the greatcollectors particularly ap-preciate some families of gastropods, especially the cones and cowries, whose shells are very smooth, with porcelain surfaces. Other families much sought after are volutids, olivids, terebrids, mitrids, muricids, strombids, cassids, cimatids and harpids. Bivalves arouse less interest, although thorny oysters and scallops are, perhaps, the only two families really appreciated worldwide. Recently, the interest of collectors was also directed towards the shells of molluscs living in deep waters, below 1,000 meters depth, as the pleurotomariids, primitive gastro-pods characterized by a long slit that runs through the last whorl of the shell.
Even many fossil molluscs are appreciated: some ammonites arouse considerable interest and can achieve amazing prices at the auctions.
Keywords: Ashmolean Museum, Cabinets de Merveilles, cassids, Cavendish, cones, Conus gloriamaris, cimatids, cowries, Cuming, Epitonium scalare, fake shells, harpids, Hirohito, Lyncina leucodon, Mirabilia, mitrids, molluscs, muricids, Naturalia, olivids, scallops, strombids, terebrids, thorny oysters, volutids, Wun-derkammern.