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College Is Given Collection of Thousands of Sea Shells

Miss Bennett holds a Thatcheria mirabilis.

By Hortence Fitzgerald, Evening Post Staff Writer, Post, April 19, 1960

Gathered All Over World

Miss Susan A. Bennett

The College of Charleston has been given a collection of between 8,000 and 9,000 shells gathered from seas and sea shores all over the world.

The gift was made by Miss Susan A. Bennett of 37 Legare St. to the College of Charleston’s Marine Biological Laboratory at Fort Johnson. Miss Bennett is a graduate of the college.

The large and beautiful collection was begun more than 15 years ago as a result of Miss Bennett’s desire “to get more fresh air.” She decided walks on the beach were a good way to achieve her purpose, and not one to walk aimlessly, she determined to double her purpose by collecting examples of every shell which occurs on this coast. With her mother, Mrs. John Bennett, as a frequent companion, she gathers her fresh air and shells on the beaches of Pawley’s Island, Murrell’s Inlet, Bulls Island, Edisto, Folly, Sullivan’s Island.

She soon became very involved in her new found hobby and enlisted the aid of traveling friends and commercial dealers all over the world to augment her growing collection. During World War II, one friend, an engineer stationed at Okinawa, sent 10 cases of shells to the Bennetts. “Just for the love of it,” said Mrs. Bennett.

Miss Bennett has paid as much as $20 for a single shell -- a large, Caribbean, chrysanthemum shell, whose white spikes are tipped with pink ... a shell that prompted Mrs. Bennett’s father, the late John Bennett, author and silhouette artist to remark, “Uh, uh, there ain’t no such.”

The shells range in size from the two feet length of pearl shell from the Pacific to specimens no bigger than a grain of rice. All were numbered, catalogued and given index cards by Mrs. Bennett.

Also given to the college were the reference books, necessarily gathered along with the shells. Just a few of the rarest reference books were kept for the Bennett home, as were a few shells which were duplicates or, as in the case of one, just too exquisite to part with. The latter is the Thatcheria mirabilis, a small creamy-golden shell from Japan, which spirals upward like a mountain road and is crowned with what appears to be an Oriental temple. The interior of this shell is a shiny white and its overall protection again brought comment from Mr. Bennett. He felt, said Miss Bennett, that such perfection must have been handmade.

One large conch shell was found by Miss Bennett, walking on the beach. Both Miss Bennett and the shell were walking. The unfortunate gastropod became the victim of boiling water, its green covering of algae gave way to hydrochloric acid and water, and the natural colors of its shell were brought out with a light application of mineral oil.

In commenting on the gift to the biological laboratory, Dr. J. R. Merkel, director of the laboratory, said, “It is an extremely fine shell collection -- thorough, well-kept and evidencing a great deal of work and thought. We are greatly pleased to receive it and feel it will remain a worthwhile addition to the laboratory, benefiting both students and professors of the college.”

Dr. Merkel also said it is hoped that showcases can be constructed soon so the collection may be placed on permanent display in the library of the laboratory.