Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering, & Technology
Back to the LHL Home Page | Back to the Exhibitions Home Page

Martin Lister was a medical doctor by profession and an innovator by nature. He was involved with a group that carried out dissections and experimented with intravenous injection, he published a proposal for the creation of geological maps, but he had, in his own words, “the greatest enthusiasm” for natural history and was a collector of insects, spiders, and shells. He devoted his life to the compilation of the first organized, systematic publication on shells, creating a work that represented a landmark in the way scientists thought about natural history. In its final edition, the work was illustrated with 1062 plates of shells, the work of Lister's two daughters Anna and Susanna.

Born on October 13, 1671, Anna Lister was the second child of Martin and Hannah Lister. Her sister Susanna was born the previous year. By the time they were ten and eleven, respectively, they were already demonstrating an interest in art. Dr. Lister attended to their early education, as was the norm, preparing them for what would eventually be their part in his work. He sent a gift of oil colors from France with a letter to his wife, “I did send home a box of colour in oil for Susan & Nancy to paint with. As for the pencils sent with them, and the colours in shells, which are for limning, I would have thee lock them carefully up, till I return, for they know not yet the use of them.”
Before the publication of the two-volume first edition in 1685, Historiae Conchyliorum was produced in several early versions. Dr. Martin Lister sent bound copperplate engravings by his daughters Anna and Susanna to his colleagues both for their editorial comments and as gifts to acknowledge assistance in his other ventures. By the time this edition was published, there were already several shorter, preliminary versions extant.
titlepage from Historiae Conchyliorum engraved by Anna Lister
From the Linda Hall Library.
back | next
Anna Lister : page 1 of 3
 a fossil engraved by Anna lister
From the Linda Hall Library.
In Historiae Conchyliorum, Anna and Susanna created illustrations representing a number of fossilized shells. This plate shows the first fossil from North America to be illustrated in a scientific publication. At this time there was debate over the origin of fossils, with Dr. Lister siding against the possibility of animal origins.