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.
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.