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  • José H. Leal

The William C. Brumbach Collection


The scientific collection at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum houses many thousands of records of Sanibel and Captiva mollusks and shells. This extensive collection subset provides crucial data for environmental, taxonomic, and historical studies of local mollusks. One important component of that regional sample is the collection amassed by William C. Brumbach. Mr. Brumbach, originally from Pennsylvania and later a part-time resident of Sanibel, was an avid naturalist and citizen scientist, specializing in plants and shells. Mr. Brumbach collected shells on the islands mostly between February 1957 and April 1969. His local collection was not large, comprising 648 lots (specimens of the same species collected at a single collecting event; and for comparison, the entire Museum collection encompasses nearly 130,000 lots.) What it lacked in numbers, however, is more than compensated by the quality of his curation and precise record-keeping. His plant samples may be found in many American herbaria, including the Smithsonian and Harvard. The University of Florida Herbarium at the Florida Museum of Natural History and the University of South Florida house large numbers of plant specimens from Sanibel and Captiva collected and originally curated by Mr. Brumbach. He was also an enthusiastic horticulturist and a member of the American Daffodil Society, having written The Romance of the Daffodil, published in 1959.


Florida Lyonsia, Lyonsia floridana, collected on Sanibel Island by William C. Brumbach, January 1966. Photos by James F. Kelly.

The curatorial skills that Mr. Brumbach dedicated to his plant preparations are also embodied in the shell collection. His fountain pen-written labels resemble those found in the best professional collections of his time. Locally, Mr. Brumbach was a member of the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation and the Sanibel Captiva Shell Club. In a Guest Editorial he wrote for The Islander (Sanibel-Captiva newspaper) of March 18, 1965, Mr. Brumbach defended that the local shell show should focus on regional shell collections and studies, a view totally in step with his vast knowledge of Southwest Florida shells and expertise in collecting locally. Prior to the donation to the Museum, the Brumbach Collection was under the care of former Museum board member Mrs. Alice Anders, who completed the donation in 2000.


Sample of Cowpea, Vigna unguiculata, from Captiva, Florida, collected and prepared by William C. Brumbach. From Atlas of Florida Plants, published online by the Institute for Systematic Botany, University of Souh Florida. Compare label on bottom right with the one on the shell image above.