Joachim Johann Nepomuk Spalowsky
Prodromus in systema historicum testaceorum (1795)

© 1996, Society for the History of Natural History.

This article was originally published in Archives of Natural History (1996: v.23(2), p.245-254). We gratefully acknowledge the Society for the History of Natural History for permission to reprint it. The Society's publications and international conferences cover all aspects of the history and bibliography of the natural sciences and are of great interest and usefulness to researchers in botany, zoology, paleontology, and geology and the mineral sciences. For further information about this article, the Society, or its Archives, contact the Society for the History of Natural History, c/o The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, England; or Archives of Natural History editor at editor@shnh.org.uk. The Society maintains a website at http://www.shnh.org.uk/.

Dr. Alan Kabat is a Research Associate in the Division of Mollusks, National Museum of Natural History (NHB E510, Washington DC 20560-0118, USA). We are much indebted to him for his scholarship and enthusiasm in analyzing Spalowsky's contribution to molluscan systematics and, specifically, the Smithsonian Institution Libraries' copy of Spalowsky's work.

Archives of Natural History, (1996) 23 (2): 245-254

J.J.N.A. Spalowsky (1752-1797) and the Prodromus in Systema Historicum Testaceorum (1795)

Division of Mollusks. NHB-118,
National Museum of Natural History.
Smithsonian Institution.
Washington. D.C. 20560.

This paper catalogues the publications of J.J.N.A. Spalowsky (1752-1797) and discusses the new species described in his conchological treatise, the Prodromus in Systema Historicum Testaceorum (1795).


Joachim Johann Nepomuk Anton Spalowsky (1752-17 May 1797) was a veritable polymath in the Austrian Empire of the late eighteenth century. Few biographical data are available on him (Anonymous, 1798), but he was presumably of Polish Silesian ancestry, being born in Reichenberg [currently Liberec, Czech Republic], and he was a surgeon attached to the civic regiments of Vienna. Spalowsky was a member of the Königlichen Böhmischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften [Prague], although he was not mentioned in the exhaustive history of that society, even with regard to their "Conchyliensammlung" (Kalousek, 1885: 141ff).

His erudition is evidenced by the range of his publications. His 1777 inaugural dissertation treated poisonous plants (e.g. hemlock, monk's hood) and related topics. In addition to the Prodromus in Systema Historicum Testaceorum (1795) he authored works on such diverse topics as birds, mammals and even a disquisition on economics and numismatics, a further sign of his scholarly breadth.

For the reader's convenience, I have included a listing of his known (or supposed) publications, mostly taken from Meusel (1813: 211-212), Engelmann (1846), Agassiz (1854: 358), Carus and Engelmann (1861), Wurzbach (1878: 56) and Popst and Schöller (1985: 290). Although four of these sources listed a ten-volume work "Naturgeschichte der vierfüßigen Thiere, Vögel, Amphibien und Conchylien, nebst Abhandlungen von ökonomischen Wissenschaften, dann der Numismatik" there is some doubt as to the existence of this work. Sherborn (1902: li) questioned whether it was actually issued; he only saw the "Erste Beitr." of 1794 (q.v.). It seems probable that this series was merely announced for publication, but was never completed.

Spalowsky's 1795 treatise on conchology, of which a plate is here illustrated (Figure 1), is among the rarest of published books on mollusks and other shelled organisms. There are copies of this work in The Natural History Museum, London; University of Cambridge; Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia; Smithsonian Institution; Houghton Library (Harvard); Institut Royal des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique (Bruxelles); Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle (Paris); Zoölogisch Museum, Amsterdam; Staatliche Bibliothek, Passau [Germany]; National Library of Russia [Natsional'naja Rossijskaja Bibli- [End Page 245]

Plate 13

Figure 1. Plate 13 (of 13) from Spalowsky. 1795. The original captions read as follows: 1. Pinna rudis. Der rohe Schinken. 2. Lepas pollicipes. Die Fusszehe. 3. Lepas rintinnabulum. Die Seetulpe. 4. Pholas costatus. Die geribbte Pholade. 5. Pholas dactylus. Der Steinbohrer. 6. Chiton auratus. Die Goldkäfermuschel.

oteka] (St Petersburg); Naturhistorisches Museum, Wien; Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Wien (2 copies); and in several private libraries. The copy in the Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek (München) was destroyed during the Second World War.

This work remains of importance in containing the original descriptions of several new species and varieties, of which at least two are valid today. Although intended as a [End Page 246] "prodrome" or introduction to shelled animals, Spalowsky's death in 1797 precluded the publication of a more comprehensive review.

Certain of the fine illustrations of shells in this book readily strike the viewer for their metallic, almost iridescent sheen. As noted by Finlay (in Finlay and Garvey, 1988:112): -- "Although the text ... is of little interest, the manner in which the hand-colored plates capture the iridescent quality of the shells has never been surpassed. This was achieved through the use of gold and silver leaf, in some cases heavily overpainted with watercolor, for the shiny inside surfaces of shells, such as the Haliotis, or abalone."

This book was published in Wien [Vienna] in 1795. However, the copy recently acquired by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries includes a printed dedicatory letter to Prinz Carl Ludwig, signed by Anna von Spalowsky (the widow) with a date of 26 August 1801. This dedicatory letter is printed on a folio sheet distinct from the remaining fascicles, and the watermark of this 1801 folio sheet is quite different from that of the remaining 1795 text. This suggests that copies of this letter (folio sheet) together with a facing dedicatory illustration and statement were printed in 1801 and inserted into the then-extant stock on hand prior to binding. These two issues (1795 and 1801) differ solely in the presence of the dedicatory material and in the completion of the frontispiece.

Of the aforementioned libraries and private holdings, only the Smithsonian Institution, the Houghton Library, the University of Cambridge and the Institut Royal des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique (Bruxelles) have the 1801 issue. The Houghton copy, however, has the dedicatory illustration facing the title page (i.e., as a frontispiece), and the Index/Inhalt (iv pages) precedes the Praefatio/Vorrede (viii pages) rather than following as in the Smithsonian copy. Obviously individual purchasers must have varied in their collation of the pages prior to binding.

The nature of the frontispiece itself is worth considering, as there are significant differences between the 1795 issue and the 1801 issue. A description of the latter version is here provided and contrasted with the earlier rendition.

The illustration shows a classical "folly" in a seaside setting. The folly is an open-air cupola supported by columns, reminiscent of a ciborium or baldacchino. In the centre of the folly is a large cubical podium bearing the royal coat-of-arms, topped by an engraving of Prinz Carl Ludwig in full dress uniform. In the 1795 frontispiece, these two cartouches were left blank, as there was no patron at that time for this work. The folly itself is in the Roman style, with four pairs of columns in the Roman Composite order. The finial on the cupola differs in the two issues: in 1795, the folly is topped by a large, closed, plant bud; whereas in 1801 this space is occupied by an erect wreath through which a sword and a hunting horn pass from opposite directions. On the steps leading to the folly is standing a helmeted female figure, obviously Athena (Minerva) as shown by her Aegis. Athena has a shell in her left hand which is held up to the chest of Carl Ludwig for his edification (there is no shell in her hand in the 1795 issue). The index finger of Athena's right hand is clearly pointing (signifying) towards a half-dozen stylized marine shells in the left foreground. Similarly, her right foot is pointing towards a miscellany of land shells in the right foreground. In the left background is a nautical scene containing a two-masted ship; a classical temple on a hill is in the far distance.

Several other minor differences are here noted: the foreground is filled (darkened) in the 1795 issue whereas in the 1801 issue the bottom-most region of the figure is left blank; the fir trees in the upper right comer are shorter and less well defined in the 1795 issue; the [End Page 247] clouds in the upper center and left regions of the 1795 issue are missing in the 1801 issue. Obviously the plate was slightly reworked in order to make these latter changes, as well as adding the cartouche and finial figures.

The frontispiece in the Academy of Natural Sciences copy (1795) was coloured at a later date: the colouring is not commensurate with the quality of the plates themselves and was obviously done by a different artist.

Spalowsky's other publications are perhaps of less importance today. Sherborn (1902: li) noted that several were not consistently binominal. Anker (1938: 36) placed the 1790-1795 ornithological Beytrag in the category of "less important treatises..."; Nissen (1953: 169; 1968: 390; 1973: 152) and Sitwell et al. (1990: 143) devoted few lines to Spalowsky, but their inclusion indicates the artistic significance of his works. The absence of any mention of Spalowsky from biographical dictionaries (e.g. Poggendorff, 1863) and from the latest history of conchology (Dance, 1986) indicates his neglect in modern times.


Serpula verticillata pages 3-4, plate 1, figure 3. "Mare mediterraneum". Appears to be a polychaete worm.

Argonauta argo var. nodoso-costata page 6, plate 1, figure 6. Cited from Martini (1769) but the page reference given is actually that of Gmelin (1791). "Mare indicum, africanum meridionale, mediterraneum, adriaticum". Herein considered to be a junior synonym of Argonauta nodosa Lightfoot, 1786 (Cephalopoda: Argonautidae).

Nautilus discors pages 8-9, plate 1, figure 8. "Concretiones zoophyticae maris mediterranei, raro foss. ad Coroncinam senens. Hetrur [Siena]". A fossil foraminiferan.

Nautilus gazellicornis/Orthoceras gazellicorne page 10, plate 1, figure 10. "Littus ariminense in adriatico, et concret. zoophyt. in mediterr. mari; fossilium Coroncina in tractu senens. Hetr. [Siena]". A fossil foraminiferan.

Conus virgo var. alba page 16, plate 3, figure 2. "Ocean. afric. ad ins. Mauritii, et ad Amboinam Ind. orient." Herein considered to be a junior synonym of Conus virgo Linnaeus, 1758 (Gastropoda: Conidae).

Conus ammiralis var. trifasciata pages l6-17, plate 3, figure 3. "Oceanus australis Indiiae et Americae". Herein considered to be a junior synonym of Conus ammiralis Linnaeus, 1758 (Gastropoda: Conidae).

Voluta oliva var. atro-fusca pages 31-32, plate 5, figure 3. "Mare indicum orient". Although described as a variety of Oliva oliva (Linnaeus, 1758), this actually resembles the melanistic colour form of Oliva vidua (Röding, 1798) which would presumably be a junior synonym of Spalowsky's name. (Gastropoda: Olividae).

Buccinum gibbosulum var. rubra pages 37-38, plate 6, figure 2. "Mare Ind. orient". Is representative of Nassarius (Plicarcularia); however, the bright red dorsal colouration does not match any of the known Indo-Pacific species of this group (Cernohorsky, 1984: 64-78, pls. 3-7). Nassarius gibbosulum (Linnaeus, 1758) is actually from the Eastern Atlantic; some specimens have a reddish colour and it is here presumed that Spalowsky actually had an erroneous geographical locality for his specimen (Gastropoda: Nassariidae). [End Page 248]

Buccinum spiratum var. albo-rubra page 39, plate 6, figure 4. "Mare mediterr. et Ind." Herein considered to be a junior synonym of Babylonia spirata (Linnaeus, 1758) (Gastropoda: Buccinidae).

Strobus [sic] auratus pages 43-44, plate 6, figure 9. "an India orientalis?" Spelled as "Strombus" in the index and plate caption. Abbott (1960: 122) listed this as a junior synonym of the tropical Eastern Atlantic Strombus latus Gmelin, 1791 (Gastropoda: Strombidae).

Murex melongena var. laevis page 47, plate 7, figure[s] 4a, 4b. "America, Amboina". Herein considered to be a junior synonym of the Western Atlantic Melongena melongena (Linnaeus, 1758); representing the juvenile aspinose form (Gastropoda: Melongenidae). However, Spalowsky's name is also a senior homonym of Murex levis McClelland, 1841 [per ICZN Article 58(1)], a fossil taxon from the Cretaceous of India.

Trochus niloticus var. viridi-rubro-albo-maculata page 49, plate 8, figures 1a, lb. "Mare Ind. orient." A polynomial, descriptive term (non-binomial); equivalent to Trochus niloticus (Linnaeus, 1767) (Gastropoda: Trochidae).

Turbo scalaris var. rosea page 53, plate 8, figures 7a, 7b. "littus ad Coromandel ind. orient." Herein considered to be a junior synonym of Epitonium scalaris (Linnaeus, 1758) (Gastropoda: Epitoniidae).

Helix decollata var. fasciata page 57, plate 8, figure 12. "Europa meridionalis et orientalis, Africa et India orient. terrestris". Herein considered to be a junior synonym of Rumina decollata (Linnaeus, 1758) (Gastropoda: Subulinidae).

Nerita corona var. fasciata pages 59-60, plate 8, figures 15a, I5b. "in fluviis Indiae orientalis, inf. S. Mauritii, Americae australis". Is a senior synonym of Clithon spinosa (Sowerby, 1825), although that species is actually restricted to the Society Islands. However, Spalowsky's name is itself a junior homonym of Nerita fasciata Müller, 1774 (European freshwater) so Sowerby's name remains valid. The spines and colouration of Clithon corona (Linnaeus, 1758) and C. coronata (Leach, 1815) do not match the detailed figure of Spalowsky's fasciata. (Gastropoda: Neritidae).

Venus corbicula var. scripta page 72, plate 10, figures 1la, 1lb. "litt. Guineens. et Americ. occidentalis". Does not resemble any known Atlantic or west American species. Appears to be either a Lioconcha [cf. ornata (Dillwyn, 1817)] or a Meretrix [cf. meretrix (Linnaeus, 1758)], both from the Indo-Pacific. The description and figure do not allow for resolution of the identity of Spalowsky's "scripta" (Bivalvia: Veneridae).

Ostrea maxima var. rosea page 78, plate 11, figure 7. "Mare europaeum". Herein considered to be a junior synonym of Pecten maximus (Linnaeus, 1758) (Bivalvia: Pectinidae).

Ostrea malleus var. alba page 80, plate 12, figure 3. "Mare Ind. orient. praesertim ad Ceylon, moluccens. et nicobariens. Isle aux marteaux prope novam Britanniam mar. austral." A valid species; is both a senior synonym and a senior homonym of Malleus albus Lamarck, 1819 (Bivalvia: Malleidae).

Chiton auratus page 88, plate 13, figures 6a, 6b. "Mare australe (ad inf. Otaheiti?)". A valid species of Plaxiphora (Polyplacophora: Mopaliidae); known from Chile, Argentina, New Zealand and the sub-Antarctic islands.

Chiton auratus Spalowsky, 1795 has had a chequered taxonomic history which I will briefly explicate. This species was described from "Mare australe (ad inf. Otaheiti?)" a [End Page 249] rather broad and tentative locality. Ferreira (1982) considered the status of this name with regard to the type species of Plaxiphora and concluded that auratus was not a senior synonym but rather should "be suppressed as a nomen dubium." Ferreira's conclusion was based on the supposedly indeterminate nature of the original description and figure, as well as on the fact that "no type material of C. auratus has been found at the British Museum (Natural History) ..." (Ferreira, 1982: 47). This latter statement is illogical as there is no reason to expect that Spalowsky's type material would have ended up in London, and its absence there is not a meaningful criterion for a judgment on the taxonomic validity of this species.

Kaas and Van Belle (1994: 266-269) instead recognized Chiton auratus as the oldest name for the common antiboreal species of Plaxiphora, and they suggested that the type locality may have been referable to "? Falkland Islands" rather than Tahiti [Otaheiti]. Fitzinger (1856: 477; 1868: 1019, 1061, 1090) mentioned that part of Spalowsky's collection ended up in what is now the Naturhistorisches Museum Wien, and it is possible that the type material of the new species or other figured specimens may be present in that museum. However, Dr Karl Edlinger (in litt., 20 February 1995) stated that neither Chiton auratus nor Strombus auratus could be found in the collection. It is possible that other mollusk specimens (types or figured "vouchers") from the Spalowsky collection are extant in that museum.

In conclusion, this paper has delineated the contributions of Spalowsky, with emphasis on the malacological portion, and perhaps will serve to rescue him from oblivion. It is interesting to compare Spalowsky with his Viennese contemporary Ignaz Edler von Born (1742-1791). Born, although primarily a mineralogist and mining engineer, is today best known for his catalogues of the Imperial conchological collection which included a large number of previously undescribed species (Johnson, 1984). If Spalowsky had lived longer, and published the promised comprehensive treatise on shells (in addition to the 1795 "Prodromus"), then certainly his name could have eclipsed that of Born in the annals of conchology.


Leslie Overstreet (Dibner Library, Special Collections Dept., Smithsonian Institution Libraries) kindly assisted with my examination of Spalowsky (1795), carefully reviewed the manuscript, and provided valuable discussion on bibliographic topics. David G. Reid (Natural History Museum, London) sent a copy of the 1798 obituary. Rüdiger Bieler, Kenneth J. Boss, Richard I. Johnson, Akihiko Matsukuma and Gary Rosenberg provided helpful discussion on various points. Jennie Rathbun provided information concerning the copy of Spalowsky (1795) in the Houghton Library, Harvard University. Philippe Bouchet (Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris), Karl Edlinger (Naturhistorisches Museum, Wien), Jackie van Goethem (Institut Royal des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique, Bruxelles) and Robert Moolenbeek (Zoölogisch Museum, Amsterdam) provided information on the copies of Spalowsky (1795/1801) in their institutional libraries.

The following librarians kindly provided information concerning various holdings of this work: Angelika Ander (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Wien): Heiner Darre (Die Deutsche Bibliothek/Deutsche Bücherei, Leipzig), Jörg Kastner (Staatliche Bibliothek Passau), N.A. Sannikov (National Library of Russia, St Petersburg), Edith Schipper (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek), Nicholas Smith (University Library, University of [End Page 250] Cambridge) and A. Wehmeyer (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin/Preußischer Kulturbesitz). Arthur E. Vershbow informed me of the Finlay and Garvey reference; James W. Needham informed me of the Wurzbach reference.


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SPALOWSKY, J.J.N.A., 1795 Beschreibung und Abbildung der Ramphastos viridis und Momota L. Neuere Abhandlungen der Könglichen Böhmischer Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften 2: 172-178, 2 plates.

SPALOWSKY, J.J.N.A., 1795 Prodromus in Systema Historicum Testaceorum. Vorschmack einer vollständigen Systematischen Geschichte der Schalthiergehäuse. Wien, Ignaz Alberti's Wittwe, [iv (only in 1801 copy; dedication)] + [viii (Praefatio/Vorrede)] + iv [Index/Inhalt] + Pp 88, 13 plates with facing captions.

SPALOWSKY, J.J.N., date? Naturgeschichte der vierfüßigen Thiere, Vögel, Amphibien und Conchylien, nebst Abhandlungen von ökonomischen Wissenschaften, dann der Numismatik. Wien, priv. publ., 10 volumes [?]. [See discussion herein; probably only the first part was actually published, in 1794.]

WURZBACH, C. von, 1878 [in l856-1891] [reprinted. 1966] Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich, enthaltend die Lebensskizzen der denkwürdigen Personen, welche seit 1750 in den österreichischen Kronländern geboren wurden oder darin gelebt und gewirkt haben. Volume 36 [of 60], pp 336. Wien, Kaiserlich-Königliche Hof- und Staatsdruckerie.

(Accepted 4 March 1995.) [End Page 252]


Two additional copies of Spalowsky's conchological treatise are present in Polish libraries: the Biblioteka Jagiellonska (Kraków) the Biblioteka, Zaklad Narodowy im. Ossolinskich (Wroclaw); both copies are the 1801 issue. I thank Piotr Hordynski (Kraków). W. Tyazhowski (Wroclaw) and Michal Spandowski (Biblioteka Narodowa, Warszawa) for informing me of these copies. [End Page 253]