Book of the Month – Historiae Sive Synopsis Methodicae Conchyliorum Et Tabularum Anatomicarum by Martin Lister

Posted by Tenby Museum on Feb 2, 2018 Blog No Comments


Editio Altera (1770)

by Martini Lister, M.D. (1639-1712)

 Superbly bound in contemporary Morocco leather, with the “Lister du Conchyliorum” on the spine and edged in gilt, this large folio in four parts with appendices contains impressions of 439 engraved plates depicting 1083 figures of shells. It also includes some Notes and Observations written by Martin Lister.

The fine engravings were mostly produced by his daughters Susanna and Anna from their original watercolour drawings, of which many are still in Oxford. The illustrations are exquisite in their detail and none is reversed – a remarkable achievement considering that gastropod shells had to be engraved in mirror image on the copper plates to ensure correct reproduction.

The title page contains the Latin: “Martini Lister, MD. Historiae sive synopsis methodicae CONCHYLIORUM et TABULARUM ANATOMICARUM. Editio Altera. Recensuit et indicibus auxit Gulielmus Huddesford, S.T.B. Coll. S.S. Trinitatis Socius et Musei Ashmoleani Custos. OXONII. E Typographeo Clarendoniano. M DCC LXX”

This roughly translates into: “Martin Lister, MD. A history or methodical synopsis of shellfish and anatomy tables. Second edition. Reviewed and edited by William Huddesford, S.T.B., Trinity College Member and Ashmolean Museum Curator. OXFORD. Printed by Clarendon Press. 1770”

The 1770 edition was printed posthumously as Lister died in 1712. The first page of this later edition includes a plate from the original publication of his work in 1685.

This volume was owned by William Lyons and he wrote his name on the title page in 1815. It was donated to Tenby Museum in 1880 by Miss Lyons, one of his daughters, who also signed the inside of the book.

William Lyons lived in Tenby from about 1796 until his death in 1849 and created one of the most important collections of shells in Wales, which was then donated to Tenby Museum in 1878, the year of its inception (making it the oldest independent museum in Wales today). Of important historical and scientific interest, this donation formed the basis of the natural history collection of the museum. The collection includes a small bivalve shell identified by Lyons, which bears his name: Lyonsia Norwegica.

Martin Lister (1639-1712) was an English naturalist and physician, the great nephew of royal physician Sir Matthew Lister. He originally practiced medicine in York, but was a significant benefactor to the Ashmolean Museum and a prominent Fellow of the Royal Society. He corresponded regularly with both institutions on matters of natural sciences.

Lister’s wide expertise ranged from Yorkshire antiquities to the origins of kidney stones, mathematics and science, via the study of shells (conchology) and spiders (arachnology). It is well-known that he was the first person to systematically describe the species of British spiders and study their anatomy and habits, but it is less well-known that he also devised an early form of graph which was first used in 1684 to present a record of barometric pressure, provided Isaac Newton with alloys, and donated the first significant natural history collections to Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum.

In 1683 Lister moved to London where he opened a medical practice in Old Palace Yard, Westminster. He was one of the most high-profile and well-connected naturalists of his age and in 1684, he was made an Honorary M.D. at Oxford. In 1709 he was appointed Physician to Queen Anne, a post he possibly secured due to his niece being Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough and close friend of the Queen.

Lister died in Epsom in 1712 at the age of 72 and was buried at Clapham Church where his memorial inscription read:

“Near this place is buried the body of MARTIN LISTER, Doctor of Physick, a Member of the Royal Society, and one of Queen Ann’s Physicians, who departed this life, the second day of February 1711-12”

 Lister has two species of orchid (Listera cordata and Listera ovate), a spider (Pachygnatha listeria) and a ridge on the moon (Dorsa Lister – 42C4S2(50)) named in memory of him.

Further Information Links:

For an on-line copy of the book visit

For more information on Martin Lister visit