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Boxes for Dry Shell Collections


Mollusk shells are best stored in a manner that minimizes mobility and exposure to unfavorable environmental conditions such as fluctuating relative humidity and acid vapors that cause Byne’s disease. Shells suffer physical damage not only in handling, but by movement in their storage containers.

Specimen size and fragility are the foremost concern in storing the collection. The next most important concern is the number of specimens in a lot; the more specimens there are, the more likely they will be damaged by contact between themselves. This storage system is designed to reduce damage due to these factors (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Padded plastic box storage containers.


M. Andria Garback
Academy of Natural Sciences
1900 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy.
Phila., PA 19103-1195 USA
Tel (215) 299-1000

Earle E. Spamer
Academy of Natural Sciences
1900 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy.
Phila., PA 19103-1195 USA
Tel (215) 299-1000
Fax (215) 299-1028

Photograph: Rosa Garcia-Perea
and Julio Gisbert

Publication: 1992



Rigid polystyrene boxes are used as a storage container for mollusk shells because they provide a physical barrier to dust and reduce handling by collection users. In addition, they serve to impede rapid changes in humidity and reduce exposure to potentially adverse conditions within the storage cabinet.

The specimens are protected from abrasion by lining the bottom and side interiors of the box with a cushioning material such as crosslinked or closed-cell polyethylene foam sheeting. For lots containing many shells, sheets of foam can be used to separate layers of specimens. This is especially useful in conserving space as well as protecting more delicate shell characters from damage for example, the hinge teeth of bivalves.

Materials Tools Supplies

  • Crosslinked polyethylene foam sheeting or polyethylene foam sheeting, closed-cell
  • Lignin-free, alkaline buffered paper
  • Paper cutter
  • pH neutral paper board or alkaline buffered paper board (for dividers)
  • Polyester film, uncoated
  • Polyester tape, double-coated
  • Polystyrene boxes, hinged lid, 1in x 3in x 1in and 2in x 3in x 11/4in
  • Polystyrene boxes, unhinged lid 2in x 3in x 11/4in and 3in x 6in x 11/2in
  • Technical pen and black drafting ink


Lining the Boxes & Arranging Drawers

  1. Purchase boxes in incremental sizes to permit maximum efficiency in packing boxes of different sizes in a single row of a drawer.
  2. With a paper cutter, cut foam squares and rectangles in appropriate dimensions to line the bottom and sides of the boxes. Cut the bottom liner 1/8in-1/4in smaller than the dimensions of the box, on all sides according to the thickness of the foam. This will permit the side pieces to fit between the bottom foam edges and the box. The foam pieces for the sides can be cut individually or in one long strip that will run around all sides of the box.
  3. Insert the individual side foam pieces or the running strip along the edges of the box.
  4. Push in the bottom piece to hold side pieces in place.
  5. Arrange lots in the storage drawer so as to minimize shifting of individual containers.
  6. Divide rows by cutting drawer-length slats of pH neutral or alkaline buffered paper board.
  7. Use empty boxes at the end of partially or wholly empty rows to prevent shifting of the dividers.


  1. Place labels, particularly fragile older labels, inside polyester film sheaths to protect them from abrasion and tears by the shell specimens. Polyester film sheeting also can be used to make pockets to hold labels inside plastic lids. Pockets can be attached to the lid with double-coated tape.
  2. Place labels on top of the specimens rather than underneath; this reduces the need to move the shells in the box to read the labels.
  3. Write new labels on lignin-free paper with an alkaline buffer, using permanent ink.
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