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Conus cedonulli Linnaeus 1767

"Mr. Lyonet the celebrated naturalist was then living at the Hague, and I should be ungrateful not to commemorate his politeness in shewing me at leisure his very capital collection of shells and pictures. The former, although not systematically arranged, appeared one of the finest collections I had ever seen, containing many unique shells, as well as all those that usually fell at the dearest rate....especially that famous unique Conus Cedo nulli, figured in Seba's Museum, vol. 3. t. 48. f. 8 [above], the despair of all other collectors. This shell is not granulated, as would appear from Seba's figure, but quite smooth. The shades of the markings make it seem granulated."

James Edward Smith, A Sketch of a Tour on the Continent in the Years 1786 and 1787

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the most famous cabinet of shells in the Netherlands belonged to Johan de la Faille. In it, there was a unique specimen known at the time simply as Cedo nulli, from the Latin "I yield to none." This cone shell was thought so rare and beautiful that Albertus Seba, a wealthy apothecary from Amsterdam associated with the Dutch East India Company, had a color drawing made of it (above), which later was included in Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio (1758, Pl. XLVIII, fig. 8), a lavishly illustrated catalog of his own cabinet of natural curiosities. De la Faille, who had purchased the shell in 1711 for 500 florins, sold his collection twenty years later, and the Cedonulli was purchased for 965 florins by a Dutch dealer.

After several more decades, the shell was sold to the Dutch naturalist Pierre Lyonet, who purchased it for 1,500 francs, believing it to be unique. (In fact, de la Faille subsequently had acquired a second specimen, which was sold at his death to the King of Portugal for 1,020 livres.) During his lifetime, Lyonet refused several offers from the profligate Duchess of Portland to buy the shell for £100 (now approximately $13,500). By 1796, however, political turmoil in Europe (and the discovery of several other specimens) had dampened the enthusiasm of collectors, and it sold posthumously for 273 fl (£30) to Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, the taxonomist and evolutionary theorist. Eventually, the shell came into the collection of the Natural History Museum in Geneva, where it remains. Having been documented for the past three hundred years, the Conus cedonulli of Johan de la Faille very likely is the oldest authenticated shell in a European museum.

When Linnaeus classified Cedo nulli in his Systema Naturae (12th ed., 1767), it was Seba's picture that served as the lectotype of the species, that is, the representative example when the original has not been described. Although Seba had seen the original shell (the holotype) and actually held it in his hand, Linnaeus did not, and his description presumably derives from the picture and the accompanying text in the Thesaurus (p. 138), which indicated that it was from the South Seas (as distinct from the "American Admirals" in Seba's collection). Linnaeus named the shell Conus ammiralis cedonulli and considered it to be a subspecies (infraspecific form) of Conus ammiralis, which had been described in the Systema Naturae (10th ed., 1758), the habitat of both being given as O. Americæ meridionalis ("the ocean of southern America"). Ironically, Linnaeus places the wrong shell in the correct locality. C. ammiralis ("Admiral Cone") is an Indo-Pacific shell, whereas C. cedonulli ("Matchless Cone") is to be found in the southern Caribbean, primarily St. Vincent in the Lesser Antilles off the coast of Venezuela.

Kohn initially had agreed that the Cedo nulli of Seba and Linnaeus was a variant of C. ammiralis. Inspecting C. ammiralis cedonulli more closely, however, Dunn recognized that C. ammiralis invariably has a yellow band of fine reticulations on the shoulder and that its large white markings are shaped more like arrowheads than the clouds and beaded white dots figured by Seba. He concluded that the subspecies described by Linnaeus was, in fact, a species in its own right. Kohn later concurred that C. cedonulli is a valid species, not previously described and distinct from C. ammiralis. (In a personal communication, he explains that, when a subspecies rises to a full species, it retains its author and date but acquires a new species name, hence C. cedonulli Linnaeus 1767; C. ammiralis Linnaeus 1758 remains but loses the subspecies that originally had been joined to it.)

Given that Linnaeus' description contains only a few words that actually are descriptive, the remarkable variation in morphology, and that the holotype no longer exists, there has been some question whether the Cedo nulli figured in the eighteenth century is the same species known by that name today. Dance, for example, suspects that the shell illustrated by Seba probably was a C. ammiralis and that the Cedo nulli of the eighteenth- and nineteenth  centuries likely comprised several species, including C. dominicanus.

Although reported to be as large as 65mm, most examples of C. cedonulli are less than 50mm (about two inches, the approximate size of Lyonet's shell). The juvenile specimen above, the coloration of which is similar to that of adults, is 32mm.

  This illustration is from the posthumous third edition of d'Argenville's Conchyliologie (1780, Pl. XI, fig. D5), edited by Jacques de Favanne and son, who relate that it depicts the Cedo nulli then in Lyonet's own cabinet (Vol. II, p. 551). But, apparently unaware that de la Faille had owned two specimens, they presumed that the illustration of C. cedonulli depicted in Seba's Thesaurus was the shell acquired by the King of Portugal and not the one owned by Lyonet (as depicted by d'Argenville and Knorr).

Another author has contended that the shell illustrated by d'Argenville is in the Natural History Museum of Geneva. If so, Dance identifies that specimen as C. dominicanus Hwass 1792 (i.e., C. cedonulli dominicanus, right ) a subspecies which, to be sure, does look very similar to C. cedonulli. And, like that shell, it is relatively small, also measuring 32mm.


  The figure of Cedo nulli (below left) is from the first of three plates illustrating tres rares shells that were appended to the second edition of d'Argenville's Conchyliologie (1757), where he says that "One could not see a shell of a more beautiful aspect or more elegant form." It is the same shell that Seba depicted in his Thesaurus the following year and one of several from Lyonet's collection that were illustrated by d'Argenville, including (on the same plate) the first published figure of Carinaria cristata, which he mistakenly named Nautile Vitré. Lyonet criticized the descriptions, to which d'Argenville retorted that he should have been pleased by the celebrity the illustrations had brought him.

Lyonet's C. cedonulli also was drawn (above right) by the engraver George Wolfgang Knorr in Les Délices des Yeux et de L'Esprit, ou Collection Generale des Differentes Especes de Coquillages (1773, Part VI, Pl. 1, fig. 1), a French translation of the original work in German. The illustration is said to have scrupulously adhered to the original painting and been copied "with all possible exactitude," surpassing the figures in Seba and d'Argenville, which "in truth, are not the best."































Bibliographic note: The first two volumes of Seba's Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio were published in 1734 and 1735. Seba died the next year and the final two volumes did not appear until 1758 and 1765. By then, the collection, which had been auctioned in 1752, was dispersed all over Europe, ironically having been sold to defray the cost of publishing. Most copies were offered in black and white, for example, a four-volume set that sold at Sotheby's for £84,500 in 2008. A hand-colored set sold at Christie's in 1997 for $277,500 and another in 2000 for $442,500. The picture of C. cedonulli (top) is from Volume III, which was dedicated to shells and marine organisms, and is copied from the Taschen reprint. Although Seba had asserted in the introduction to the Thesaurus that all the specimens were from his own collection, Cedo Nulli is one example of a shell that belonged to someone else. In an attempt to make the Thesaurus complete, drawings of plants, animals, and insects from other collections, either loaned to Seba or copied from books already in print, were sometimes included as well. Remarkably, this was Seba's second cabinet of shells, the first having been sold to Peter the Great in 1717 for 15,000 guilders.

References: Shell Collecting: An Illustrated History (1966) by S. Peter Dance (the definitive study); "The Conus cedonulli Complex: Historical Review, Taxonomy and Biological Observations" (1985) by Danker L. N. Vink and Rudo von Cosel, Revue Suisse de Zoologie, 92(3), 525-603; "The Conus cedonulli Complex" (1977) by Danker L. N. Vink, Zoologische Mededelingen, 51(5), 79-93; "Alphabetical Revision of the (Sub) Species in Recent Condiae. 6: Cabritii to Cinereus" (1983) by H. E. Coomans, R. G. Moolenbeek, and E. Wils, Basteria, 47(5-6), 67-143; "A Historical Review of the Mollusks of Linnaeus. Pt. 2: The Class Cephalopoda and the Genera Conus and Cypraea of the Class Gastropoda" (1953) by Henry Dodge, Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 103(1), 1-134; "Type Specimens and Identity of the Described Species of Conus.1: The Species Described by Linnaeus, 1758-1767" (1963) by Alan J. Kohn, Journal of the Linnean Society (Zoology), 44, 740-768; "Chronological Analysis of the Species Conus Described During the 18th Century" (1976) by Alan J. Kohn, Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 58, 39-59; Pierre Lyonet, 1706-1789 (1962) by W. H. Van Seters (in French); Rare Shells (1969) by S. Peter Dance; A Sketch of a Tour on the Continent in the Years 1786 and 1787 (1793) by James Edward Smith (Vol. I, p. 37) "Great Shells" (1985) by Jean-Claude Cailliez, Hawaiian Shell News, 33(2), 4; "Untangling the Cedonulli Complex" (1977) by Elmer G. Leehman, Hawaiian Shell News, 25(8), 14.

Linnaeus: Systema naturae (1767), 12th ed. (p. 1167, no. 298); 10th ed., 1758 (p. 713, no. 257); L'histoire naturelle, éclaircie dans une de ses parties principales, la conchyliologie, que traite des coquillages de mer, de riviere et de terre (1757) by A. J. Dézallier d'Argenville (pp. 381-394); Albertus Seba: Cabinet of Natural Curiosities (2001) by Irmgard Müsch, Jes Rust, and Rainer Willmann (Taschen reprint of the copy in the National Library of the Netherlands); Les Délices des Yeux et de L'Esprit, ou Collection Generale des Differentes Especes de Coquillages (1771) by George Wolfgang Knorr. Although most of the folio pages reprinted by Taschen are almost full size, there are pages on which two plates are displayed together. Plate XLVIII, which depicts the C. cedonulli, is one of these smaller color reproductions.

See also Shell Symmetry.

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