Introduction to a Systematic History of Shelled Animals


Joachim Johann Nepomuk Anton Spalowsky (1752–97) was a veritable polymath in the Austrian Empire of the late 18th century. Little is known of his life, but it is thought that he was of Polish Silesian ancestry. He was a surgeon attached to the civic regiments of Vienna and a member of the Royal Bohemian Society of Sciences in Prague. His erudition is evidenced by the range of his publications. His 1777 inaugural dissertation treated poisonous plants and related topics. He went on to write works on shells, birds, and mammals, and even a disquisition on economics and numismatics. Spalowsky’s 1795 treatise on conchology, Prodromus in Systema Historicum Testaceorum (Introduction to a systematic history of shelled animals), is among the rarest of published books on mollusks and other shelled organisms. The work remains of importance for its original descriptions of several new species and varieties. Although Spalowsky intended to write an introduction to all shelled animals, his death in 1797 precluded the publication of a more comprehensive review. The 13 engraved plates are beautifully colored by hand with watercolor and gouache. Gold and silver leaf was applied under the watercolors to capture the iridescent quality of the shells. A descriptive Latin caption heads each plate. The main part of the book is in parallel Latin and German texts, in double columns.

Date Created

Subject Date

Publication Information

Ignaz Alberti's Wittwe, Vienna

Title in Original Language

Prodromus in systema historicum testaceorum


Type of Item

Physical Description

[14], iv, 88 pages; 1 plate (engraving), 13 plates (engravings, hand-colored, with captions on facing tissue guards). 41.6 centimeters


  • The Smithsonian Institution Libraries' copy is an 1801 re-issue of Spalowsky's book, originally published in 1795.

Last updated: September 18, 2015