Gibsone’s Conches

Gibsone’s Conches were bought by public subscription in 1890 and presented to Newcastle Public Library where they have been housed ever since.  The collection consists of 7,260 watercolour prints of 3,025 species of sea-shells painted in meticulous detail by local entrepreneur George Gibsone.

For many years after moving to Newcastle, Gibsone had taken a keen interest in the natural sciences, and was a member of what is today the Natural History Society of Northumbria.  He painted coins, plants, minerals and shells and acquired great dexterity in illustrating conchology.  He travelled the coasts of England, Scotland and France to obtain specimens for his illustrations and colleagues provided him with specimens from more distant countries.

The size of the collection and the effort involved in its production are staggering. There are 7,260 separate paintings, of 3,025 species or varieties of shells, painted on 1,985 separate sheets of paper.  The watermarks of the paper give a range of dates between 1828 and 1840, showing that the work was done during George Gibsone’s later years. The style of the paintings shows that he used a method in executing them. Each shell is drawn with light coming from the upper left, and the shadow cast by the shell is indicated. The shininess and degree of roundness of the shell are shown by the use of white and grey paint.

A selection of the watercolours is available to view on the website to give a flavour of the richness and variety contained in the collection.  With the help of a Heritage Lottery Funded grant in 2007, the whole collection is now housed in conditions which will preserve it for future generations to enjoy.