October of 1972, the Conchologists of America organization was born. Eight enthusiastic shell collectors met at the Newport (Rhode Island) Motor Inn. They were: Kirk Anders of Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Mrs. Robert Armstrong of Westford, Massachusetts; Carl Erickson of Auburn, Massachusetts; Dorothy and Robert Janowsky of Brooklyn, New York; Mrs. Bette Rachlin of Brookline, Massachusetts; Miss. Mavis Walkup of Clovis, New Mexico and John Paduano of Newport, Rhode Island, COA's founder. Bette Rachlin was elected as the first COA president.
A short and simple constitution and by-laws were adopted in 1973 which officially established the Conchologists of America and its purpose "to unite shell collectors and clubs in the United States and promote conservation and interest in shell collecting. The emphasis of this organization shall be on CONCHOLOGY rather than Malacology." The constitution has been revised several times since then, but the concept of the basic purpose remains the same.
The original officers were to be President, Vice-President, and Secretary/Treasurer (this position was later divided ). These people, along with the immediate past president, would be the Executive Committee to organize the annual COA meetings. During the 1979 convention, the constitution was changed to add two board members at large to be appointed by the President. Also a Historian and Publicity Chairperson would be appointed by the President. During the 1990 convention, it was decided that the Board would have a "mid-year" meeting in January as well as the annual business meeting at the convention due to the growth of COA.
Any person interested in Mollusca could become a member. By the 1973 convention, COA had 141 individual and 5 club memberships, and by the end of the 1977 convention, COA membership was 300 strong. Today there are over 1,350 memberships worldwide.
The original COA by-laws stated that "a newsletter shall be sent periodically to members covering club activities, and for the exchange of thoughts, ideas and experiences in the field of Conchology." This newsletter, called Conchologists of America Bulletin, was first edited by Frank Nelson. The publication grew and developed under several different editors with the current editor, Lynn Scheu, taking over in 1987. The Bulletin's name was changed to American Conchologist in 1987 and today it is published as a quarterly, well-respected journal with a worldwide circulation.
Members attending the 1978 convention adopted a proposal for a COA Trophy to be presented at shell shows. The Trophy would be given by the official judges at a shell show to the most outstanding exhibit, or to one showing particular excellence. It would not be given to an exhibit receiving another major award at the same show during the same year. Dr. Abbott was named chairperson of the Awards Committee and the first COA Trophy was presented at the Astronaut Trail Shell Show in January, 1979. Gene Everson was the proud recipient for his exhibit "Seashells of the Americas." Today, 27 COA Trophies are available to be presented at shell shows around the world.
The 1978 Convention saw another new development. Visiting dealers' hotel rooms to buy shells had become a popular extracurricular activity among convention goers. A local dealer did not have a hotel room so he set up a sale table in the hotel lobby. The response from members was so great that other dealers quickly followed suit. The formal "Bourse" or "cooperative marketplace" for conventions was born. Since then, the Bourse has become a leading attraction at the annual COA conventions.
The COA Local Club Representative program was approved in June 1985 to help communication with clubs around the country. The current president of each club designates a representative to act as liaison between the club and COA. The representative has to be a COA member in good standing.
Early on, COA members saw the need to support research on mollusks through a grants program. Since 1985, the COA has awarded over $42,000.00 in grants in the field of malacology. In June, 1995, Dr. Gary Rosenberg was appointed COA Grants Director, and is assisted by Dr. Henry Chaney and Dr. G. Thomas Watters.
Are you interested in further, more in-depth details on the history of COA? See our publications page for information on how to obtain a copy of Twenty Year History of Conchologists of America (1972-1991).