The Christmas Island Shells stamp issue, released on 23 August 2016, features beautiful illustrations, by Roger Swainston, of four species of marine mollusc found in the tropical waters around Christmas Island.
It may seem an unlikely analogy at first, but stamp enthusiasts and sea shell enthusiasts actually have a lot in common. For natural history buffs and lovers of all things nautical, sea shells are actually a collectable, albeit a natural history collectable rather than a man-made one. In fact, according to scuba diver and sea shell collector Hugh Morrison, of Australian Seashells (Pty Ltd) in Western Australia, sea shells are one of the oldest forms of collectable, having been treasured since the Stone Age.
Hugh explains that marine and terrestrial shells are, as part of our natural world, categorised using scientific names and data, which form an integral part of every physical specimen. To classify and correctly name all animal species (including seashell species, most of which are molluscs), the scientific community worldwide uses the ICZN code.
The sort of data collected includes: locality, size (in millimetres), description and particular features, such as the presence or absence of operculum (shell door) or periostricum (soft surface coating). The shells are also graded, anywhere from “Gem” to “dead”, to record the condition of the specimen. This assists when conducting trades or purchases of shells, in the same way that the condition of a stamp affects its value. Collectors may focus on just one family of shell species or they may form a broader collection, based on location for example, and this is certainly analogous to stamp collecting.
Beautiful ornamental seashells that have not been graded are called “decorative shells” or “craft shells”. These are the type of bulk items that craft enthusiasts may turn into art or jewellery.
The approximately 708 marine mollusc species that have been collected on Christmas Island include representatives from four groups or classes: Polyplacophora, Gastropda, Bivalvia and Cephalopoda.
The stamps represent three from the class Gastropoda: Lambis scorpius, Tectus niloticus and Conus canonicus and one from the class Bivalvia, Tridacna squamosa.
Lambis scorpius -is a spider shell from the Strombidae family, measuring around 16 centimetres in length.
Tectus niloticus - comes from the Trochidae family, one of the largest of the gastropod families. Trochids have a spiral, pyramidal or conical shell. It is around 15 centimetres long.
Conus canonicus - the three centimetre long Conus canonicus comes from the Conidae family, of which 43 species have been recorded on Christmas Island.
Tridacna squamosa - comes from the Tridacnidae or giant clam family. This large species measures 30 centimetres across.
The 2016 Christmas Island Shells stamp issue is available online from 23 August 2016, at participating Post Offices and via mail order on 1800 331 794, while stocks last.
This article was produced at the time of publication and will not be updated.