Inside a Shell Show

By Amy Bentley

Shells for sale

Shells for sale (Amy Bentley).

 Collectors and hobbyists of all kinds enjoy annual shows or expos where they can share their beloved hobby with the public. There are shows for artists, crafters, model train enthusiasts, Star Trek fans, antique collectors, classic car buffs, sea glass collectors, home and holiday décor enthusiasts, movie buffs—you name it, there’s likely a show for it.

Seashell collectors, beachcombers, and “shell-aholics” are no different. Several shell shows are held around the United States each year—mostly in Florida—where visitors can shop for exotic and rare shells, or view and purchase unique works of art and jewelry handmade from shells. Seashell enthusiasts enter the shows with original scientific exhibits and artwork, or they just go to spend the day surrounded by all things shell-related.

Award-winning découpage shell by Amanda Baker (Amy Bentley).

Award-winning découpage shell by Amanda Baker (Amy Bentley).

If you’ve never attended a shell show, it’s worth planning to attend one. Shell shows offer a great way to learn about the world of seashells and the critters that create and inhabit them; plus, you’ll see amazing art.

“We host a shell show to share our interest in seashells, provide education about shells and shell collecting, share artistic creations made from shells, and generate income to support our club and our charitable giving,” said Duane Kauffmann, president of the Sarasota Shell Club in Sarasota, Florida.

scenes from seashell expo

Planning a show

As a member of the Sarasota Shell Club and a volunteer at the club’s annual two-day Shell Show, held at the local fairgrounds in February, I saw first-hand the huge effort it takes to put on a successful shell show, including the behind-the-scenes work that the guests don’t see. There are a lot of moving parts, and organizers start months in advance. Following are some of the many tasks the organizers have to accomplish:

  • Secure and rent a venue, often a community center or large building at the local fairgrounds.
  • Book a variety of vendors who display and sell common and rare seashells, rocks, minerals, shell-inspired jewelry, clothing, and shell crafts and art, among other things.
  • Organize and solicit entries for Artistic and Scientific exhibit competitions. Preparing for the competition means making signs with each exhibitor’s name, securing ribbons and awards, and setting up the exhibits for the guests.
  • Sign up and coordinate volunteers to staff the show. Many volunteers are needed to staff tables where the hosting club sells seashells and shell crafts, staff the admissions table, staff the membership table, and do miscellaneous jobs.
  • Put together a crew to set up and tear down the show when it’s over.
  • Hire and provide lodging for the judges of the competition exhibits. The judges are often from out of town, so the hosting shell club provides them with a hotel room.
  • Acquire prizes and organize the prize raffle, if it is part of the show.


what it's like to go to a shell show

Attending a show

While you might think most shell show attendees are collectors and hobbyists, this isn’t really the case. Shell shows enjoy a wide appeal. Many attendees at Sarasota’s annual show this year said they saw the large “shell show” sign outside of the fairgrounds while driving by and decided to attend for fun; many were curious out-of-state tourists. Members of the Sarasota Shell Club were thrilled—as always—to share our love of seashells with visitors from outside the seashell community, and we enjoyed a large turnout in 2023.

scientific and artistic entries at sanibel shell show


Among our Florida shelling community guests was collector and winning exhibitor Amanda Collett, author of the book My Way of Shelling, who traveled from her home on Florida’s east coast to exhibit at the show and left with many ribbons.

winning entries at shell festival

Beachcomber and crafter Amanda Baker of Cape Coral, who drove an hour and a half with her family to attend the Sarasota show, was also a winner. Baker’s scientific display “Hurricane Ian Shells” tugged at heartstrings and was a favorite of the judges. Her son Dominic Baker, a high school junior, won a blue ribbon for his dynamite display about shells he’d found in the Florida Keys. Baker’s three children have all won blue ribbons for their scientific displays at shell shows in Florida.

beautiful seashell art and fascinating scientific seashell exhibits

Living so close to where Hurricane Ian made landfall, the Baker family home sustained quite a bit of damage and the family had no power or water for days afterwards. Amanda Baker said, “I lost stuff, too, and found the good in it,” she said. “It’s how we deal with tragedies…by going shelling.”

colorful scallop shells

It’s never too late to plan a vacation that includes attending a shell show. Beachcombers can support shell shows by volunteering, entering a display, or just attending as a guest.

One of Florida’s west coast shell clubs could not host their annual show this year due to lack of volunteers. And, unfortunately, the Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club had to cancel its 2023 shell show due to Hurricane Ian’s devastation of Sanibel Island.

The club is resuming its annual Sanibel Shell Show in 2024. Other shell clubs that host an annual shell show include the Gulf Coast Shell Club in Panama City, Florida; the Broward County Shell Club in Pompano Beach, Florida; and the North Carolina Shell Club.

View a list of upcoming beachcombing shows, festivals, and events ›

Make your travel plans to “shellabrate” with a like-minded community of beachcombers at an upcoming shell show!

All photos courtesy of Amy Bennett and Amanda Collett.

Learn more about seashells

nature and history of seashells and collecting

Learn more about identifying shells, the history of seashell collecting, great shelling beaches, and the lives of the animals who make the shells we find on the beach. Articles ›

No live shelling: Be sure shells are empty and sand dollars, sea stars, and sea urchins are no longer alive before you bring them home.

This article appeared in Beachcombing Volume 36: May/June 2023.

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published