The Sanibel Shell Show began as a “Community Fair” in 1928, held at the Matthews Hotel (later the Island Inn) on Sanibel Island, Florida. The owner, Mrs. Matthews, invited guests to show their collected shells on the front porch. The annual Community Fair was held the first weekend in March and eventually included baked goods, “fancy work,” homemade gifts—and, of course, shells—offered for sale to help the Sanibel community. The shells had so much appeal that people began to come across on the ferry from Fort Myers to visit the Fair every year. Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were among the more distinguished visitors to attend the Fair.
Eventually, the show became focused primarily on seashells. In 1937 over 1,000 people came to the newly renamed Sanibel Shell Show, and the yearly numbers have increased ever since. In 2020, over 3,000 visitors enjoyed the show. At 83 years old, the Sanibel Shell Show is now the longest-running shell show in the United States.
A Virtual Shell Show
Due to the COVID-19 virus, 2021 was one of those very rare years when the annual in-person judged shell show did not occur. But the shell show must go on! And it did!
Karen Silverstein, the current Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club President said, “We are excited to continue the proud tradition of a Sanibel Shell Show by offering a virtual show that will be free to everyone all over the world. The show will further the club’s purpose to educate the public and shell enthusiasts about shells and sustaining healthy oceans.”
The show took place on Friday, March 5, and Saturday, March 6, 2021, from 12 noon to 3 pm EST on the Sanibel Shell Club's YouTube channel. The club welcomed a global audience through extensive promotion through social media and enthusiastic club members. Educational and entertaining videos, a shell photo contest, do-it-yourself shell projects, door prizes, and more will be premiered throughout the two-day event on YouTube and made available thereafter for all to view.
There were a montage of photos, feature videos of artist studios, and videos of Sanibel beaches with focus on the shells found there. The team put together a Sanibel “After the Storm” video, plus invited guests on a video visit behind the scenes at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum.
Worldwide Shell Photo Contest
Beachcombing was proud to be the overall sponsor of the 2021 Virtual Sanibel Shell Show Shell Photo Contest. Avid shellers and amateur collectors submitted their favorite photos in seven categories: Sanibel Beach with shells, gastropods, bivalves, live mollusks, fossil shells, people with shell, and funny shell photos.
The clubcreated a video of the entries, plus a video of “Sanibel Stoop” photos, showing shellers in their natural habitat and stance. The club selected finalists and show visitors got a chance to vote on their favorite photo for “Best in Show.” Winners in each category and the overall winner got prizes, certificates, and the winning photos appeared in Beachcombing magazine.
About the club
Beachcombing is a proud member of the Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club. The Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club was formed to exchange information in the fields of conchology and malacology, to foster public education and intelligent conservation, and to encourage and support studies and research activities in those fields. As always, all proceeds from the shell show will fund research and educational grants to various institutions and museums.
Learn more about seashells
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.