Karl Ludwig Pfeiffer - 1874-1952 - Collectors in East Africa - 23.

By Bernard Verdcourt

Extracted from The Conchologists’ Newsletter, No.133, pp. 490–494 published June 1995

Karl Ludwig Pfeiffer had malacology in his blood since he was the great grandson of Carl Jonas Pfeiffer (1779–1836) author of Naturgeschichte Deutscher Land- und Süsswasser-Mollusken published in Weimar (1821–1828) and a nephew of Karl Georg Louis Pfeiffer (1804–1877) one of the most prolffic writers on malacology last century, very well known for his eight-volume work Monographia Heliceorum viventium and much else besides. Karl Ludwig was born in Kassel in 1874 into a family of bankers. His great grandfather Carl together with a brother founded a bank in Hanau in 1809 which later transferred to Kassel. His grandfather and father carried on the banking tradition but the latter always thought that his son might have a better life doing other things.

During Karl Ludwig’s younger days his father encouraged him to have an interest in the world about him and was pleased when he started to collect butterflies. Karl Ludwig was not sure what led him into malacology but he later assumed it must be atavism! He thought his interest might have begun during a longish stay for health reasons on the island of Norderney, one of the Frisian Islands, when he was 13; there he collected sea shells on the beach. He well remembered his surprise later after returning to Kassel seeing his first clausiliid which had been found by some other children in the forest nearby and was encouraged to collect land shells. His father bought him Clessin’s Deutsche Excursions-Mollusken-Fauna, also works by Darwin and Haeckel and, moreover, for the first time he explained to his son that two members of the family had made a name for themselves in the study of molluscs and showed him their works. The boy knew then it was clear he should devote his life to the natural sciences. Louis Pfeiffer had died in 1877 when the boy was only three and he could scarcely remember him but the influence must have been strong.

Unfortunately a life devoted to science was denied to him since his father died after a long illness five months before his final school examination and his grandfather followed in the same year. From March 1893 only an uncle, his father’s brother, was left to continue the banking business and he made it known he would only direct the firm on the condition that Karl Ludwig entered it as soon as possible, which he did on 15 March 1893 before he was 20. Naturally his interest in molluscs remained and after a trip into the Alps and Italian lakes he wrote a short paper about the species he had found on the journey which was published in 1894. Much later he heard from his friend 0. Boettger (1844–1910) that the great W. Kobelt (1840–1916) only consented to publish the paper because Karl Ludwig was a beginner but it would have been better left unpublished since some drawings he had prepared for it were omitted. It was 37 years later when he published his next paper on Murella from Sicily.

In April 1894 he had to spend some time in Frankfurt as a ‘Volontär’ (? unsalaried clerk) in the Deutschen Bank and there came under the influence of 0. Boettger and W. Kobelt and managed to devote some time to molluscs. In 1895, however, he became severely ill and later his attention was drawn elsewhere. He studied economics and law in Berlin and in Paris (1895–1897) and had to give up his interest in molluscs entirely during his training in banking. He spent time in London and New York and travelled all over North America. In 1899 he became the owner of the family banking house. His life now became devoted to the cultural and political life of his city, sitting on the Kasseler Kunstvereins and becoming a member and later president of the Chamber of Commerce. Because of the effects of an operation he had undergone in 1895 he was not actively involved in the First World War. The many journeys he had to make always brought him back to the Mollusca if only temporarily; he visited Egypt, Algiers, Tunis, Spain, Italy, the Balkans, Canary Islands and Madeira all of which countries have a richer fauna than Germany.

About 1924 he returned to the love of his youth and studied molluscs in his spare time. His own collection was later greatly augmented by the purchase of the collections of Th. Krüper (1928), R. Jetschin (1928) and C.R. Boettger (1943) which meant he now had material of land and freshwater molluscs from all over the world. This inspired him after 1933 to make collecting trips and engage in research. His published results were based exclusively on material he had collected himself. When Hitler came to power in 1933 Karl Ludwig was driven out of all his positions in the Chamber of Commerce and the world of the arts and also lost his post as Director of the Deutschen Bank. Presumably the family were Jewish. So he devoted more time to molluscs and visited East Africa in 1937 and Java in 1939, but he always regretted that he lacked the scientific training which every successful researcher should have in order to avoid drawing incorrect conclusions. His contributions to the Arts were recognised during the 800th anniversary celebrations of the University of Marburg when an honorary D.Phil was conferred upon him. His scientific work was recognised when he gained an Iron Senckenberg Medal.

When I left for East Africa in late 1949 he loaned me his copy of von Martens’s Beschalte Weichethiere Deutsch-Ost-Afrikas and I sent him the first fruits of my collecting trips. I do not recall now how I first contacted him but it must have been via Hugh Watson who was in correspondence with him (all my letters of this period are now in the Conchological Society Archives at Leeds). After suffering a stroke in 1951 he gave his collections and library to the Senckenberg Museum and after a long severe illness died on 14 June 1952 in the city of his birth. His paper describing new species of snails from Tanzania (Tanganyika, Deutsch Ost-Afrika) appeared posthumously in December 1952. I did not know this and had sent off a paper to the Proceedings of the Malacological Society with descriptions of species I had collected in the Usambaras where Pfeiffer had also worked. Hugh Watson sent me a copy of Pfeiffer’s paper whilst mine was at proof stage. I was expecting to find that most of my supposed new species (minute Gulellae) would already have been described by Pfeiffer but fortunately only one was involved. I hastily wrote to the editor H.E. Quick who exchanged the name of my proposed Gulella mkusiensis for Pfeiffer’s G. translucida but he forgot to remove the type citation and compounded matters in his editor’s note that the type of translucida was at MCZ, Harvard when of course it was the type of my proposed new species which was there. I sent off a correction but the whole thing was unfortunate (see Verdcourt, 1953, 1953a). Apart from Craven, Knipper and myself, K.L. Pfeiffer appears to be the only person to have described his own East African collections.


List of molluscs described from material collected by Karl Ludwig Pfeiffer in Tanzania and Kenya

Bloyetia simulans meruensis K.L. Pfeiffer, 1952.   Tanzania, Mt. Meru, between the Sägewerk and Momella, south-east slope of mountain, 1500–1700m on road from Rusha to the farm (Momella) (SMF 96728, holotype).
Trochonanina (Montanobloyetia) simulans meruensis (K.L. Pfeiffer).
Edentulina (Marconia) cylindrica K.L. Pfeiffer, 1952.   Tanzania, Ngorongoro, crater edge near restcamp, 2200m (SMF 96734, holotype).
Gonaxis cylindrica (K.L. Pfeiffer).
Euonyma connollyana K.L. Pfeiffer, 1952.   Tanzania, W. Usambaras, Hermannsplatte, on west precipice of the mountains, 2700m (SMF 96726, holotype).
Hypolysia connollyana (K.L. Pfeiffer).
Gulella (Gulella) conicodentata K.L. Pfeiffer, 1952.   Tanzania, between Moshi and Arusha (SMF 83711, holotype).
Gulella globosa K.L. Pfeiffer, 1952.   Tanzania, E. Usambaras, on Main road to Amani, 700m (SMF 83719, holotype).
Gulella gouldi globosa (K.L. Pfeiffer).
Gulella (Molarella) gwendolinae porrecta K.L. Pfeiffer, 1952.   Kenya, Mombasa, Fort Jesus, sea level (SMF 96865, holotype).
Gulella (Paucidentina) micrans K.L. Pfeiffer, 1952.   Tanzania, Kilimanjaro, near Bismarck Hut, 2300–2500m (SMF 83714, holotype).
Gulella (Paucidentina) percivali kilimae K.L. Pfeiffer, 1952.   Tanzania, Kilimanjaro, Marangu, 1500m (SMF 83664, holotype).
Gulella (Gulella) translucida K.L. Pfeiffer, 1952.   Tanzania, W. Usambaras, Lushoto, 1500m (SMF 83693, holotype).
Gulella (Paucidentina) unidentata K.L. Pfeiffer, 1952.   Tanzania, W. Usambaras, Lushoto, (SMF 83668, holotype).
Gulella (Paucidentina) usambarica K.L. Pfeiffer, 1952 (non Craven).   Tanzania, W. Usambaras, Lushoto, near The Lawns, 1600m (SMF 83666, holotype).
Gulella ludwigi Verdcourt and Venmans.
Homorus usambaricus K.L. Pfeiffer, 1952.   Tanzania, W. Usambaras, Lushoto, Jägertal, 1600m (SMF 96720, holotype).
Subulona usambarica (K.L. Pfeiffer).
Homorus usagaricus monticulus K.L. Pfeiffer, 1952.   Tanzania, Kilimanjaro, between Marangu and Bismarck Hut, 2000m (SMF 96723, holotype).
Subulona usagarica monticula (K.L. Pfeiffer).
Maizania pyramidalis K.L. Pfeiffer, 1952.   Tanzania, E. Usambaras, near Derema, 900m (SMF 96716, holotype).
Maizania volkensi (von Mts.).
Pseudoglessula (Kempioconcha) monticula K.L. Pfeiffer, 1952.   Tanzania, Oldeani, Farm Bundies, 2000m (SMF 96725, holotype).
Pupisoma renschi K.L. Pfeiffer, 1952.   Tanzania, east side of Mt. Meru, Momella, 1700m (SMF 96717, holotype).
Tayloria angustestriata K.L. Pfeiffer, 1952.   Tanzania, W. Usambaras, Lushoto, path from Forest House ‘zur Bachschlucht’ 1500m (SMF 96730, holotype).
Trachycystis lamellosa K.L. Pfeiffer, 1952.   Tanzania, Mt. Meru, Momella, 1700m (SMF 96718, holotype).
Only holotypes have been listed above; paratypes were cited for many, for which the original paper must be consulted.



Pfeiffer, K.L., 1952.   Neue Landschnecken aus Ostafrika. Arch. Molluskenk. 81: 89–102, t. 1,2
Verdcourt, B., 1953.   Notes on the snails of North-East Tanganyika Territory. Five new species and varieties of Gulella from the Usabaras. Proc. malac. Soc. 30: 36–39.
Verdcourt, B., 1953.   Notes on the snails of North-East Tanganyika Territory. Proc. malac. Soc. 30: 153.
Zilch, A., 1952.   Karl Ludwig Pfeiffer (*5.9.1874, †14.6.1952). Arch. Molluskenk. 81: 175–178
Zilch, A., 1972.   Zur Geschichte der deutschen Malakozoologie, IX. Zur Konchylien-Sammlung von K.L. Pfeiffer. Mitt. dtsch. malak. Ges. 2/22: 324–326.


My sincere thanks are due to my friend and colleague Dr Edmund Launert (also coincidentally a friend of Dr Zilch) for reading the two accounts by A. Zilch cited above slowly in English so that I could note down the basic information used in the article.

B. Verdcourt