Lothar Forcart, 1902–1990

By Bernard Verdcourt

Extracted from Journal of Conchology, Volume 34, pp. 37–38.

Although doubtless several complete obituaries with bibliographies will be published on the Continent, it would be remiss not to notice the death of Lothar Hendrich Emil Wilhelm Forcart-Müller in our pages since he joined our Society as long ago as 1930. We have lost one of our oldest members who published a very large number of papers on land molluscs, many of which are destined to become standard reference works for a very long time. I have nearly 60 of his titles in my own library and the total must be several times that figure. I had been in contact with him for about 40 years and always found him invariably helpful.

Forcart was born in Basel on 10 December 1902, the fourth child of Rudolf and Anita Forcart-Bachofen and had a happy childhood in ideal surroundings marred, however, by the premature death of his father. His mother tried very hard to make good this loss with ever ready advice and help. Since his early youth he had a great interest in nature and after his schooling studied science with zoology as his main subject. At the instigation of Prof. Friedrich Zschokke he worked up the molluscs of the Graubünden Canton and bordering Italian alpine valleys and studied their recolonisation since the end of the Glacial Period. After studies in Basel, Berlin and Cambridge culminating in his doctorate (the last supervised by Prof. Zschokke) he worked for seven years as a voluntary collaborator at the Basel Natural History Museum, at that time under the direction of Dr. George Stehlin and Dr. Fritz Sarasin, both of whom became Lothar's models for his long years of museum activity.

In 1936 he made a scientific journey to Asiatic Turkey where he collected on the then poorly known Black Sea coast and interior areas. The ensuing publications resulted in much additional material from other people sent to him for determination. A monograph of the Turkish Enidae was one notable result of this undertaking.

On 8 December 1937 he married Ann Müller and they enjoyed an exceedingly happy marriage until her death in October 1986. She had great understanding for, as he put it ‘my somewhat eccentric interests’. They made numerous collecting trips in the Alps and Italy including the far south, at that time scarcely touched by tourists. In later life these enjoyable expeditions were amongst their happiest memories.

In 1938 he became curator of the Zoology Department at Basel and later Director. It was his main intention to rearrange the zoological collections according to modern standards and catalogue and work on them scientifically. Unfortunately all his plans were not realised and it was only long after his retirement that the public galleries were modernised and the old-fashioned building renovated. As is usual his scientific work resulted in numerous worldwide friendships and he and his wife often offered hospitality to visiting colleagues. He was one of those instrumental in setting up Unitas Malacologica in London in 1962.

He worked on many groups but of particular note are his studies on African Veronicellidae (a complete monograph), Vitrinidae (particularly of the Alps), Perforatella, Trichia, Lehmannia, Columella, Zonitinae and Middle Eastern molluscs. Not all his conclusions have been accepted, particularly his work on Trichia in so far as it affects our British species. I hold in particular regard his little book Scknecken und Muscheln in the series Die Hallwag-Taschenbücherei, almost a miniature book at 6 x 4 ¼ inches with delightful coloured plates. My copy was given to me by a colleague in Nairobi, Peter Bally whose name was sometimes written Bally-Forcart, a collateral relation of the family.

Forcart was a kind and helpful man and meticulous correspondent. I frequently turned to him with problems of palaearctic molluscs which he answered with unfailing courtesy. Workers with such far ranging expertise are now virtually non-existent and their published work merely a tithe of their knowledge.

At the end of 1967 he retired from the museum and worked at home. In 1968 the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities invited him to work on terrestrial molluscs for 'Flora Palaestina' and in 1969 he travelled in Israel in order to get to know the country and also examine the existing collections in various institutions. This work and its interesting problems kept him busy for most of the rest of his life and brought him into contact with a younger generation of research workers.

The death of his wife grieved him deeply, also the thinning out of his worldwide contacts. He stopped work and spent his last years reading about the history of science. He was a fortunate man with a happy life, and harmonious marriage who worked at what interested him most.

This is mostly based on personal details recorded by himself in 1977 and 1989 and my own personal knowledge.