Franz Alfred Schilder, 1896-1970

By Hildgard Zeissler

Extracted from Journal of Conchology, Volume 27, pp.429–432
Franz Alfred Schilder

As Professor Schilder outlived his contemporaries it falls to a former student of his to write an appreciation of her venerated teacher. He was always kind and serene, had a keen sense of humour, was a brilliant lecturer, and was like a father to his students.

He was born an Austrian, the son of Dr. Franz Schilder, an officer at Prague who in 1908 took up a government post in Vienna. The young Franz Alfred showed an early interest in zoology and when only 14 published some papers on beetles (Cicindelidae). Leaving school in 1914 he began to study medicine in Vienna but his studies were interrupted, a year later, by war service, and after the war he did not return to medicine but began new studies in ethnography, geography and palaeontology. It was an ethnological book Muschelgeldstudien by 0. Schneider that first made him turn his attention to the study of the Cypraeacea, in which he became so interested that he took it for his dissertation to obtain the degree of Dr. phil. The account was written in 1921 but appeared only in abstract (Wien, 1923). For the rest of his life the Cypraeidae remained his chief interest, though he also did much work in entomology and other disciplines.

Newly qualified, Dr. Schilder moved to Berlin, but due to inflation times were difficult for young scientists and in the first few years he held several different positions. During this period he met and married Dr. Maria Hertrich from Munich and found in her an enthusiastic and reliable collaborator in his work. Their only child Franziska died in 1961.

In 1925 Dr. Schilder became an established scientist at Naumburg/Saale, in the state institute for research on Phylloxera, where he remained until 1947. But all their spare time the Schilders spent working with Cypraeidae, sometimes also with Cepaea and their holidays were used in studying material in public and private collections of many countries.

The last war put an end to their travelling and cut off many connections, and for some years research in Cepaea was their main work. After the war Dr. Schilder was appointed Professor of Zoology at the Martin-Luther University at Halle. At first he gave lectures only on zoogeography and biometry and continued his main work at Naumburg, but in 1947 he moved to Halle and lectured also on genetics and anthropology. It was a great change for a man in his fifties but it was highly successful. His lectures were most interesting and his students enjoyed them. Later he was asked to lecture also at the University of Leipzig, and from 1954 until 1963 he spent one day a week in Leipzig. I remember that then biometry lectures were given by him in the evening, at the end of a tiring day. We went to his lectures tired, but after a few minutes he had caught our attention and held it for two hours!

Professor Schilder retired in 1962, but even then he was still asked to lecture very frequently. Unfortunately he suffered from asthma in his later years and ceased lecturing altogether by 1966. As an emeritus, master of his own time, he still worked, but only on his beloved Cypraea. As he felt his strength failing he prepared each piece of research for publication, knowing that the great monograph of Cypraeacea that he had hoped to write would not be accomplished. A summary and conclusion of his work is "A Catalogue of living and fossil Cowries (Nomenclature and Bibliography of Cypraeacea and Triviacea)" written jointly with Maria Schilder, to be published in Brussels.

His countrymen were not much interested in Schilder’s Cypraea studies, and most of them even regretted that he spent his great gifts on such work. But he went his own way and cared not for their opinion.

He has left us a gigantic amount of work, his complete bibliography comprising more than 400 titles, malacological, entomological, biometrical, etc. as well as books for his students. He also, together with his wife, established 45 new genera and 483 new species and subspecies. The following have been named in his honour; the genus Schilderia Tomlin 1930; the recent species Lyncina schilderorum Iredale 1939, the fossil species Zoila schilderi Dey (1932) 1941, and the race Cypraea tigris schilderiana Cate 1961.

Professor Schilder was a member of both English societies, of the German Zoological Society, the German Malacozoological Society, and an honorary member of the Hawaiian Malacological Society and the Keppel Bay Shell Club.

Unfortunately his work on Cypraea will probably not be continued in the German Democratic Republic. Dr. Maria Schilder does not feel able to continue her late husband’s work by herself, and they have had neither a son nor a personal scholar to succeed them in their special discipline.


Appreciation by John Griffiths

For almost half a century Franz Albert Schilder was one of the foremost authorities on Cypraeacea, and in particular on Cypraeidae. He published hundreds of papers on many aspects of the group, concentrating principally on nomenclature, conchology, the anatomy of preserved specimens, on fossils, and on statistical studies. He combined great industry with a magnificent eye for detail.

One of the greatest disadvantages under which Schilder laboured was that, mainly due to the location of his home, he was unable to undertake work in the field. Indeed, it is said that he only twice saw living cowries, C. lurida in Sicilian waters and C. tigris in a Berlin aquarium. This was a serious limitation to him, and in the opinion of some authorities led him to undervalue the effects of local environmental conditions on shell variation. In consequence his system of sub-species, first propounded in Proc. Malac. Soc. Lond. 23 (1938), and amplified in many subsequent papers, now finds increasingly less acceptance. Perhaps, too, the term "race" as used by Schilder does not quite have the modern meaning of the word "subspecies", but harks back to the formerly used "variety".

Nor have the genera proposed by Schilder been accepted without criticism. It has been claimed that the points of difference between them are not sufficiently clear, and that it will be necessary to study the living animals in far greater detail before it will be possible to find any basis for generic subdivision of Cypraeidae.

Despite these criticisms, Schilder’s system must and will remain the starting point for all future work. His perception and industry cleared away much confusion in nomenclature, and established a list of valid species which, with amendments due to later research, remains one of the most useful forward steps ever taken in the study of Cypraeidae.


A complete list of Dr. Schilder’s papers will appear in Archiv für Molluskenkunde no. 1/2 in 1971. EDITOR.