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The Sanibel Arms Vacation Guide

Visit The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum

The best part about Sanibel Island being great for shelling, is along with it’s original explorers, it has attracted the founders of Sanibel’s very own Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. Guests are invited during shell museum hours 10AM to 5PM daily to visit and experience its more than thirty exhibits and attractions.

The Beginning of a Legacy

The project which led to the creation of The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, began in 1984 when a committee of shell enthusiasts, set to explore the formation of a museum. Their mission was, and is, to:

  • educate about shells and mollusks, the shell-makers, through exhibits, educational programs, library services and publications;
  • further awareness of nature and the natural environment;
  • promote collection-based research on shells and mollusks with emphasis on Southwest Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.

In 1986 the Founding Committee became The Shell Museum and Research Foundation, Inc. 1987, world-renowned malacologist, R. Tucker Abbott, Ph.D, was approached by the board of trustees. An active supporter, he suggested the foundation be named The Shell Museum and Educational Foundation, Inc. In 1988 the museum was declared an official educational institution. In 1990 the Bailey brothers, Francis, John, and Samuel, gifted eight acres of wetlands to the museum, in memory of Frank P. Bailey and Annie Mead Matthews, their parents. It was honorably renamed The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, a facility of The Shell Museum and Educational Foundation. The Museum opened to the public in 1995.


Today, guests can learn an extensive amount of information about shells and mollusks at Bailey & Matthews. National and international scientists, students, and shell enthusiasts often use The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum as an information and reference center. Schools and communities have benefitted from an outreach program developed by the museum’s Scientific Director, marine biologist José H. Leal, Ph.D. In it’s efforts to spread the fascination of mollusks, seashells, and shelling, the museum collaborates with Lee County schools to help pay for transportation and admission of schoolchildren.

The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum offers informative and interactive attractions on-site, but it also offers an immense amount of information online as well. Once you’ve collected your treasures of the sands, you can go right on their website and identify the names and classifications of your shells. This feature is wonderful for building a collection and is a great activity for children and adults alike. Many people create artwork from their shelling excursions and the online guide can help you determine the rarity of the piece. You can search through the numerous types of shell by photo or by list of species.

Bailey & Matthews’ Exhibits

Admission to the museum is free to children age four and under, five dollars for youth ages five to seventeen, and only eleven dollars for adults eighteen years and older. There are discounts available to students, members of AAA, AARP, the Military, and Seniors, sixty plus. While The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum is only closed on New Year's Day, Easter Sunday, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day, guests are otherwise welcome daily during museum hours 10AM to 5PM.

The exhibits offered, range from art, to the history of shells and their early collectors, medicinal properties, and monetary uses. The history of sailors and the Calusa Indians is also discussed and displayed. There is an exhibit dedicated to the preparation of mollusks in different countries and another about shells used in architecture. The museum states that the Worldwide Record-size Shells Exhibit displays, “among other record-size shells, the largest known representatives on record of four very large species: the Goliath conch, the lightning whelk, the Atlantic trumpet triton, and the horse conch.” With so many exhibits to choose from, people of all ages will appreciate the fun and informative adventure through The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum.

Bring the Museum Home With You

To further your support and enjoyment, stop into the Bailey-Matthews store full of gifts and souvenirs. All proceeds go to supporting the facility and their mission. The Museum Store supplies unique works of shell art and jewelry. There is a great selection of shell identification guides and books. Both adult and children’s clothing is available for purchase. More of the children's selection includes books, stuffed animals, puzzles, and games. You can wear your new t-shirt, jacket, and bracelet home proudly and educate others about all you learned on your visit!

Posted in Sanibel Island


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