Notables: William Elliott Burnett

Mr. Burnett was born May 22, 1872, in Garland County, Pennsylvania and died August 20, 1933, at Bradford, Pennsylvania. In 1933, for the fifth time in almost as many years, the extensive collections of Carnegie Museum Mollusks were augmented significantly, this time by a collection of more than 4,700 lots of marine, freshwater, and land mollusks from the estate of William Elliott Burnett of Bradford, Pennsylvania. This collection was bequeathed to the institution in 1931, after Burnett's untimely death as a result of an accident occurring in August of 1933. Mr. Burnett had been a carpenter and cabinetmaker for 48 of his 64 years and throughout his life had made a hobby of shells, minerals, and American Indian artifacts. Although living inland, he was able to build up the collection of marine shells through exchange as well as by his own efforts. The many carefully prepared and authentically labeled specimens reflect his interest and patience as well as the high esteem that was held for him by his colleagues in shells. Both Mr. Burnett’s father and grandfather were collectors and students of nature so it is only natural that he also had a similar avocation.

His academic training was sparse, since he entered his trade at the age of sixteen, but his collection shows a labor not dictated by the classroom but by the urge within him. The Burnett Collection has become part of the systematic research collection in Mollusks and supplements other collections received during the 1920s and 1930s: the George Clapp Collection of North American Land Snails (15,472 lots), the Victor Sterki Collection of Sphaeriidae (12,924 lots), the Herman Wright Collection (over 1,000 lots), and the S. H. Stupakoff Collection (3,400 lots).

Adapted from: Anonymous. 1933. "The Burnett Collection of Shells." Carnegie Magazine 7(7): 213. Additional information from Abbott, R.T. 1973. "American Malacologists: A national register of professional and amateur malacologists and private shell collectors and biographies of early American mollusk workers born between 1618 and 1900." American Malacologists. Falls Church, VA: 494 pp. For further information, see the obituary by Brooks, S.T. 1934. "William Elliott Burnett, 1872-1933." Nautilus, 47: 143-144.