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Rare Linnaean insights found in Museum Library

03 March 2006

Two items relating to the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus have been uncovered in the Natural History Museum's General Library.

Both items were previously unknown and shed light on the working practices of one of the greatest scientists of the eighteenth century.

The Linnaeus Link Project Officer, Cathy Broad, found the items when she was cataloguing. The two items are both small and were probably missed because they were pasted into guardbooks (or scrapbooks). 

'There were more items in the guardbooks than we had records for', says Cathy. 'They are the last items, and I think it's probable that they were pasted in the guardbooks after the other items in them were bound together.'

Order for glass bottles
Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778) introduced binomial nomenclature, giving a species two names.

Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778) introduced binomial nomenclature, giving a species two names, still used today.

One of the items is a hand-written order in Swedish for glass bottles signed by Linnaeus and dated 26 April 1749. Linnaeus left on an expedition to Skane, southern Sweden, 3 days later and it is thought the bottles may have been needed for that expedition.

One purpose of the expedition was to search for possible locations to grow walnut and Swedish whitebeam trees. The wood from these trees was needed to make butts for rifles in the Swedish army and the bottles may have been used to preserve specimens. Alternatively, they may have been used for carrying drinking water.

The other item is a speech given at the University of Uppsala in 1822, written in Latin, which contains information on three of Linnaeus's students, Carl Peter Thunberg, Pehr Cornelius Tillaeus, and Adolph Fredric Wedenberg.

Classifed all known species

Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) was a naturalist-physician who had great enthusiasm for nature. His work included the classification of all species of plants and animals known at that time.

Standardising species names

Linnaeus standardised the practice of giving species names and his binomial nomenclature, giving two names to a species, for example Homo sapiens, is still used today. It was his publications Species Plantarum (1753) and Systema Naturae (10th edition, 1758) in particular that have been accepted as the starting points of botanical and zoological nomenclature.

The Catalogue of the works of Linnaeus

A bibliography of the works of Linnaeus had been listed in The Catalogue of the works of Linnaeus, 2nd ed. 1933 (more commonly referred to as Soulsby, after the compiler, Basil Soulsby, a former Natural History Museum librarian) and no one expected to find any previously unknown items. A digitised version of Soulsby is also available through the Linnaeus Link web pages (link below).

The Linnaeus Link Project

The Linnaeus Link Project is an international collaboration that will create an online catalogue of works by Linnaeus and his students published prior to 1831. It is due to launch late in 2006, ready for the tercentenary of the birth of Linnaeus in 2007.