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Linnean Society Library

Address. Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BF [Map]
Telephone. (020) 734-1040
Fax. (020) 287-9364
Internet. http://www.linnean.org/

Governing body or responsible institution. Council of the Linnean Society
Function. Research library, to serve the Fellows of the Society.
Subjects. Biological sciences.

Access. Opening hours: Monday to Tuesday, Thursday to Friday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Wednesday 2 p.m. - 5 p.m. to Fellows, to others upon introduction by a Fellow or by written application to the librarian in advance.
Special facilities. Photocopying, photography, microfiche reader.
Travel directions. Nearest underground stations: Picadilly Circus or Green Park. On several bus routes. - No parking.


1.1 The Royal Society's foundation in 1662 conferred on it the purpose of promoting natural knowledge, but its limited membership made it unable either to claim or to maintain a monopoly in meeting that objective. Although it remained for more than a century following the only scientific society in London, it was inevitable that more specialised societies would be established sooner or later to cater for the increasing interest in subjects such as botany, zoology and geology. The first of these was the Botanical Society, which was founded in 1721 by Johann Jakob Dillen (1687-1747) and James Martyn (1699-1768), the former of whom was the first President and the latter the first and apparently permanent Secretary.

1.2 Dillen, a native of Darmstadt, became in 1728 the first occupant of the Sherardian Chair of Botany at Oxford, where he was visited by Linnaeus in 1736, and Martyn succeeded to the Chair of Botany at Cambridge in 1733. Another active member of the Society was George Charles Deering, M.D. (1695?-1749), a native of Saxony. The Society did not survive beyond 1726, as the members had begun to scatter and it had no immediate successor. The immediate forerunner and in a sense the begetter of the Linnean Society was the Society for Promoting Natural History, which was established in 1782.

1.3 Shortly after this body came into existence a momentous event for the development of scientific botany in England occurred with the arrival of James Edward Smith (1759-1828), the son of a Norwich silk merchant, in London to complete his medical studies. Smith joined the Society for Promoting Natural History and made the friendship of a number of men of similar interests outside that body, the most notable and influential in the history of the future Linnean Society being Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), inasmuch as the older man suggested to the younger that he should buy Linnaeus's herbarium and library. With the eventual agreement of Smith's father Linnaeus's collections, including his library, which numbered around 1,500 vols, and papers, came into Smith's hands for a little over £1,000, thus leaving Sweden never to return.

1.4 Smith, however, came to have a low opinion of both the Society and of the majority of its members. With two of those members who were of the same mind, the Rev. Dr Samuel Goodenough (1743-1827), a future Bishop of Carlisle, and Thomas Marsham (d. 1819), Smith began to discuss the formation of a new society which suited more their high scientific ideals. This new Society, named after Linnaeus both as a mark of general botanical respect and to record the fact that his herbarium and library would be put at the disposal of the members, came into existence near the end of 1787. An offer by the Society for Promoting Natural History, which had a number of quite distinguished names on its list despite the strictures of Smith, Goodenough and Marsham, to amalgamate with the Linnean Society was rejected, and, although it gradually weakened, it managed to survive until 1822, when it resolved to transfer its funds to the Linnean Society, a resolution which was not effected until 1825.

1.5 From its first general meeting in 1788 the Society's meetings were held successively in Smith's house in Great Marlborough Street, where Linnaeus' botanical collections were kept, and in a rented property in Panton Square, Soho, as a result of Smith's move, along with his collections, to Hammersmith, and then two other moves in Soho. During this unsettled period of its existence the Society obtained its charter in 1802, when the name was fixed as ``The Linnean Society of London'. Several attempts were made in the 1830s and 1840s to obtain more permanent accommodation in Somerset House in the Strand. This desire for a more settled existence, however, was not achieved until 1873, when the Society, along with the four other chartered scientific societies, the Royal, the Geological, the Astronomical and the Chemical, was able to move into Burlington House. The Society formally admitted women to its membership for the first time in 1905.

1.6 In April 1828, following on from Smith's death several weeks earlier, Linnaeus's library and collections were mentioned for the first time in the Society's records in connection with the offer made by Smith's executors to sell these to the Society as well as Smith's own collections. The Society decided to try to purchase these, but was unable to meet the asking price of £5,000 from its own meagre resources. That it succeeded in purchasing them was due in part to the executors' agreement to lower the asking price to £3,000, the difference between that and the original price being made up by £1,500 subscribed by the members and using £500 from the Society's cash in hand. In order to alleviate as much as possible the financial embarrassment to the Society, the admission fee, the annual contribution and the composite fee were all raised. However the ownership of Linnaeus' collections and library led directly to the Society's financial impoverishment for a generation, during which some of the members formed the Entomological Club in 1823, which changed its name in its centenary year to the Royal Entomological Society of London. As a result of this new establishment, the Linnean Society lost part of its zoological domain.

1.7 During its first decade of existence the Society relied almost entirely on donations for increasing its library, as Linnaeus's volumes were not owned by it, but in 1798 the first ``library fund' was begun by making every Fellow elected after May of that year pay £1 towards it in addition to his admission fee of £1.11.6. This sum remained constant after the increases in the admission fee in 1823 and 1829 until 1836, when it was abolished.

1.8 For the first thirty years after its acquisition of Linnaeus's library, which numbered around 1,500 vols, the Society paid no special attention to it, allowing the volumes to be scattered throughout the library and even allowing the members to borrow the volumes. However Linnaeus's volumes were segregated in 1856 and a ban on lending them imposed. No special catalogue of Linnaeus' library has ever been published, any interested reader having to identify them by the letter ``L' attached to the entries in the general catalogue.

1.9 The first catalogue of the library was not a catalogue at all, but a succession of lists of additions and donations to it printed in the Society's Transactions, first in vol. 5 (1800) and the last in vol. 21 (1855). A decision was then taken to have a proper catalogue prepared, which did not appear until 1866, when part I was published, which contained separate papers and monographs and completed volumes of periodicals. Part II, which appeared in 1867, contained the transactions and similar publications of societies and a supplement to part I, and part III, which was published in 1877, contained the additions made to the library in the years 1866 to 1876. After the Society's centenary a decision was made to prepare a new catalogue, a task which was entrusted to the librarian and his assistant, but despite the expenditure of nearly £200, a large sum at that time, in hiring external help with it, the work was so badly done that it was taken out of their hands altogether. An expert bibliographer was engaged and finally published the catalogue in 1896, which was followed by another, published in 1925.


Chronological outline and analysis by language

2.1 The library's holdings at present total c. 90,000 vols on the biological sciences. Of the c. 40,000 books and pamphlets in the Monographs collection c. 10,000 are pre-1851 items. The library holds 8 incunabula. There are c. 500 titles dating from the 16th century and c. 1,500 from the 17th century. The Periodical collection holds c. 40,000 vols in 3,000 sets, among them c. 400 (partly) pre-1851 items. The estimated portion of German-language items or imprints from German-speaking countries may be in the region of 30 per cent. The collection of Linnaeus (1707-1778) itself comprises c. 2,700 items in c. 1,600 vols (bound volumes of tracts included).

Subject outline

2.2 The library contains many early standard works on botany and medicine, e.g. Caspar Bauhin, Phytopinax (Basel 1596), Prodromos theatri botanici (Frankfurt 1620; Basel 1671), Theatri botanici liber primus (Basel 1658), Theoderich Dorsten, Botanicon (Frankfurt 1540), Dioscorides, De medica materia (which is present in three editions, the oldest of which is Frankfurt 1543), and Leonhard Fuchs, De historia stirpium commentarii (Basel 1542). Conrad Gesner is represented by Historia plantarum et vires (Basel 1541), Catalogus plantarum (Zürich 1542), and De herbis quae Lunariae nominantur (Zürich 1555). There are works by Pietro Andrea Mattioli, such as De plantis epitome, novis iconibus descriptionibusque locupletata, a J. Camerario (Frankfurt 1586), Opera omnia, a. C. Bauhino aucta (Frankfurt 1598) and Kreutterbuch, zum dritten Mahl gemehret, durch J. Camerarium (Frankfurt 1611).

2.3 There are also, as one would expect, many works by Linnaeus, as well as by Albrecht von Haller, who, like Linnaeus, combined an active interest in medicine and botany. Of those by Linnaeus one can mention Termini botanici (Leipzig 1767; Hamburg 1781), Genera plantarum (Magdeburg 1752), in addition to three later editions of 1778, 1789-1791 and 1830-1831, Specimen plantarum (Vienna 1764), and two later editions of 1797-1810 and 1831, Systema plantarum, curavit J. J. Reichard (Frankfurt 1779-1780), Systema vegetabilium, ed. J. A. Murray (Göttingen 1774, and three later editions of 1784, 1817-1830 and 1825-1828), Praelectiones in ordines naturales plantarum (Hamburg 1792), Philosophia botanica (Vienna 1755, and three later issues of 1770 and 1783), and Bibliotheca botanica (Halle 1747). Of works by Haller one can mention De methodico studio botanices absque preceptore (Göttingen 1736), Programma de Veronicis quibusdam alpinis (Göttingen 1737), Bibliotheca botanica (Zürich 1771-1772), De Allii genere naturali (Göttingen 1745) and Opuscula botanica (Göttingen 1749).

2.4 The library has good holdings of early botanical periodicals published in the German-language areas of Europe. These include Magazin [Neues Magazin] für Botanik (Zürich 1787-1794), Journal [Neues Journal] für die Botanik (Göttingen [Erfurt] 1797-1809), Flora oder Botanische Zeitung (Regensburg 1818-1842; Neue Reihe, Regensburg 1843-1865), Linnea: ein Journal für die Botanik in ihrem ganzen Umfange (Berlin 1826-1863), Botanische Zeitung (Berlin 1843-1864) as well as Jahrbücher für wissenschaftliche Botanik (Berlin 1858-1866). As a reflection of the Society's wider scientific interests, but more specifically in zoology in the early years of its existence the library also holds Commercium litterarium ad rei medicae et scientiae naturalis incrementum institutum (Nuremberg 1743-1744) and Magazin der neuesten ausländischen Insecten (Erlangen 1794) and Entomologische Zeitung (Stettin 1840-1865).

2.5 The library also holds a number of early transactions of learned societies, e.g. Miscellanea curiosa medico-physica of the Academia Naturae Curiosorum, published between 1671 and 1698, as well as the same body's Acta physico-medica published between 1727 and 1754, the Acta [Nova acta] Helvetica, physico-mathematico-botanico-medica, 1751-1787, of the Societas Physico-Medica Basiliensis and the early publications of the Senckenbergische Naturforschende Gesellschaft of Frankfurt am Main.

2.6 Two important types of botanical literature as important to early botanists as to modern ones are descriptions of plants native to a particular area and lists of plants to be found growing in gardens, whether private or public, the former type particularly helping botanists to extrapolate a pattern of the spread of species or sub-species from a smaller area to a much wider area. Many of the examples of each type in the Society's library are of especial bibliographical interest in that they were owned previously by Linnaeus. Those examples of the former type include Paulus Ammann, Suppellex botanica, h. e. umeratio plantarum horti Lipsiensis (Leipzig 1675), Carl August von Bergen, Flora Francofurtana (Frankfurt/Oder 1750), Georg Rudolph Böhmer, Flora Lipsiae indigena (Leipzig 1750), Joannes Christian Buxbaum, Enumeratio plantarum in agro Hallensi (Halle 1721) and Johannes Chemnitz, Index plantarum circa Brunsvigam nascentium (Braunschweig 1652).

2.7 Other examples are Heinrich Johann Nepomuk von Crantz' Stirpes Austriacae (Vienna [Leipzig] 1762-[1767]), Friedrich Ehrhart's Versuch eines Verzeichnisses der um Hannover wild wachsenden Pflanzen (Hanover 1780), Johann Sigismund Elsholtz' Flora Marchica (Berlin 1663) or Johann Caspar Philipp Elwert's Fasciculus plantarum et flora Marggraviatus Barathini (Erlangen 1786). Joannes Caspar Gemeinhardt is represented by his Catalogus plantarum circa Laubam nascentium (Lauben 1725), Albrecht von Haller by Enumeratio methodica stirpium Helvetiae indigenarum (Göttingen 1742) and Enumeratio stirpium quae in Helvetia rariores proveniunt (Göttingen 1760), Moritz Hoffmann by Florae Altdorffinae deliciae sylvestres (Altdorf 1662), Christophorus Knauth by Enumeratio plantarum circa Halam Saxonum sponte provenientium (Leipzig 1687) and Friedrich Wilhelm von Leyser by Flora Halensis (Halle 1761). There are also titles by Marcus Mapp, Historia plantarum Alsaticarum, ed. by Johann Christian Ehrmann (Strasbourg 1741), Heinrich Julius Meyenberg, Flora Einbeccensis (Göttingen 1712), Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Meyer, Erste Anlage zur Flora des Königreichs Hannover (Göttingen 1822), and Albrecht Ritter, Oryctographia Goslariensis (Sonderhausen 1738). There are several editions of Heinrich Bernhard Rupp's Flora Jenensis (e.g. Frankfurt 1718, ed. by J. H. Schuttes; 2nd ed. Frankfurt 1726 and 3rd ed., ed. by Albrecht von Haller, Jena 1745).

2.8 Further publications to be mentioned include Joannes David Schreber's Spicilegium florae Lipsiae (Leipzig 1771), Caspar Schwenckfeldt's Stirpium et fossilium Silesiae catalogus (Leipzig 1600), F. G. Weiss' Plantae cryptogamicae florae Gottingensis (Göttingen 1769), Samuel Gustav Wilcke's Flora Gryphica (Greifswald 1765) or Carl Ludwig Willdenow's Florae Berolinensis prodromus (Berlin 1787). The library also holds David Wipacher's Flora Lipsiensis (Leipzig 1726).

2.9 The second category includes Carl August von Bergen, Catalogus stirpium quas hortus Academiae Viadrinae complectitur (Frankfurt/Oder 1744), Philipp Conrad Fabricius, Enumeratio plantarum horti Helmstadiensis (Helmstedt 1759), Albrecht von Haller, Enumeratio plantarum horti Regii et agri Gottingensis (Göttingen 1753), Lorenz Heister, Catalogus plantarum quibus ab anno 1730 ad 1734 hortum Academiae Helmstadiensis instruxit L. Heisterus (Helmstedt 1734), Johann Heinrich Heucher, Novi proventus horti med. Academiae Vitembergensis (Wittenberg 1711), Marcus Mapp, Catalogus plantarum horti academici Argentinensis (Strasbourg 1691) and Josua Risler, Hortus Carolsruhanus (Lörrach 1747). Other examples in this category are Christian Ludwig Roloff's Index plantarum in horto Krausiano (Berlin 1746), Florentius Schuyl's Catalogus horti Lugduno-Batavi (Heidelberg 1672), August Friedrich Schweigger's Enumeratio plantarum horti botanici Regiomontani (Königsberg 1812), August Friedrich Walther's Designatio plantarum quas hortus A. F. Waltheri complectitur (Leipzig 1735) as well as Johann Gottfried Zinn's Catalogus plantarum horti Gottingensis (Göttingen 1757).

2.10 Of related interest to these botanical catalogues is a number of accounts of travels, many of them in foreign parts, e.g. J. Anderson, Nachrichten von Island, Grönland, und der Strasse Davis (Frankfurt 1747), Johann Gerhard Reinhard Andreae, Briefe aus der Schweitz (Zürich 1776), Franz Coelestin von Beroldingen, Bemerkungen auf einer Reise durch die Pfälzischen und Zweybrück'schen Quecksilber-Bergwerke (Berlin 1788), Johann Jacob Ferber, Briefe aus Wälschland über natürliche Merkwürdigkeiten dieses Landes (Prague 1773), Thomas Gage, Reise-Beschreibung nach Neu-Spanien (Leipzig 1693), Friedrich Martens, Spitzbergische oder Groenlandische Reise-Beschreibung (Hamburg, 1675), Pierre Martin de Martinière, Neue Reise in die nordischen Landschafften ...übersetzet durch I. Langen (Hamburg 1675), Joannes Scheffer, Lapponia (Frankfurt 1673) and Alphons Sepp and A. Böhm, Reisebeschreibung in Paraguariam (Nuremberg 1696).

2.11 The collection is also rich in works of a more general scientific nature, many of which reflect on the Society's earlier, official concern for natural history in all its branches, including zoology and entomology, e.g. Georgius Agricola, De re metallica; accedit de animantibus subterraneis liber (Basel 1621), Petrus Artedi, Synonymia piscium (Leipzig 1789), Johann Beckmann, Grundsätze der teutschen Landwirthschaft (Göttingen 1769), Johann Baptist Bohadsch, De quibusdam animalibus marinis (Dresden 1761), and two works by Johann Christian Polykarp Erxleben, e.g. Anfangsgründe der Naturgeschichte (Göttingen 1768) and Betrachtungen der Ursachen der Unvollständigkeit der Mineralsysteme (Göttingen 1768). Other titles included are Johann Friedrich Esper's Nachricht von neuentdeckten Zoolithen unbekannter vierfüssiger Thiere (Nuremberg 1774), Georg Fabricius' De metallicis rebus ac nominibus observationes variae (Zürich 1565), Gotthelf Fischer von Waldheim's Ueber die Schwimmblase der Fische (Leipzig 1795) or Johann Leonhard Frisch's Beschreibung von allerley Insecten in Teutschland (Berlin 1720-1738).

2.12 The library also holds Johann Heinrich Gottlob von Justi's Grundriss des Mineralreiches (Göttingen 1757), Emanuel König's Regnum minerale (Basel 1703), Valentin Kräutermann's (alias Christoph von Hellwig) Regnum minerale; oder Metallen und Mineralien-Reich (Frankfurt 1717), Johann Daniel Major's Dissertatio ...de cancris et serpentibus petrefactis (Jena 1664) or Stephan von Schoneveldt's Ichthyologia ...Holsatiae (Hamburg 1624). Other examples are A. J. Schutz, Beschreibung einiger nordamerikanischen Fossilien (Leipzig 1791) and Wilhelm Ernst Tentzel, Epistola de sceleto elephantino Tonnae effosso (Jena 1696). The sociological interest of the presence among this scholarly material of Johanne Charlotte Zieglerin's (afterwards Unzer) Grundriss einer natürlichen Historie, und Naturlehre für das Frauenzimmer (Halle 1751), a popular work written for a female readership by a woman, is heightened by the fact that it, like so many of the others in this section, came from Linnaeus's own library.


3.1 Modern catalogues

Card catalogue for the Monograph collection

[author and classified]

Card catalogue for the Periodical collection [titles]

Catalogue of the exhibits ...on the occasion of the 150th anniversary celebrations. In: Proceedings 150 (1937/38) no. 4, pp. 294-308

The incunables are recorded in the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC).

3.2 Historic catalogues

Catalogue of the library of the Linnean Society of London. London 1827

Catalogue of a portion of a gentleman's library and the duplicates of the Linnean Society. Sold by auction, by Mr. Evans, at ...No. 93, Pall-Mall, on Friday 30, and following day. 1831 [London 1831]

A catalogue of the scientific portion ...of the library of the Linnean Society of London [London 1859]

Catalogue of the natural history library of the Linnean Society of London. 3 vols. London 1866-77

Catalogue of the library of the Linnean Society of London [A manuscript note on the front page states: ``Proofs of the catalogue which was in progress in 1895, & which was stopped & rescued from the Librarian's hands & handed to an expert to emend & finish'.]

Catalogue of the library of the Linnean Society of London. New edition. London 1896 [With three volumes of additions, A-GAS, GAS-NAE, NAG-ZWI. These are interleaved with additions to the library and shelfmarks for most of the items down to about 1914.]

Catalogue of the printed books and pamphlets in the library of the Linnean Society of London. New edition. London 1925 [The Society's copy is heavily annotated.]


Charter and bye-laws of the Linnean Society of London. London 1801 [numerous editions until 1991]

Gage, A. T.: A history of the Linnean Society of London. London 1938

Gage, A. T.; Stearn, William T.: A bicentenary history of the Linnean Society of London. London 1988


Jackson, B. D.: History of the Linnean collections. In: Proceedings 1887-88, pp. 18-34

Stearn, William T.; Bridson, G.: Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778). A bicentenary guide to the career and achievements of Linnaeus and the collections of the Linnean Society. London 1978

See also: A directory of rare book and special collections ...2nd ed. London 1997, pp. 283-285

November 1998

William A. Kelly

Quelle: Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände in Deutschland. Digitalisiert von Günter Kükenshöner.
Hrsg. von Bernhard Fabian. Hildesheim: Olms Neue Medien 2003.