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PALMBERG, Johan (c. 1640–1691)

Serta florea Svecana eller Swenske Örtekrantz.
Strengnääs, Zach. Asp, 1684.

The first Swedish herbal with illustrations – if we exclude Elias Til-Landz’s Icones with 158 woodcuts of plants growing around Åbo (Turku) in Finland (Åbo, 1683) at that time a part of Sweden. Having completed his collegiate studies in the small medieval town of Strängnäs, Palmberg in 1663 registered at the University of Åbo in Finland to study medicine. After four years he finished his medical dissertation, but was never able to present it as the quite incompetent Professor Achrelius refused to preside. In 1669 Palmberrg returned to his native Strängnäs without his titulary examination. After several years of dispute, Palmberg was appointed schoolteacher of medicine and physics, which meant that he was to lecture on the medical effects of herbs. It is said that he founded a botanical garden in Strängnäs patterned on that of Olof Rudbeck’s in Uppsala. His first medical papers were published in the Strängnäs almanacs of 1670-1672 and he is thus the first Swedish physician to contribute to Swedish almanacs. In 1672 Palmberg was given a royal privilege to publish an illustrated herbal in Swedish. Due to the death of the provincial printer, Brockenius, already in 1671, and in 1674 that of Bishop Emporagrius, who had granted the publication, the work was interrupted. When printing finally started after a delay of twelve years there was friction between Palmberg and Broccenius’s successor, Zacharias Asp. Palmberg complained that Asp was too slow in printing the book, and Asp defended himself by saying that Palmberg had not provided him with money to buy candles. An edition appeared already in 1683 with only pictures and a separate title leaf. It contained 123 woodcuts with no other text than the plants’ names in Latin and Swedish, with an index at the end. Of this extremely rare edition only two copies can be traced. When the complete book was ready from the printer in 1684 it consisted of 476 pages with 130 woodcuts and a beautiful title-page framed with a floral wreath in allusion to its title. It is supposed that no more than 500 copies were printed. As most herbals, Palmberg’s Swenske Örtekrantz is a compilation from old and foreign authors, to whom he admits his debt. Those who dared criticize these authorities were harshly compared by Palmberg to ”blowflies on an honest man’s table”. Even if later botanists considered his herbal extremely poor, it remained the one and only Swedish floral handbook until Linnaeus’ Flora Svecica (1745) appeared, and it was from Palmberg’s ’wretched handbook’ that the great master himself acquired his first botanical knowledge.

Collation: Pp (16), 416, (16). Woodcut floral border around the title page and with 130 woodcuts of plants in the text. The 16-pages index at the end with plant names in Swedish, German and Latin ends with “FINIS”, but some copies have a 28-page rarely found additional index of diseases.

Binding: An exceptionally fine and clean copy in contemporary vellum.

References: Krok, 570; Holmberg, not Botaniska Notiser 1849; Vilhelm Djurberg 'En svensk medicinsk folkskriftförfattare på 1600-talet’ i Hygiea, 1900: pp 357-405, 1906: 145-159; Hagelin, Materia Medica, pp 154-55; Hagelin, ‘Örtaböcker i Linnes ungdomsbibliotek’ pp 51-67 i Landsbibliotekets gamla samlingar. Om handskrifter och böcker ur Landsbibliotekets i Växjö gamla samlingar. Kronobergsboken 1994. Waller 11698.

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