The Hagströmer Library series of publications and important Linnaeana

In 2007 the Hagströmer Library started a series of publications, now numbering 21. However, ten years before the library was officially established in 1997, five richly illustrated and annotated catalogues had already been published. These catalogues had paved the way for the establishment of the special medico-historical library that was named after Anders Johan Hagströmer (1753–1830). Hagströmer was the first Inspector of Karolinska Institutet, and the one who can be said to have founded its library by taking over the entire book collection of the old medical society, Collegium Medicum (1663–1812). The first catalogue, Rare and Important Medical Books in the Library of the Swedish Society of Medicine, was published in 1989 and was followed by The Womans Booke in 1990. Soon after I was commissioned by Karolinska Institutet to produce a similar catalogue, Rare and Important Medical Books in the Library of the Karolinska Institute (1992). The books were also exhibited at the Royal Library in Stockholm with an accompanying illustrated catalogue in Swedish, Iconographica anatomica (1991).

Four more catalogues were published: Kinetic Jottings. Rare and Curious Books in the Library of the Old Royal Central Institute of Gymnastics (1995); Old and Rare Books on Materia Medica in the Library of the Swedish Pharmaceutical Society (1997); and finally Ars medica Svecana 1571–1921 (2008), presenting rare and famous Swedish medical books in the Hagströmer Library. The second most recent catalogue is Odontologia (2015) with important and early printed books on dentistry in the library of the Swedish Dental Society. All books described in the above catalogues, with the exception of the ones described in Kinetic Jottings, are now assembled under one roof in the Hagströmer Library.

The Hagströmer Library has an outstanding collection of some 500 books written by or about Carl von Linné (Linnaeus, 1707-1778) and his pupils. Among them is a Swedish national treasure – Linnaeus’ own annotated copy of the first edition of his Systema Naturae (Leiden, 1735), maybe the most celebrated and most important book ever published by a Swede. The first edition is by itself a legendary rarity, but this copy is even rarer than usual. A very scarce plate is inserted illustrating Linnaeus’ taxonomy and description of plant reproductive systems depicting stamens and pistils of the 24 classes, drawn, engraved and hand-coloured by Georg Dionysius Ehret (1708–1770), a great flower-painter of the eighteenth century. This plate, famous in the history of botany, has been plagiarized in various publications and is often reproduced, however, the original is hitherto known in five copies only including the one in Linnaeus’ own copy of Systema Naturae.

The most successful of the Hagströmer Library publications was a new edition of Ehret’s plate. The task of engraving and printing a new plate exactly duplicating Ehret’s original was undertaken by Ateljé Larsen in Helsingborg, who had a copper plate printing press. The reproduction was printed on fine handmade paper (Hahnemühle 350 gr), the 24 figures were coloured by hand by Per Wendel and Björn Dal, and mounted with tissue guard in cream-coloured cardboard (1200 g from the Urshult paper-mill). The edition was strictly limited to 100 numbered copies. The last copy, number 100, was presented to Akihito, Emperor of Japan, during the Linnaeus Tercentenary in 2007 at the National Museum in Tokyo, when I had the honour of showing Linnaeus’ copy of his Systema Naturae for the Japanese Emperor and the King of Sweden. The reproduced plate was accompanied by a 32-page pamphlet about Ehret and his plate, for which our graphic designer, Lars Paulsrud, was awarded a diploma for one of the most beautiful prints in the year 2000.

For one week the Systema Naturae was on display at the National Museum in Tokyo. As a pendant a modern version, inspired by Ehret’s plate, of the 24 classes of Linnaeus’ sexual system was exhibited. It consisted of extremely detailed macro-photographs by Helene Schmitz. Her beautiful photographs were also reproduced in the book which became the official Linnaeus Jubilee book System och passion. Nils Uddenberg, who recently had published his work on the history of biology, Idéer om livet, wrote the text and the descriptions of the 24 classes in the Linnaeus system. 

Sponsored by Sven Hagströmer, Chairman of the Friends of the Hagströmer Library, the unique copy of the Systema Naturae went on a worldwide tour during the jubilee year starting at the National Museum in Stockholm, with the book as the centerpiece in a wonderful exhibition of flower paintings and colour plate books, some from the Hagströmer Library, to celebrate the so called King of Flowers. This also resulted in an illustrated catalogue, Blomsterspråk (2007). After the exhibition in Tokyo, the work went on to the Royal Academy of Sciences in Amsterdam, and thereafter to four famous libraries and museums in USA. The tour ended in the safe Treasury normally holding the so called Devil’s Bible (Codex Gigas), another unique book, in the Royal Library in Stockholm. A special exhibition of interesting provenances in books by Linnaeus was also shown and is described by Olof Kåhrström in Linnaeus’ Network, a catalogue with both an English and a Swedish version, numbers 3 and 4 in the Hagströmer Library series of publications.

Some of the most important contributions published during the Linnaeus Tercentenary in 2007 appeared in the Hagströmer Library series as follows: 

The first ever publication in the Hagströmer Library Series was, however indirectly, a work by Linneaus himself. In the 1740s Linnaeus held a series of lectures based on his rather short work Fundamenta botanica (Amsterdam, 1736). Here he goes into deeper detail to explain the contents of the 36 pages and in 1748 a diligent student, probably Pehr Osbeck, made careful notes of what was being said. This is the basis for Om botanikens grunder (2007), edited by Lars Bergquist and Carin Nynäs. Including comments and notes the work now consists of 502 pages.

Number three in the series is another heavy volume, edited by me, collecting all the material concerning and by Linnaeus published in the periodical Lärda Tidningar (2007). It contains, among other things, a number of reviews of books by Linnaeus – in all probability written by Linnaeus himself! Many rare texts are made available here and the book, whose full title is Herr archiatern och riddaren Linnaeus i Lärda Tidningar 1745-1780, met with critical acclaim and Professor Gunnar Eriksson of Uppsala University called it a “gold mine”.

A very handsome volume in the series is number 11, Ur regnskogens skugga. Daniel Rolander och resan till Surinam (2010). This is a translation of a large part of Daniel Rolander’s report from his journey to Surinam in 1755-1756. Besides Arne Jönsson’s translation from the Latin of the original manuscript, it has an essential essay by James Dobreff and photographs by Helene Schmitz.

Issued as number 12 was a biography of the prominent physician Abraham Bäck (1713-1795) who was a close friend of Linnaeus. The book is titled Abraham Bäck (2010) and the author, Thomas Ihre, is a direct descendant of Bäck. Much of the unique source material he used in writing about his ancestor is in the holdings of the Hagströmer Library.

Linnaeus is best remembered for his ordering of the species of plants and animals into a coherent system. But since he was a trained physician he also tried to apply similar systems of ordering to diseases. The abovementioned student Pehr Osbeck took notes at Linnaeus series of lectures 1746-1747 on the subject, Systema morborum, and these are preserved in the manuscript collection of the Hagströmer Library. There is a longer section that concerns mental illnesses, Morbi mentales, and this part has been edited (with notes and an extensive commentary) by Nils Uddenberg in Linné och mentalsjukdomarna (2012) as number 13 in the series.

I am pleased to have been acquainted with Birger Strandell (1901–1993), whose collection of Linnaeana was the largest outside of Uppsala and which was acquired by the Hunt Botanical Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, in 1968. The Strandell Collection contains a complete set of Linnaeus’ 186 dissertations, all accessible online today. I was also instrumental when two other great Linnaean collectors started to build their collections: Sven-Erik Sandermann Olsen in Copenhagen, whose collection (Bibliotheca Linnaeana Danica, ca 5000 items) is housed in The Danish National Library of Science and Medicine since 1989. The other collector was Torbjörn Lenskog whose Linnaean Collection now is one of the treasures in the Chiba Natural History Museum in Japan. 

In more recent times Lars Bergquist, former Swedish ambassador in Peking and the Vatican and known for his studies of the mystic Emanuel Swedenborg, has turned his interest to Linnaeus and built a fine collection. Lars and I often discussed the possibilities to fill the gaps in his collection of Linnaeus’ dissertations. I told him of the plan I once hatched with Lenskog to compile an illustrated and annotated catalogue of all the 186 Latin dissertations, with bibliographical descriptions and comments in English, a project, however, which at the time came to nothing.  We agreed that a contemporary edition presenting all the dissertations was necessary. After almost six years of work Lars Bergquist and Carina Nynäs now have provided a portrait of Linnaeus as viewed through his scientific works together with that of his students. In the form of short essays they have opened the doors to the diverse and thrilling scientific world of the eighteenth century. These kaleidoscopic glimpses might bring Linnaeus closer to contemporary readers. I have encouraged them from the very beginning of the project and up to the pending publication of A Linnaean Kaleidoscope. Linnaeus and his 186 Dissertations (2016). The two volumes, with altogether 890 pages, illustrated with all the engravings and all the title-pages to the original dissertations, are beautifully designed by Lars Paulsrud and the great work is published by Fri Tanke as the Hagströmer Library series of publications No. 21.

This work is a treasure trove for everyone interested in natural history and the history of medicine, botany, zoology, geology, mineralogy, ornithology, entomology, herpetology, food and drink, and so on. It may well become a standard work.

Ove Hagelin, 31 August 2016