2 system of Linnaeus /Virtual Book Fair 106


Description: Queen Charlotte Sophia's copy, with 104 coloured proof plates, 104 uncoloured plates in final form, 4 additional coloured plates and an original dedicatory watercolour drawing

Illustratio systematis sexualis Linnaei, ...

London, published and sold by the author at his house ..., [1770-]1777. 3 volumes. Imperial folio (54 x 38 cm). Contemporary uniform gold-tooled mottled calf, sewn at 7 stations, richly gold-tooled spine with red and green title labels, each board with a border made with a flower roll, gold-tooled board edges, curl-marbled endpapers. Richly engraved frontispiece with medallion portraits of Miller and Linnaeus at the head, 3 engraved title-pages (identical except for the manuscript volume numbers), 2 series of engraved botanical plates (each series numbered in manuscript 1-104), each series printed from the same 104 plates, but that in volume 1 in proof-states (with no headings, imprints or other text in the plates) and beautifully hand-coloured, that in volumes 2 & 3 in black and white with titles and imprints, and 4 further plates, numbered I-IV, showing 178 varieties of leaves, finely hand-coloured. With a full-page allegorical dedicatory pen and watercolour drawing for Queen Charlotte of England on the end-leaf before the frontispiece of the first volume, and a professionally lettered index covering all 3 volumes, specially made for this dedication copy, at the end of volume 3.

Dedication copy, with a stunning original pen and watercolour drawing in honour of Queen Charlotte of England, of the first edition of a highly esteemed illustrated book on the sexual system of Linnaeus, published in 20 parts from 1775 to 1777, with some plates issued as completed from 1770 onward. Our copy is bound in three volumes, with the volume numbers professionally lettered on the title-pages in ink. Volumes 2 and 3 contain the suite of plates in black and white (1-51 and 52-104 respectively) plus the four hand-coloured plates showing 178 varieties of plant leaves, each plate with an engraved title and imprint. Volume 1 contains a suite of the same 104 plates in proof states with no lettering, all in a fine contemporary hand-colouring. Each suite of plates is numbered in ink (1-104). After the title-page, volume 1 contains a letterpress leaf with preface in Latin and English on the recto with the texts of 4 letters from Linnaeus to Miller below. The verso gives a list of subscribers headed by Queen Charlotte ("2 sets", meaning the two sets bound in the present three volumes), with the others following alphabetically. The entire list accounts for only about 85 subscribers to about 114 copies, including the booksellers P(eter) Elmsley, (James) Robson and B(enjamin) White (10 sets each), famous figures such as Joseph Banks, David Garrick, William Pitcairn and Philip Earl Stanhope, and many major libraries and noblemen, including several abroad. But the list also includes a few professional gardeners: (William) Aiton, gardener to His Majesty at Kew, and two men described as nurserymen: James Lee in Hammersmith and William Malcolm in Kennington. Volumes 2-3 include a 4-page letterpress explanation of the classification system, and each plate faces a leaf with a letterpress page in Latin and English giving botanical details of the various parts of the plant, keyed to figure numbers and element letters in the plate. The four plates with various kinds of leaves at the end are accompanied by 3 letterpress leaves with 1 or 2 pages of text for each plate. A leaf with a professionally lettered 1-page manuscript index covering all three volumes (specially made for this dedication copy) ends the final volume.
John Miller, born as Johann Müller at Nuremberg in Germany in 1715, went in 1744 to England where he lived and worked until his death in 1790. He sent some of his plates to Linnaeus, who was greatly impressed, and replied to Miller that his plates were more beautiful and accurate than any seen since the beginning of the world. The work also contained the first description and illustration of the "Cassyta bassifera" (= Rhipsalis baccifera). The present copy of this rare and impressive flower book is especially valuable for its beautiful dedicatory watercolour drawing for Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), wife of King George III of England. Probably drawn by Miller himself, it shows Father Time and Britannia seated at the foot of an obelisk looking at the inscription "Charlotta Regina" that an angel just incised on it. A smoking incense burner sits on top of the obelisk, which two putti adorn with garlands while a herald angel blows its trumpet emitting the word "extendo". The whole is veiled in thick clouds and below it appears the winged decorated royal device bearing the legend "honi soit qui mal y pense".

Water stain in upper outside corner of one plate and one text leaf in volume 3, and 2 of the plates of leaf varieties foxed, but generally in fine condition. The ink of the uncoloured plates has sometimes caused a shadow on the facing text page. The spine, joints and board edges have been expertly restored, with the loss of much of the gold-tooling on the spine of volume 1. A magnificent dedication copy for Queen Charlotte of England of one of the greatest monuments of botanical art and science, with an original dedicatory watercolour drawing, and the 104 plates in both coloured proof states and uncoloured final states.
Blunt, p. 150; Dunthorne 206; Henrey 1153; Great flower books, p. 68; Nissen, BBI 1372; Plesch, p. 336; Pritzel 6523; Soulsby 667.

An illustration of the sexual system of Linnaeus,
  • Number: 1060100
  • Dealer: Speculum Orbis Nauticum