The Society was founded on, and still holds, the library, manuscripts and specimen collections of the Swedish taxonomist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778). The Linnaean Collections were acquired from the widow of Carl Linnaeus in 1784 by Sir James Edward Smith, founder of the Linnean Society. Smith went on to found the Linnean Society so that Linnaeus’ collections could be preserved, studied and enjoyed by future generations.
A guided tour of the Linnaean Collections is available during our monthly Treasures Tours.
The Linnaean specimen collections comprise the specimens of plants, fish, shells and insects which belonged to Carl Linnaeus. They are an invaluable resource for the study of taxonomy, and support scientific work protecting global diversity. Other Linnaean specimens are kept at the University of Uppsala's Museum of Evolution.
The Linnaean Herbarium contains over 14,000 specimens, many pre-dating Linnaeus’s seminal work, Species Plantarum (1753). More than 4,000 specimens are type specimens for Linnaean names. A type specimen is a specimen which is permanently associated with a given scientific name, and acts as a permanent reference to confirm the identity of the species to which the name must apply.
The herbarium includes plants from Asia, Europe and the Americas collected during a time of intense exploration of new lands.
The Society’s Linnaean herbarium is particularly rare because it is an example of a personal herbarium of a famous scientist that has been kept in its original state and not been remounted or relabelled.
The Society holds ca. 9,000 insect specimens, including some 3,200 Linnaean ones, of which many are important types.
The insects collection includes butterflies and Hymenoptera. By the time of his death in 1778, Linnaeus had named some 305 species of butterfly, all but 6 of which still bear their Linnaean name today.
After acquiring the collections from the widow of Linnaeus in 1784, Sir James Edward Smith, the founder and first President of the Linnean Society, added his own specimens to the collection, almost trebling its size. Because of difficulties in recognising all the material interpolated by Smith it has been maintained as a single historic collection.
The collection holds 168 fish specimens consisting mostly of dried skins from one side, sometimes incorporating half of the skeleton.
There are a number of important type specimens in the collection, including the John Dory Zeus faber.
Linnaeus observed fishes when travelling around Sweden. He is thought to have collected 48 of the extant 168 specimens, assiduously writing up his findings in many published accounts. His main taxonomic influence was his good friend Petrus Artedi (1705-1735), a brilliant ichthyologist. After Artedi’s early death, Linnaeus edited and completed his work on fishes, publishing it posthumously for him as the Ichthyologia (1753).
Shells and Supplementary Collections
There are over 3,000 shells with reliable Linnaean provenance.
There is also a limited number of “supplementary” collections containing corals, barnacles, crabs, brachiopods, sea urchins, starfish, sponges, and foraminifera.
The collections include verified type material. All major worldwide groups of shells are represented, the coverage reflecting the stage of exploration that had been reached in the early 19th century.
In the 1750s, Using the freshwater mussel Unio pictorum L., Linnaeus produced the first ‘artificial’ spherical pearls ever cultured in any mollusc, from salt or freshwater. These are now part of the Linnaean Collections.
A set of Linnaeus’ experimental pearls travelled the world from 2001 to 2007 as part of the exhibition “Pearls” organised by the American Museum of Natural History in New York. They have been exhibited in Abu Dhabi, Australia, Canada, Japan, and The United States.
The private library of Linnaeus (some 1,600 volumes) consists of the books Linnaeus used as reference material, many of them given to him by fellow naturalists and admirers all over the world.
The oldest book in Linnaeus’ Library is a beautifully restored Herbal dating from 1488.
Linnaeus's library also includes all the students' dissertations that he supervised. Most importantly, it contains Linnaeus’s own copies of his works, many of them copiously annotated in his own hand.
The Linnaean Correspondence collection held by the Linnean Society contains over 4,000 letters from 600 different correspondents.
The letters are an invaluable source of information for interpreting other parts of the collections. The earliest letters date from the 1730s, when Linnaeus was still a relatively young man. They continue up to his death in 1778 and beyond, as correspondents kept in touch with his son, Carl Linnaeus the Younger, after Linnaeus's death.
The Linnaean Correspondence Project is an electronic edition of the entire correspondence of Linnaeus. It includes letters held at the Linnean Society and in other repositories world-wide. The Project publishes the complete text of the letters sent and received by Linnaeus, together with summaries in English.
The uniquely important collection of manuscripts is closely related to the Linnaean Collection of botanical and zoological specimens.
It comprises working papers, drafts for publication, lecture notes, and miscellaneous manuscripts of other naturalists covering almost all aspects of the botanical, zoological, mineralogical, museological, medical, and bibliographical interests of Linnaeus, father and son.
A highlight of these are the famous travel diaries made in Lapland, Oland and Gotland.
Included in the Linnaean manuscripts collection are the Johann Reinhold Forster Manuscripts. Their transcriptions and translations are available as PDFs.
The Society owns several portraits of Linnaeus at different stages of his life, and two large portfolios containing hundreds of engravings and reproductions of images of Linnaeus, as well as images associated with him.
There is a published catalogue of Linnaean portraits: Tycho Tullberg, Linnéporträtt vid Uppsala Universitets Minnefest…, Stockholm, Aktiebolaget, 1907.
Medals, Sculpture and Seals
The Linnaean Collections include numerous commemorative portrait medallions and statues, as well as a collection of seals which includes impressions made from the seals of the many scientists with whom Linnaeus corresponded.
A useful bibliography for Linnaean medallions, medals, etc is: Wisehn, Eva, Images of Linnaeus: coins, medals and banknotes (Stockholm: The Royal Coin Cabinet & London: The Linnean Society of London)