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Linneansk naturalhistoria på marknaden: Materialitet, handel och förändring
Dalarna University, School of Humanities and Media Studies, History.
2017 (English)In: Svenska Linnésällskapets årsskrift, ISSN 0375-2038, p. 7-44Article in journal (Other academic) Accepted
Abstract [en]

Linnaean Natural History on the Market: Materiality, Trade and Change

This article discusses the market for natural history collections with a Linnaean provenance in the eighteenth century, as well as the emerging use of binomial names in the trade with natural history specimens. The article begins with assessments of the monetary value of Linnaeus’s conserved plants and animals prior to James Edward Smith’s purchase in 1783 of the collections. This is summarized in Table 1. I argue that Linnaeus’s high estimates of the value of his collections probably reflect the booming market for natural history specimens in mid-eighteenth-century Sweden. The Swedish interest in natural history is also evident in the high prices paid by prominent Swedes in Amsterdam for natural history specimens in the middle third of the eighteenth century. Linnaeus appears to have been unaware of the downward price trends and less buoyant Swedish market that can be detected after the 1750s when he priced his specimens, dividing his material, scholarly heritage between his children. The high price paid for Linnaeus’s collections, once they were sold to Smith in 1783, however, reflects the rise of London as a center of commerce for natural history in late eighteenth-century Europe.

The following section focuses on the material dimension, foregrounding preservation, presentation and fashion, including how, in late eighteenth-century London, evaluations of the specimen collections Linnaeus used in his taxonomic work changed, reflecting Linnaeus’s shifting status within the history of natural history. A focus on the material dimension reveals that different materials were more or less costly, corresponding to their fragility and perceived beauty. The material dimension reveals the extent to which Linnaeus’s taxonomy concurred with mid-eighteenth century fashions in interior design. But his structures could also operate outside of those aesthetic ideals. While the Linnaean order was replicated and diff used across royal and elite collections, as well as in more humble environments, it became outdated scientifically by the end of the eighteenth century. Meanwhile a growing awareness of the historical dimension of the recent developments of natural history evolved. London, the new home of the Linnaean collection and other collections with a Linnaean provenance, offered a place where Linnaeus’s collections could shift from being modern to becoming historically important, within a relatively short time span, thereby saving them from the ravages of time, in the form of moths, dust, and other destructive forces of nature. Revolutions and wars on the Continent, and a growing Empire, enhanced London’s position as the staple market for natural history as the nineteenth century evolved.

The market and the use of binary names when selling natural history specimens at auctions in eighteenth-century Europe, particularly in Sweden and England, is also explored. Late eighteenth-century commercial practices surrounding natural history, particularly the use of auctions, reveal how Linnaeus’s new nomenclature became a tool for selling and/or buying natural history. The use of binary names started off as a compromise, mediating between buyers who “loved” order, and those who “loved” variety. But to assign valid scientific names were not cheap as naturalists had to be employed to do it, conferring with already dedicated names and established genera. New names were also not always valid, as naturalists could be prompted by collectors to distinguish and name new species, rather than new varieties, so as to add value to a collection. This of course brings us back to the centrality of collections stretching far back in time, for determining the identity of species and genera. All in all, the development outlined above suggests that the relocation and conservation of the Linnaean collections, as well as the broadening use of Linnaean nomenclature, is embedded in a history of trade, materiality and consumption.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Lund, 2017. p. 7-44
National Category
Humanities and the Arts History
Research subject
Intercultural Studies
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:du-26622OAI: oai:DiVA.org:du-26622DiVA, id: diva2:1160529
Funder
Swedish Research Council, 2010-1356Available from: 2017-11-27 Created: 2017-11-27 Last updated: 2017-11-28Bibliographically approved

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