'I fainted at the sight of Hill's great work' - legendary botanical book comes to auction

Ketterer Kunst's latest auction of rare books will be upon us in two weeks' time, and a brief flick through their catalogue confirms that it will be another unmissable event for collectors of fine old tomes.

One of the highlights is simply titled The Vegetable System with the description 'the internal structure and the life of herbs; their parts, and nourishment, explained; their classes, orders, genera, and species, ascertained, and described; in a method altogether new: comprehending an artificial index, and a natural system.'

The collection of 13 volumes presents figures of all the plants. With 1544 coloured copperplates (among them 2 doublets), it was self-published in London in 1761-75.

It boasts splendid folio bindings in contemporary brown calf with broad triple gilt fillet ornamental borders and gilt-tooled monogram "ARK" in corners, with four floral gilt-tooled borders in between as well as gilt spine. The spines have been renewed in the old style.

Universally regarded as one of the greatest and most comprehensive botanic publications of the 18th century here in a clean and untrimmed copy, the work is extremely rare in this completeness .

All volumes are those published in first edition, except for volumes I and XXI, which are in the second edition.

Hill the Vegetable System
One of the dramatic plates from The Vegetable System

This is most extensive botanical publication in England in the eighteenth century and a celebrated rarity in its complete state.

"The Vegetable system is of great importance because it gives for the first time in the vernacular a comprehensive treatment of the plant kingdom, on a lavish scale and with coloured illustrations, adopting the Linnaean generic names and introducing binary nomenclature" according to the expert Stafleu.

The first volume was still pre-Linnaean, but from volume II onward the Linnaean binomials were used. Numerous species were described for the first time, most being recently introduced exotics. Linnaeus commented of Hill's monumental work:

"I fainted at the sight of Hill's great work .. with the most beautiful plates of plants on each alternate page, but I could weep when I saw such costly work without botanical science".

Ketterer Kunst's auction takes place on May 23-24 in Hamburg with absentee bidding available. The auctioneer has previously had success with botanical works, selling Weinmann's botanical text Phytanthoza-Iconographia for €56,000 ($80,000) in 2009.

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