Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice


    John Miller's Illustration of the Sexual System of Linnaeus, with 108 Beautifully Hand-Colored Engraved Plates, "more beautiful and more accurate than any that had been seen since the world began"

    John [Sebastian] Miller. Illustratio systematis sexualis Linnaei...An Illustration of the Sexual System of Linnaeus...London: Printed for R. Faulder, 1794.
    Reissue of the 1770-1777 edition. Two large folio volumes (21.125 x 14.375 inches; 536 x 365 mm.). Engraved frontispiece, engraved title, list of subscribers (one leaf), "Explanation of the XXIV Classes of the Genera Plantarum" (two leaves), "Errata" (one leaf at end of the second volume), and 108 beautifully hand-colored engraved plates. This copy without the 108 uncolored plates. Title and text in Latin and English. Each plate with leaf (or leaves) of descriptive letterpress. In this copy the plates and letterpress are interleaved. Some plates without lettering, some with lettering printed in brown. Several plates in the second volume with faint numbers visible (61, 62, 63, 65, 66, 68, 69, 70, 71, 73, 74, 75, 82, 85, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 100, 105, and 106). A few plates slightly shorter and possibly supplied. Each plate with guard sheet.
    Modern half dark brown crushed levant morocco, ruled in gilt, over marbled boards. Spine lettered in gilt in compartments with five slightly raised bands. All leaves mounted on guards. Engraved frontispiece with corner renewed, and a few short marginal tears repaired; engraved title with short tears to lower corner, upper corner, outer margin, and small paper repair to outer margin; a few plates and text leaves with short marginal tears. Small stain in the upper margin of a few plates; a few dark streaks in the center of the plate "Classis X. Ordo II. Decandria Digynia Saxifraga." Some slight edge browning to both plates and text leaves. A few leaves of text with considerable offsetting and slight crinkling. An excellent copy. Each volume protected in a quarter brown leather over linen clamshell case.
    Originally issued in twenty parts between 1770 and 1777, and according to the list of subscribers 105 copies were ordered by 85 individuals: Queen Charlotte subscribed for two copies, whilst the booksellers P. Elmsley and B. White each took ten copies. The plates were issued in both colored and uncolored states (with only the colored plates present in this copy). Once the subscriptions had been filled, there were evidently sets of surplus text and colored plates. Henrey records a copy of the work in the Natural History Museum Library with a new 1794 title-page, with R. Faulder as publisher. This re-set title accompanies a suite of the colored plates made up from what appears to be "the surplus of the plates of the [1770-]1777 edition" (Henrey III, page 95).
    Dunthorne 207. Great Flower Books, page 68. Henrey 1153. Nissen, BBI, 1372.
    Linnaeus himself considered Miller's plates in An Illustration of the Sexual System of Linnaeus "'more beautiful and more accurate than any that had been since the world began'; though unequal in quality, the best of them are certainly impressive. More than a thousand of Miller's original drawings are in the Natural History Museum, London, and the Lindley Library of the Royal Horticultural Society contains a copy of his rare Botanical Tables, financed by Lord Bute and published at vast expense in an edition of only twelve copies" (Great Flower Books, page 33).
    Please visit for an extended description of this lot.

    More Information:

    Engraver and botanist John Sebastian Miller (formerly Johann Sebastian Müller, 1715-1792) "was born in Nuremberg, Germany, where his father was a gardener at the Stromerischen Garten...In 1744 with his brother Tobias, an architectural engraver, he emigrated to England where, by July, he was working for the art dealer Arthur Pond on various landscape prints...He also worked for other publishers: in March 1747 an allegorical piece featuring medallion portraits of the royal family and dedicated 'To all True Britons, Lovers of Liberty and the Present Succession' celebrated the survival of the Hanoverian regime. Soon Miller was publishing on his own account. His first advertised publication, in April 1748, was a large print of a 'Tyger' after the Augsburg artist Johann Elias Ridinger. He maintained an energetic and varied practice, engraving and often designing a large number of book illustrations including illustrations to Thomson, Swift, Dryden, Young, Milton, Evelyn, and Gray with vignettes for Baskerville's editions of Horace and Virgil. He engraved twenty-six plates of furniture and his brother Tobias twenty-three for Thomas Chippendale's Director (1753) and he worked for the University of Oxford on engravings of the Arundel marbles (1763-4) and on some almanacs...By the 1760s Miller was established as a leading designer and engraver of historical and portrait prints...Throughout his life Miller's career had a second strand. His principal passion had always been botany, or so he claimed in the preface to his most significant work, An Illustration of the Sexual System of Linnaeus (1770-77). There he spoke of his 'early inclination to Botany' and his 'desire of rendering his Profession as an Engraver subservient to the Cultivation of his favourite Science'. His first major contribution to the illustration of this science came with his plates for Philip Miller's Figures of the most beautiful, useful and uncommon plants, described in the gardener's dictionary (1758). In 1759, with Philip Miller's support, he proposed 'one hundred prints, exhibiting a curious collection of Plants and Insects', but this project failed after ten plates had been published. The Sexual System of Linnaeus, Miller's greatest work, was launched in 1770 with the support of Gowin Knight, librarian of the British Museum, and completed in parts in 1776. The first two numbers were sent to Linnaeus in December 1770 and received his enthusiastic endorsement. The three folios issued in 1777 contained 108 coloured plates, 109 uncoloured, and 109 sheets of letterpress in Latin and English. In a highly decorated frontispiece Miller depicted himself facing Linnaeus in homage. This portrait was taken by C. J. Maillet in 1787, reversed, and published in a French edition of Philip Miller's Gardener's Dictionary with the caption 'Directeur du jardin de botanique des apothecaires de Chelsea' in the mistaken belief that it represented the dictionary's author. Miller published an octavo edition of this work in 1779 and in 1780 attempted to launch another ambitious series dealing with new plants, but of this only seven plates were published. He engraved all the plates to Lord Bute's nine-volume Botanical Tables (1785), and there is a further series of unpublished botanical drawings made for Bute in 1783 and 1784 in the Natural History Museum, London" (Timothy Clayton in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online).

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2015
    8th-9th Wednesday-Thursday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 0
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 565

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    25% on the first $100,000 (minimum $14), plus 20% of any amount between $100,000 and $1,000,000, plus 12% of any amount over $1,000,000 per lot.

    Sold for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Consign to the 2020 July 12 Vintage Guitars & Musical Instruments Musical Instruments Signature Auction - Dallas.

    Learn about consigning with us

    We had a wonderful time in New York during the October 2013 Historical Manuscripts auction that featured my mother’s papers collected during her tenure as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s secretary. In fact, the entire experience from beginning to end has been a pleasure.
    Howard Ballou,
    Brandon, MS
    View More Testimonials receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source:

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search

    Recent auctions

    2019 December 14 Historic Flags of World War II Signature Auction - Dallas
    2019 December 14 Historic Flags of World War II Signature Auction - Dallas
    REALIZED $1,016,674