Clerck, Carl Alexander

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Clerck, Carl Alexander

(b. Stockholm, Sweden, 1709; d. Stockholm, 22 July 1765),


Surprisingly little is known about Clerck’s life, and not even his birth date can be ascertained accurately. He studied at Uppsala University in 1726; but it is believed that during his short time there he had no contact with his contemporary Linnaeus, who later became his friend and supporter. Financial problems caused him to abandon his studies at Uppsala in 1727 and find work in the capital, where he subsequently became a tax agent. From early youth he showed an interest in natural history, but it was not until the age of thirty that he began the serious study of insects and spiders as a sideline to his daily work.

All during his life Clerck was in need of money, mainly because he himself had to pay for the color illustrations of his books. At his death he was so deeply in debt that his collections of animals, plants, and minerals had to be sold to satisfy his creditors. The insect collection was purchased by Petter Jonas Bergius, who bequeathed it to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. (At present it is the Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet in Stockholm).

Clerck was a practical man, not only observing the life of spiders and insects in the field but also inventing apparatus for collecting and preserving them. Among his inventions are “butterfly tongs” (a basic tong structure with a pair of flat, mesh “paddles” at the ends) and an ingenious box for collecting spiders.

Clerck’s fame is based mainly on two, works, Aranei Suecici (1757) and Icones insectorum rariorum (1759–1764). The former became a standard work for spider nomenclature and is the only exception to the accepted fact that modern scientific nomenclature began in 1758 with Linnaeus’ Systema naturae. Icones, one of the greatest rarities among entomological books, deals with Swedish and tropical butterflies and moths; the illustrations were made from specimens in the Queen Lovisa Ulrika collection. The butterfly plates, which Clerck designed with great skill, were hand-colored by C. M. Rising, Erik Borg, and J. A. Aleander; the artistic quality is uneven, however, and the reproductions frequently vary from copy to copy.


Clerck’s two main works are Aranei Suecici—Svenska spindlar uti sina Hufvud-Slagter indelte (Stockholm, 1757), with 6 hand-colored plates; and Icones insectorum rariorum cum nominibus eorum trivialibus, locisque e C. Linnaei syst. nat. allegatis, 2 vols. (Stockholm, 1759–1764). Vol. I has 16 hand-colored plates and vol. II has 39; both have indexes. Vol. III, unfinished, has 7 plates, 3 of which are colored; there is no text. There are several variants of the Icones, differing mainly in the title page and the separate plates; uncolored as well as partly colored copies exist.

An article describing the “butterfly tongs” is “Några Anmärkningar, angående Insecter. 1. Beskrifning på en Phalaena. 2. Beskrifning på en Tång, at fånga Fjärillar och Insecter. 3. Om Kårk-Bottnars nytta i Insect-Cabinetter,” in Kungliga Svenska vetenskapsakademiens handlingar, 16 (1755), 214–216, tab. 1; and one on the box for collecting spiders is “Om Spindlars fångande och födande,” in Kungliga Svenska vetenskapsakademiens handlingar, 22 (1761) 243–245, tab. 1.

Important information on the Icones is in P. C. Zeller, “Caroli Clerck Icones insectorum rariorum 1759, kritisch bestimmt,” in Stettiner entomologische Zeitung, 14 (1853), 199–214, 239–254, 271–294.

Bengt-Olof Landin