not including astronomical watches
See also : Sciences Ancient science Sciences 1600-1800 Sciences > 1800 Physics Autograph 16th century books 17th century books Ancient England
Chronology : 1680-1699
1336 Astrolabe for the Use of Cordoba
2021 SOLD for £ 740K including premium
The map of the respective positions of the stars is immutable although the absolute position varies with latitude, altitude and time. The position of the sun also meets strict rules. The astrolabe is an instrument of very high complexity which allows to correlate all these variables in measurements of great accuracy.
The astrolabe was described for the first time around 550 in Alexandria but its improvement is essentially the work of the Muslim astronomers. In the tenth century of our calendar an enthusiastic theorist listed about 1000 different uses of this truly universal instrument, in the etymological meaning of 'universal'.
The use of the astrolabe extends of course to all the Muslim world as far as Spain, but the most advanced theoretical and practical treatises remain the work of the astronomers of the Middle East.
On March 31 in London, Sotheby's sells an astrolabe mixing Western and Arab influences, lot 66 estimated £ 600K.
The instrument is dated 737 AH corresponding to 1336-37 CE. It is signed by a craftsman who is not known elsewhere but whose name is significant, Ahmad ibn Abi 'Abdallah al-Qurtubi al-Yamani, located in Tudela, a Navarrese town between Pamplona and Zaragoza. The author's name means that he is of Yemeni origin but had resided in Cordoba, thus combining two of the main centers of production of the astrolabes.
The 12 cm diameter instrument is made of brass. All components except the mater have been gilded, probably later. The alidade, which is used to measure the position of the stars, is missing.
Only one plate has survived. It is for the use of Cordoba with a latitude of 38° 30'. The gap under the rete leaves a place for a second plate. The rete is ornamental although its star pointers are in the pragmatic comma shape, according to Eastern practice.
The throne which carries the suspension holes is in Sevillian style. The structure of the rete seems to be of European inspiration. The choice of the star catalog is Western. The inscriptions are in an elegant mixed Andalusi Kufic script.
1505 The Computer of the Ottoman Sky
2014 SOLD for £ 960K including premium
This instrument of very high complexity in its geometric design and of remarkable sharp engraving reached an angular accuracy around one degree.
Muslim astronomers have developed this instrument for centuries, from the late second century AH. Nearly all celestial phenomena were used as references or studied: solstices, equinoxes, eclipses, planet motions. The precision was so high that the error brought by the precession of the equinoxes can now be used to date the instrument.
In seeking the knowledge of the sky, astronomers also aimed at astrology and watched the zodiacal signs.
The Sultan Bayezid II encouraged astronomy. Two astrolabes made for the use of his court are known. One of them is estimated £ 800K, for sale by Sotheby's in London on October 8, lot 135.
This brass instrument of 9.5 cm diameter is complete with all its fixed and rotating parts. The knob for the rotation on the central axis is later.
This astrolabe is indeed a masterpiece of Ottoman science, with numerous engraved inscriptions and reduced decoration. The choice of the reference star is made by the user among no less than fifteen star pointers.
It is signed and dated 911 AH, corresponding to 1505 to 1506 in our calendar. The fact that the author is not otherwise recorded just means that he did not write a treatise.
1540 Visit to an Old Canon
2016 SOLD for £ 1.8M including premium
Georg Joachim Rheticus was fond of astronomy, perhaps as a result of the appearance of the comet of 1531. He enrolled at the University of Wittenberg led by Melanchthon, the theoretician of Lutheranism.
As early as 1536, Rheticus was appointed professor of mathematics. Barely released from astrology, astronomy was at that time a branch of mathematics. The learned calculations made by Regiomontanus in the previous century had fruitfully revived the speculation about the true movements of the planets.
Two years later, Melanchthon allows Rheticus to suspend his teaching for a tour of Europe where he will visit the humanists. He hears of an old canon who spent his lifetime improving his astronomical calculations at such a point to solve the old issue of the motion of Earth, discussed since antiquity.
Rheticus so becomes the assistant to Copernicus in Frauenburg (Frombork). For nearly thirty years, the canon had refined the text of his demonstration of the heliocentric system, sometimes sending manuscripts to the very few scholars able to understand it. He does not think to edit because of an obvious difficulty to print his figures.
Rheticus supports Copernicus with enthusiasm. The younger scientist prepares a comprehensible summary with the agreement of the master. Printed in Gdansk in 1540, that 'De libris revolutionum ... narratio prima' is the first report ever published on heliocentrism. The theory is clearly and fully attributed to Copernicus without indicating the name of his efficient collaborator.
This first edition is extremely rare. A copy is estimated £ 1.2M for sale by Christie's in London on July 13, lot 87.
1543 That Copernicus book revolutionized the science
2008 SOLD 2.2 M$ including premium
Of relatively small size (20 x 27 cm, 202 pages), this book that forever changed the design we had of the universe is decorated with woodcuts and tables of calculations.
A copy of the original edition is now for sale at Christie's, lot 60 of the sale of New York on June 17. It is nicely printed, and remained extremely clean. In its flexible binding of same period, it was part of a prestigious library during the seventeenth century.
Its estimate? 900 K $.
One of my previous articles made me review the fate in two April auctions of books by other big names in science, including De humani corporis of Vesalus, also of 1543. This very important book did not find a buyer in Paris on April 23 for 140 K €, at Pierre Bergé et Associés.
New York is not Paris, but I am afraid that Christie's get some difficulties to sell this book.
POST SALE COMMENT
After revolutionizing science, this book has just revolutionized the auction world: $ 2.2 million fees included. It is a very important result for a an exceptional specimen of one of the most significant books in the history of our civilization.
2021 SOLD for $ 880K by Bonhams
Kepler understood that the heliocentric model of Copernicus was not enough. The demonstration proposed by Copernicus is admirable but is indeed nothing more than a calculation.
Kepler had a poor eyesight and was not himself an astronomer. He joined the team of Tycho Brahe in Prague. Kepler used the highly accurate observations made by Brahe while opposing his planetary system that did not explain the orbit of Mars. His own work led him to demonstrate that the orbit of a planet is not circular but elliptical.
He now sees the sun as a motor that generates a greater speed when the planet is closer and compares this effect to a magnet. Newton will rely directly on Kepler's results to formulate the law of universal gravitation.
Kepler prepares from 1600 to 1606 the presentation of his first two laws, summarized above. A dispute with Brahe's heirs suspends the publication until 1609. The title, Astronomia nova, shows Kepler's rightful ambition to offer a completely new approach in this domain. Astrophysics was indeed born with this book.
The printed quantity is very small : the author is an employee of the Emperor Rudolph II and the edition is done without a commercial intent. To compensate for some salary delays, Kepler obtains the right to sell a few copies.
Copies of Astronomia Nova was sold for £ 212K by Sotheby's on May 20, 2014, and fot $ 230K i by Christie's on June 17, 2008.
The next scientific wonder is the development of abstract mathematics with Napier's theory of the logarithms, published in 1614, simplifying the multiplication by establishing a corresponding table which can be used by addition.
The second law of Kepler, about the speed of the planets, was better characterized by him as the fact that a line segment between a planet and the sun sweeps out equal areas during equal intervals of time. He will be one of the earliest scientific users of the logarithms. His third law, known as the harmonic law, defines a relationship between the distance of planets from the Sun, and their orbital periods.
On October 25, 2022, Bonhams sold for $ 880K an autograph working scientific manuscript in Latin by Johannes Kepler, in four pages 22 x 34 cm, lot 1009.
That early trial of using logarithms for calculating the movements of the planets is densely written with many deletions and emendations. Its terminus post quem is 1618 when Kepler got a copy of Napier's tables. The terminus ante quem is the publishing by Kepler of his third law in 1619. The manuscript narrated above was published by him in 1620.
1687 Principia by NEWTON
One of his outstanding skills was to develop mathematical methods of high complexity to analyze and support his own physical theories. Even before he was 30, he compared the motion of the planets and the fall of the bodies. Essentially preoccupied with his own understanding of the mechanism of the universe, he published reluctantly.
2016 SOLD for $ 3.7M by Christie's
The scientific stake is highly important and Halley manages to persuade Newton to disclose in their entirety his results concerning the law of universal gravitation. Edited and financed by Halley, Newton's Latin book entitled Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica is published in 1687 with the imprimatur of the Royal Society.
The book is difficult in the opinion of the author himself and the circulation probably did not exceed 300 copies but it is of such scientific importance that Halley and Newton took care of organizing their sale through booksellers. One of them named Samuel Smith is more specifically entrusted to the supply onto the Continent and receives about 50 copies for that purpose.
On December 14, 2016, Christie's sold one of the Smith 'Continental' presentation copies of the Principia for $ 3.7M from a lower estimate of $ 1M, lot 167. It is bound in its original unrestored morocco with gold and red inlays. The recipient is not identified.
2013 SOLD for $ 2.5M by Christie's
It had been presented by Halley to King James II, patron of the Royal Society. The Royal bindings from that reign are extremely rare.
1694 Autograph Notes by Newton and Gregory
2021 SOLD for £ 1.7M by Christie's
David Gregory was one of the happy few who were skilled to construct on the Principia. A professor of mathematics at the University of Edinburgh, he was 17 years younger than Newton. He was the first to lecture on the Principia and began communicating with Newton. In 1691 Newton managed to have Gregory elected to the Savilian chair of astronomy at the University of Oxford.
In May 1694 Gregory visited Newton in Cambridge in a six day working session based on the proposed revisions to the Principia. Their combined autograph manuscripts are heavily revised working documents based on the texts under discussion from throughout the Principia.
A scrap of paper 22 x 19 cm escaped for an unknown reason the deposit of Gregory's papers at the Royal Institution in the 1860s. These one and a half pages in Latin include 39 lines in Newton’s hand, alongside 14 lines and two diagrams by Gregory. They deal with three topics : the force acting in the compression of liquids, the orbit of the comets, the build of conic figures on centripetal forces.
This unpublished scientific draft was sold for £ 1.7M from a lower estimate of £ 600K by Christie's on July 8, 2021, lot 22. Please watch the video shared by the auction house. The tweets illustrate both sides of the paper.
#AuctionUpdate A remarkable scientific manuscript by Sir Isaac Newton sold for £1,702,500, setting a new #WorldAuctionRecord for an #IsaacNewton manuscript. The manuscript contains autograph notes showing one of history's greatest scientific minds at work. □ □ pic.twitter.com/5CPmOmsiIO— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) July 8, 2021
1745-1749 The Scientific Archives of Cirey
2012 SOLD for € 960K including premium by Christie's
2018 SOLD for € 510K including premium
Helped by Maupertuis and Clairaut, the Marquise du Châtelet is able to understand and comment on Newton and Leibniz. In their château de Cirey, the marquis admires the exceptional intelligence of his wife and closes his eyes on her loves.
In 1734 Voltaire is disgraced. The Marquise lodges him in Cirey. She is 27 years old. The philosopher learns from his mistress the mathematics and physics that he had largely neglected until then.
The Marquise is a tireless worker. Her manuscripts, often written by secretaries and extensively reworked by her, surfaced a few years ago in an attic. Important pieces were sold by Christie's on October 29, 2012. A call for donations had been issued for an acquisition by the French State and 1400 researchers from around the world had signed a petition for a pre-emption. Both moves were unsuccessful because of the high prices that were expected.
The top lot was a set of 35 workbooks prepared from 1745 to 1749 by Madame du Châtelet for the didactic abstracts accompanying her translation of Newton's Principia Mathematica. Estimated € 400K, it was acquired in that sale for € 960K including premium by the Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits de Paris which had immediately communicated its commitment to exhibit it to the public.
The museum was managed by Aristophil. In the same sale, Aristophil had anonymously acquired 8 lots of manuscripts by the Marquise, 2 lots of manuscripts by Voltaire on Newton and a portrait of the Marquise attributed to Marie-Anne Loir.
These 12 lots will be sold in Paris - Drouot on November 19 by OVA, the company in charge of the legal dispersion of the Aristophil collections. The auction is operated by Artcurial. Pieces from the 2012 sale are now lots 679 to 690. The abstracts of the Principia are the lot 689.
Lot 689 SOLD for € 510K including premium
1913 Relativity by Einstein and Besso
2021 SOLD for € 11.7M by Aguttes-Perrine
In physics it is not uneasy to propose theories and equations. None of them is valid until it is verified by an experience.
There was a discrepancy in the application of Newton's universal gravitation theory : the orbit of Mercury, the nearest planet to the sun, is not perfectly elliptic. The tiny discrepancy is 43 seconds of arc per century at the perihelion.
In June 1913 in Zurich, Einstein and his lifelong friend Michele Besso manage a working session on the Mercury issue. Einstein's unprecedented intuition is that the gravity must be distorted by the rotation.
The two friends create and test equations in a method of trial and error. None of them matches the expected result of 43 seconds per century. After some additions in early 1914, Besso keeps their working notes.
This autograph draft document is made of 54 pages on 37 loose sheets 21 x 27 cm in equal parts by Einstein and Besso. It was sold for $ 560K by Christie's on October 4, 2002, lot 81. Coming from the Aristophil judicial liquidation, it was sold for € 11.7M from a lower estimate of € 2M by Aguttes et Perrine supported by Christie's on November 23, 2021, lot A. Please watch the video prepared by Christie's.
Einstein is persistent. He manages to refine the parameters and establish the suitable "Einstein field equations", thus releasing in 1915 a refined theory of gravitation known as the general relativity which is still today the basic of cosmology.