Chronology : 1680-1699
1309 Optics by al-Farisi
2018 SOLD for £ 550K including premium by Sotheby's
narrated in 2021
Al-Shirazi was one of these polygraphs. Like Aristotle, he was interested in everything : mathematics, astronomy, geography, philosophy, medicine, theology, law, linguistics, rhetoric. He was also a chess player, a musician and even a humorist.
Al-Farisi, who was one of his pupils, was asked around 700 AH in Tabriz a question about the refraction of light. The master, who was not a specialist in optics, gave him access to a copy dated 419 AH of the Book of Optics by Alhacen, who demonstrated that vision is a brain phenomenon resulting from the reflection of light on the object. The eye is no more than the optical organ which transmits this information.
In compliance with the best tradition, al-Farisi's personal contribution is very important. He studies in great detail the internal geometry of the eye to understand the aberrations of vision created by refraction. He models the drop of water to study the propagation of the sun's ray in its complex sequence of refractions and reflections. He is the very first to interpret the rainbow mathematically and improves the theory of colors.
Al-Farisi's working manuscript, partially autograph, rigorously reproduces the list of chapters from The Optics of Alhacen. It was completed in 708 AH corresponding to 1309 CE, two years before the death of al-Shirazi.
A large part of this document was sold for £ 550K including premium by Sotheby's on April 25, 2018 from a lower estimate of £ 250K, lot 32. This set of 321 sheets 22 x 12 cm is illustrated with many figures in red ink. One of these is perhaps the oldest scientifically correct diagram of the internal structure of the eye.
Another section is held at the New York Public Library. It includes the colophons which show that this treatise had been in the hands of two very eminent Ottoman scholars.
Copies were made to transmit this knowledge. One of them, dated 899 AH, was sold for £ 110K including premium by Sotheby's on October 25, 2017, lot 23.
1638 Mechanics and Motion
2017 SOLD for € 730K including premium
He begins with cosmology. Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo, published in Florence in 1632, is placed on the following year in the Index of forbidden books. Galileo now suspect of heresy can no longer publish his works in a Catholic country. Fortunately this ban does not stop his activity.
The treatise on physics, titled Discorsi e dimostrazioni matematiche intorno a due nuove scienze attenenti alla mecanica e i movimenti locali, is ready in 1636. The comte of Noailles transmits a copy to Elzevier who publishes the book at Leyden in 1638. The book is dedicated to Noailles.
The Discorsi includes Galileo's assertion that the distance traveled in a naturally accelerated movement is proportional to the square of time. Galileo supports this discovery by describing an experiment using a steel ball rolling in a groove. For three and a half centuries the learned world will question the possibility of such measurement with the required accuracy at the time of that demonstration. It is now taken for sure that this very real experiment, published for the first time in the Discorsi, was made by Galileo in 1604.
On April 26 in Paris (Drouot), the auction house Pierre Bergé et Associés in co-operation with Sotheby's sells the association copy of the comte de Noailles, lot 21 estimated € 700K. Some typographical errors are present but without the usual erratum, suggesting that this copy was the very first that was released from Elzevier's presses. It is assembled in a sumptuous 'à la fanfare' binding attributed to Le Gascon, certainly commissioned by Noailles.
Physics is less disruptive than astronomy for the religious authorities and the Discorsi will not be threatened. Much later Einstein would acknowledge Galileo rather than Newton as the father of modern physics and more generally of modern science.
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
1704 The Dispersion of Light
2015 SOLD for $ 1.33M including premium
In 1672, he manages to suppress the chromatic aberration in the telescopes and reveals his findings at the Royal Society which publishes his lecture in its Philosophical Transactions.
The great scientist had a difficult temperament and did not accept contradiction. Robert Hooke, who had considered before Newton a wave property of light, is challenging some elements. The hatred between the two physicists is irremediable. Newton refuses to publish his book all along Hooke's lifetime.
Fortunately, Newton also has friends such as Edmund Halley who helps him to publish in 1687 his seminal book on the use of mathematics to model the gravitational properties of matter, the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica.
Opticks is finally printed and released in London in 1704, curiously without the author's name, the year after the death of Hooke. Newton added two discussions on curvilinear figures, in order to establish his priority over an ongoing work by Leibniz.
The copy of Opticks presented by Newton to Halley is estimated $ 400K for sale by Sotheby's in New York on December 4, lot 918. It is not dedicated but Halley wrote on the inside title page: "Luceo. Ex dono doctissimi authoris". Luceo, which does not mean anything in Latin, is a burst of enthusiasm based on Lux.
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
1939 Einstein Letter to Roosevelt
2002 SOLD for $ 2.1M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2021
Physicists are trying to warn the government. Fermi fails. Szilard rightly considers that the message must be carried by an illustrious figurehead. He chooses Einstein. This project resulted in two slightly different typed letters, dated August 2, 1939, which Szilard prepared and had Einstein signed for communication to President Roosevelt.
Now they must capture the president's attention. Szilard has an ally, Alexander Sachs, who had been a close associate of Roosevelt. Sachs is suspicious of Einstein's pacifist positions and would have preferred Lindbergh but the contact with the aviator had failed.
An appointment is finally made in October by Sachs to deliver Einstein's letter to Roosevelt. The President, annoyed at first, suddenly understands what is at stake : they must prevent the Germans from blowing everything up. He creates a Board that will lead to the Manhattan Project, and sends Einstein a letter of thanks.
The other letter signed by Einstein on August 2 had been kept by Szilard. Accompanied by Einstein's handwritten cover letter in German to Szilard, it was sold for $ 2.1M including premium by Christie's on March 27, 2002, lot 161.
Einstein was never told about the Manhattan Project. After the destruction of Hiroshima, he will declare that his letter to Roosevelt was the great mistake of his life. He had not understood in time that the Germans did not really have the skills to develop nuclear weapons.
1954 Beyond Space and Time
2018 SOLD for $ 2.9M including premium
Albert Einstein was born into a Jewish family without religious beliefs. After a very short mystical phase, he rejects in his turn the Biblical scriptures. Newton had not gone far enough : Einstein would link space and time. Around 1902 he finds a frame of thought in Spinoza for whom God could not have a material reality nor act a role in our destinies.
Beyond the laws of physics, the ultimate truth will never be reached. We may attribute the designation of God to this axiom. Einstein is not a pantheist and throughout his life he will state that he is not an atheist. He also follows Spinoza for the social and political consequences of his theories : peoples are equal to each other.
In 1952 the German Jewish philosopher Eric Gutkind publishes a book titled Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt. He sends a copy to Einstein who replies on January 3, 1954 in a private letter.
The concept of a 'chosen' people visibly upsets Einstein although he has managed to remain courteous. He is a Jew who loves his people but the idea of God is a product of human weakness and all religions including Judaism are relics from primitive superstitions.
This two-page autograph letter in German was sold for £ 207K including premium by Bloomsbury on May 15, 2008. It is estimated $ 1M for sale by Christie's in New York on December 4, lot 1. Meanwhile in 2012 a transaction on eBay had been reported at a much higher price.
Please watch the video shared by Christie's.
1965 The Great Teacher of Quantum Physics
2018 SOLD for $ 975K including premium
Feynman's method was to use geometry and diagrams rather than developments in mathematical formulas. Highly motivated to share his knowledge, he was the best professor and lecturer in atomic physics, ensuring that his explanations were always clear.
His contributions in theoretical physics are numerous. He solved Dirac's problem by imagining the quantum mechanism of charged particles in rotation, for which he shared in 1965 the Nobel Prize in Physics with Tomonaga and Schwinger. He also made fundamental advances in the model of the helium superfluidity and in the theory of quarks. He was also a visionary, encouraging as early as 1959 the development of nanotechnologies.
On November 30 in New York, Sotheby's disperses Richard Feynman's research library, including autograph drafts of several lectures. Lot 67 estimated $ 800K consists of his Nobel medal and diploma along with two documents used during the ceremony.