Chronology : 1680-1699
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
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
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.
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.