Sciences from 1800
See also : Sciences Instrument and equipment Books Fine books 1700-1850 Autograph Inventions Travel Space Nobel medals Medal and decoration Medicine Revolution and Empire Religious texts
Chronology : 1800-1809 1820-1829 1830-1839
1802-1816 the original watercolors by Redouté for Les Liliacées
1985 SOLD for $ 5.5M including premium ($ 5M before fees) by Sotheby's
1827-1838 Audubon by Subscription
2010 SOLD 7.3 M£ including premium
Let's start with the birds. We already know them in the Prints group. Here is (slightly modified) how I summarized the importance of this work:
Lovers of top auctions remember the outstanding results obtained by Christie's in New York on the major work of Audubon, The Birds of America. The four volumes contain 435 hand colored etchings.
These prints are in double elephant folio size, the largest known format for an illustrated book: 100 x 67 cm. The gigantic size is related to the goal that John James Audubon managed for the great work of his life: he wanted all his birds being displayed in their natural habitat in life size, even for the largest. This American had to travel to England to find a publisher: he was Robert Havell, in London. The publication spanned twelve years (1827-1838). Such a duration was not unusual at this time for ambitious books.
The highest price achieved at Christie's, $ 8.8 million including premium, was recorded on March 10, 2000 on a copy constituted by subscription, whose colors remained remarkably fresh.
The copy for sale by Sotheby's, estimated £ 4M, has similar qualities. It was collected by the eleventh subscriber in Audubon's ledger, a paleobotanist from Edinburgh who was convinced of the value of the project during a wine party with the author.
POST SALE COMMENT
Great success for this outstanding book: £ 7.3 million including premium.
1827-1838 The Grocer of Louisville
2019 SOLD for $ 6.6M including premium
He is early trained in taxidermy and participates in one of the earliest attempts of bird ringing. His method is unprecedented. He kills his specimen with a shotgun and straightens it in a natural pose with a wire. Then he draws it life size, often with its female or its prey. He never draws from a stuffed bird.
Audubon goes bankrupt in 1819. Against the advice of his friends but with the support of his wife, he decides to publish his work. American learned societies repel this man from the woods who had ridiculed one of their honorable fellows. In 1826, right in the romantic period, he arrives in England with his collection of watercolors.
The work to be done is colossal. He wants to maintain the 97 x 66 cm format of his drawing sheets but no book has ever been printed in such a big size. The plates should be colored one by one by hand. The only solution is the subscription. He finds in Edinburgh in 1827 a printer, Lizars, to carry out the work. A first booklet of 10 plates, numbered from I to X, is prepared.
There will be no second issue by Lizars, following a strike of the colorists. The business is now entrusted to Havell in London, until the 435th and final plate in 1838. The five volumes of texts are published separately in octavo format between 1831 and 1839.
On December 18 in New York, Sotheby's sells a complete set, in very good condition despite the obscuring of some captions by the binding. It was formed for the subscription of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society received by Audubon in April 1827. Plates I, III, and V to X are in the first state printed by Lizars.
This lot was sold for £ 1.76M including premium by Sotheby's on June 21, 1990. It is now estimated $ 6M, lot 1. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
The complete copy assembled around 1838 for the Duke of Portland with some remaining stock includes all the first ten plates in the Lizars edition and is in perfect condition. It was sold for $ 9.7M including premium by Christie's on June 14, 2018. A full set in its original binding, resulting from one of the very first subscriptions, was sold for £ 7.3M including premium by Sotheby's on December 7, 2010.
1838 The Birds of the Dukes of Portland
2018 SOLD for $ 9.7M including premium
It is now estimated $ 8M for sale in the same auction room on June 14 as lot 1, as a charity to benefit the conservation of the natural environment.
I narrated it as follows in 2012 :
The complete version of Audubon's The Birds of America, published in London, includes 435 plates engraved from 1827 to 1838, hand-colored from the watercolors of the author and bound in four volumes. Made in a quite large 'double elephant' folio format 98 x 65 cm, it is the masterpiece of illustrated books. All birds were carefully illustrated in life size.
The introduction at auction of a full version in good condition is an event. Two of these prestigious copies came from original deliveries by subscription. They were respectively sold for $ 8.8 million including premium at Christie's on March 10, 2000 and for £ 7.3 million including premium by Sotheby's on December 7, 2010.
At the end of the operation, Audubon's list included 161 subscribers. Its printers, Lizars and Havell, had planned it slightly wider, and it is likely that a few remaining copies have been assembled in volumes in 1838 for new customers while retaining the chronological order of publication.
The copy from the library of the Dukes of Portland is probably one of those assembled without subscription, and it remained in exceptionally fine condition. It may be considered like an original edition by the bibliophiles as most of the first plates are in first state, as evidenced by watermarks and through the variants in the legends. The five octavo volumes of texts are included in the lot.
1862 The Foresight of Charles Darwin
2017 SOLD for £ 790K including premium
The scientific beliefs of Alfred Russel Wallace about the evolution of species are very close to Darwin's. Both make a coherent lecture in 1858 in the same session of the Linnaean Society of London. Darwin's friends urge him to finally publish his results. They are right : other competitors may not have Wallace's fair play.
Darwin still cannot prepare a mere summary. He also has no confidence in the reading committees of the scientific publishers. For these reasons his book takes the form of a big volume intended for the general public when it is finally edited in 1859 in London by John Murray under the title On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. An uncut copy in its original binding was sold for £ 270K including premium by Christie's on July 12, 2017.
Following his own practice Darwin cannot stop with that first edition, for two reasons. First, he must insert the result of his new work as it goes along. The first of these on orchids demonstrates the difficulty for a biologist to unravel the polymorphism within a single species.
Then, he knows that he has to encourage foreign translations to better control their content. He is right once again : his first German translator, Heinrich Georg Bronn, introduced some religious beliefs of his own.
In 1862 Darwin prepares the modifications to be requested to Bronn by annotating in his hand a copy of the third English edition. The 200 pages sent to Bronn were later kept together in a volume that has just surfaced. It does not contain some longer modifications written on blank paper which are still lost. This important book is estimated £ 300K for sale by Christie's in London on December 13, lot 211.
Most of the modifications defined to Bronn are also incorporated in the fourth English edition in 1866. There is still to wait for the ultimate achievement of the theory of evolution which is its application to the human species. In 1871 Darwin now feels strong enough to go forward against all preconceptions repeated for more than 2000 years on that theme and he finally publishes The Descent of Man. That was 35 years after the return of the Beagle !
Read more about the long-lost copy of 'On the Origin of Species' with handwritten revisions by #CharlesDarwin, which were incorporated into all subsequent editions, becoming his definitive text. Offered in our Valuable Books & Manuscripts sale 13 December https://t.co/eOSYupVu3p pic.twitter.com/CmDv7Lpi8n— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) November 27, 2017
1942 Alan Turing, Theoretician of Logic
2015 SOLD for $ 1.02M including premium
He was a visionary in artificial intelligence at the time when the first modern computers were developed around John von Neumann. During the war, working on the logic of algorithms, he broke the encryption of German Enigma machines previously considered as inviolable.
On April 13 in New York, Bonhams sells a highly rare notebook, lot 1. The scientific thoughts by Turing, written after 1942, are laid at the start and end of the book, while the intermediate pages were used for personal notes by his eminent student Robin Gandy after the ignominious death of Turing (who was pardoned posthumously in 2013 by Queen Elizabeth II).
Both autographs by Turing are unpublished developments. They bring a new vision on the thinking process of one of the most profound scientists of our time, who found through a method of enforcing simplifications the solutions of problems that his illustrious predecessors had just managed to define.
The first of them is a review of Peano's axioms concerning the completeness and consistency of mathematics. After Hilbert, Turing also addresses the third problem of Peano on decidability, meaning the possibility of establishing an algorithm to decide whether a mathematical proposition is true or false. This text is anticipating his involvement with Enigma but certainly helps to understand the thinking process that enabled the deciphering.
The second scientific text of the book is a study of the role of the mathematical notation. Turing appreciated that a complex formulation makes it more difficult to find the solution. His approach is based on the search for a universal language of mathematics by Leibniz. Such researches make him a precursor of computer programming.
1953 The Release of the Secret of Life
2013 SOLD 6.05 M$ including premium
Through a mathematical approach to X-Ray views that had been difficult to analyze, Crick and Watson built the model of the double helix of DNA. Copernicus had used a somehow similar method to raise the heliocentric hypothesis when seeking to simplify an apparently too complex data.
Very excited (as he told it), Crick could not keep the secret. The listener is well chosen: he explains with great foresight the result and its consequences in a seven-page handwritten letter dated 19 March 1953 to his son Michael then twelve years old, a college student out of home for his school time.
This first digest work of one of the greatest discoveries is signed Daddy. We see with great pleasure that this research was an actual team work honoring equally the two scientists, "Jim" Watson and Daddy. The schematic diagram of the double helix has a beautiful clarity.
On April 2, Watson and Crick submitted the first official text to the professional review Nature, which published it on April 25. The contrast is striking between the enthusiasm of Daddy's letter and the short and careful scientific release, not illustrated, soberly explaining that the fundamental breakthrough of the new theory is the relative position of the chemical elements in the molecule.
Their theory was right, and was soon validated by all biochemists in the world. Daddy's letter is a true treasure in the history of science, unparalleled except perhaps by some letters from Einstein. The estimate is quite open: $ 1M to 2M.
POST SALE COMMENT
This document is extraordinary and certainly unique. One of the most important discoveries of our time is announced in a letter to a child before being published in the specialized journals. Emotion takes its place alongside the scientific rigor.
This manuscript is recognized as one of the greatest releases in the history of science: $ 6.05 million including premium.
Here is the link to the catalogue.
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.
1962 The Invention of the Molecular Biology
2014 SOLD for $ 4.8M including premium
Scientists had identified two types of acids, RNA (ribonucleic acid) in the cytoplasm of the cell and DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) in the chromosomes. They appreciated that these acids held the key to the functioning of life.
Two British laboratories of crystallography worked collaboratively. Francis Crick, assisted by the young US doctor James D. Watson, was at Cambridge. In London, Maurice Wilkins was assisted by Rosalind Franklin who perfected the techniques of observation and realized the radiograms. The untimely cancer of Rosalind Franklin is probably due to an excess of radiation dose.
The single helix of RNA structure and the two strands of DNA were among the first discoveries. In 1953, Watson understood that the shapes of the elements of the two DNA strands were identical although these elements were different. Crick and Watson immediately developed the model of the double helix, which was the biggest breakthrough of all time in the field of life sciences.
The letter written by Crick to his young son showed that he was aware of the importance of the discovery. It was sold for $ 6,05M including premium by Christie's on April 10, 2013.
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Crick, Watson and Wilkins in 1962. Crick's Nobel medal and diploma were sold as a single lot for $ 2,27M including premium by Heritage on April 11, 2013.
Watson, now 86 years old, entrusted Christie's to sell his Nobel memories, offered in three lots on December 4 in New York. The Nobel medal with its case is estimated $ 2.5M, lot 1. His handwritten notes for the acceptance speech are estimated $ 300K,lot 2.
The manuscript of his Nobel lecture on the role of RNA in protein synthesis is estimated $ 200K, lot 3. Less than ten years after the discovery of the double helix, this theme highlighted the fact that the physicochemical mechanisms of life were already fully explained.
A portion of the proceeds from the sales will be donated by Dr. Watson to the benefit of scientific research and charities.
RESULTS INCLUDING PREMIUM
medal : $ 4.8M
speech : $ 365K
lecture : $ 245K
1962 Award for the Double Helix
2013 SOLD 2.27 M$ including premium
Both strands of the helix are connected by regularly spaced links which are always constituted by a pair of chains in two couples of possibilities. When the strands are disjoined, the helix is restructured with organic matter for the creation of the second strand of a new double helix with the same genetic message as the original DNA molecule.
Crick and Watson knew immediately that they had found the secret of the transmission of information in biological material. With this key, molecular biology soon became a major science, leading to understand cell differentiation and biodiversity.
In 1962, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded to Crick, Watson and Wilkins. The Nobel gold medal and diploma attributed to Francis HC Crick are presented in a single lot, estimated $ 500K, in the sale organized by Heritage in New York on 10 and 11 April. Here is the link to the catalog.
Before Crick and Watson, no geometer, no artist had imagined this compact and steady structure.
POST SALE COMMENT
The result, $ 2.27 million including premium, exceeds all expectations. It was impossible to really estimate it prior to the sale because of the scarcity of Nobel medals on the market and of the importance of the scientific work rewarded by this one.
The price recorded the day before by Christie's on the letter of the scientist to his son, $ 6.05M including premium, also certainly had a positive effect on this lot.
The intrinsic beauty of the double helix is shown in the animation offered to the public domain by Wikimedia user brian0918:
1969 The Treasure that came from the Moon
2017 SOLD for $ 1.8M including premium
Neil Armstrong reached the lunar ground on July 21, 1969 at 02:56:15 UTC. After his statement for the history, his very first activity was to observe the soil and to take small rocks and dust. The managers of the mission wanted to avoid that a later incident prevents this highly precious collection which was carried out before Aldrin descended from the LM to join him.
Armstrong keeps his specimens in a Contingency Sample Bag specially designed to protect users against unidentified hazards. The bag is made with a multi-layer insulating fiber named Beta cloth along with polyester and closed by a brass zipper. It was emptied during the return journey with a vacuum process that was not very effective since some lunar dust remained inside the bag.
Flight used artefacts from Apollo 11 are very rare in the art market except for a few astronaut-managed memorabilia. The Contingency Lunar Sample Return Outer Decontamination Bag in which Armstrong temporarily stored his first samples is estimated over $ 2M for sale by Sotheby's in New York on July 20, lot 102.
The availability of this historic piece at auction is the result of a double negligence from the NASA. In the 1970s when the Agency provided the Smithsonian with what remained of the Apollo 11 mission, the absence of the bag was not identified. NASA also did not check in 2014 a private collection ready to be auctioned on request from the government after a fraudulent behavior of its owner, the former director of a space museum in Kansas.
Identified as "One flown zippered lunar sample return bag with lunar dust ("Lunar Bag"), 11.5 inches; Tear at center. Flown Mission Unknown" the bag was finally bought in March 2015 by an amateur geologist delighted with that opportunity. She opens the pouch, records the references, starts an online search and finds that what she bought for $ 995 is the very first bag to have contained lunar samples.
NASA confirms the authenticity as well as the lunar nature of the dust remaining in the bag. Upset with their own blunder they tried to recover the artefact but the auction had been guaranteed by the US Marshals Service. Two lawsuits confirmed the regular ownership by the bidder who now promises to give to various charities a portion of the proceeds of the sale which she is entrusting to Sotheby's.