History of Science

Niccolus Copernicus (1473-1543). De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, Libri VI. Nuremberg, Johann Petreium, 1543. Bound in old vellum. Illustrated with 233 drawings and 101 pages of tables. Woodcut initials.

The book tabulates 61 observations (made by naked eye, without instruments, over 30 years): nine of the sun, 20 of the moon, 30 of four planets and two of Spica (a star of first magnitude in the constellation of Virgo). For the calculation of his data, Copernicus used a trigonometry largely developed by himself. The result of his calculations was that he was the first to work out, in mathematical detail, the heliocentric theory of a solar system which states that planets revolve in circular orbits about the sun, that the earth itself is just another planet, that earth completes its revolutions around the sun in one year and that it rotates daily about its axis. He demonstrated how a heliostatic conception made it possible to calculate accurately planetary positions and distances from the sun and to explain the cycle of seasons, precession of equinoxes and retrograde motion of planets.

Copernicus was reluctant to publish his work, anticipating a stormy reaction from the Church. His work initiated a scientific revolution that culminated in Newton's research. It took 100 years for his work to become fully accepted, after the work of Bruno, Galileo, Kepler and Descartes.

This copy was owned at one time by the Harvard professor of astronomy, Robert W. Willson, and has his bookplate in it. Professor Owen Gingerich of Harvard has done a census of copies of Copernicus. He notes that this copy is "censored, originally with paper strips pasted on, and with a few other simple notes." Posner bought the book from H.P. Kraus in 1955 as one of the first important scientific titles in his collection.

Claudius Ptolemaeus (d. after AD 161). ... Magnae Constructionis ... [Almagest]. Basel, J. Walder, 1538. Two volumes in one. Also included is Theonis Alexandrini in eosdem Commentariorum Lib. XI. Small printer's device on title-page, diagrams, historiated initials throughout, one leaf with Walder device. Bound in contemporary calf; large armorial stamp of Marcus Laurinus; ownership inscription on title-page "Bibliotheca Colbertina" and other library stamps, including Viscount Mersey, Mathematical Society and the Royal Astronomical Society.

Known as the Almagest, this first edition in Greek was the first appearance of Ptolemy's complete text, edited by Simon Grynaeus from the manuscript used earlier by Regiomontanus for an abbreviated Latin translation of 1496. The Almagest is an astronomical encyclopedia that established astronomy as a mathematical discipline. It contains an elaborate theory of the planets and was the most influential ancient description of the heavens.

After having waited patiently for 27 years to find an acceptable copy of this title, this one was interesting to Mr. Posner because of its illustrious provenance, having been one of the books in the collection of two important bibliophiles, Mark Lauweryn of Bruges and the French minister Colbert. The collection holds two other Ptolemy titles: the Cosmographia, that was first printed in Vicenza by Hermanus Liechtenstein, September 13, 1475, and Geographie Opus Nouissima, printed in Strassburg by Johannes Schott, 1513, with maps by Waldseemüller. The Cosmographia treats the mapping of the known areas of the physical world and records the longitude and latitude of some 8,000 places. It reflects the hypothetical arrangement of continents shared by Christopher Columbus.

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727). Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica. London, Joseph Streater, 1687. With errata leaf. Bound in vellum. First issue of the first edition.

Newton's Principia is a true "high-spot" in any collection, especially one attempting to document the historical landmarks of science. "In this book Newton mathematically presented the principle of universal gravitation wherein all bodies, of whatever mass, attract one another in proportion to their masses and in inverse ratio as the square of the distance between them." (Dibner's Heralds of Science, p. 13).

Posner purchased the Principia from H.P. Kraus of New York on April 22, 1955, along with several other important scientific books including: Agricola's De Re Metallica (1556), and Edward Jenner's An Inquiry into … Variolae Vaccinae … Known by the Name of Cow Pox (1798). These and Posner's other adventures in book collecting have resulted in a useful resource for students of history, science and the arts of the book.


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