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First-edition works by Galileo, Descartes and Newton to be auctioned December 2 at Christie’s

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Isaac Newton's 1704 treatise on OpticksEdward Tufte is a man of many callings—data visualization guru, author of widely praised books, professor emeritus at Yale University, proprietor of the New York City gallery ET Modern. Add to the list collector of rare books—apparently Tufte tends a research library that contains works by some of the greatest thinkers of the past several hundred years.

That collection will grow a bit smaller December 2 with the auction of more than 150 works from Tufte’s library at Christie’s in New York City. Among the items of note for scholars of science history are first editions of René Descartes’ Principia philosophiae (1644) and Isaac Newton’s Opticks (1704), the latter of which includes two papers establishing Newton’s role in the invention of calculus. But top billing at the auction may go to Galileo Galilei’s Sidereus nuncius (1610). Also known as Starry Messenger, the short book is based on Galileo’s earliest telescopic observations and reported the startling discoveries of mountains and craters on the moon as well as the four satellites of Jupiter now known as Galilean moons in honor of the great astronomer, physicist and philosopher.

That last volume, rare and famous as it is, comes at an—ahem—astronomical price: Christie’s estimates that Tufte’s edition of Sidereus nuncius will fetch somewhere between $600,000 and $800,000. But despair not, star-gazers of more modest means. For you, Christie’s is also auctioning for Tufte a pirated (apparently unauthorized) edition of the same book, also from 1610, for an expected $4,000 to $6,000.

Front matter from Newton’s Opticks: Wikimedia Commons





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