We have maintained for several years now that the scientific documents and manuscript marketplace is undervalued and represents an extraordinary long term investment potential. In 2016, the market began the inevitable move upwards with the number of significant documents coming to market.
This is a separate document to our six part series exploring the most valuable scientific documents and manuscripts ever sold at auction. The introduction to the scientific documents marketplace is the first part of that series, and separate articles cover numbers #50-41, numbers #40-31, numbers #30-21, numbers #20-11 and the top 10.
Sick of Ads?
Join more than 500 New Atlas Plus subscribers who read our newsletter and website without ads.
It's just US$19 a year.More Information
50 – Histoire Naturelle Des Oiseaux (birds)
by Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon
$127,621 (£87,500) | Sothebys | April 28, 2016
A deluxe first edition of the master ornithological work Histoire Naturelle Des Oiseaux, published between 1771 and 1786, bound in 15 volumes with 1008 engraved and hand-colored plates. The plates were originally intended to illustrate the ornithological section of the Comte de Buffon's massive Histoire Naturelle Générale, but became a special edition in their own right.
49 – Les Voyages de la Nouvelle France occidentale
by Samuel de Champlain
$133,163 (€ 124,460) | Binoche et Giquello | November 16, 2016
Samuel de Champlain founded New France (Canada) and Quebec City on July 3, 1608 during one of his 20 voyages to the New World and his exploration and mapping of the Atlantic coast and Great Lakes make him one of the pioneers of the continent. His best known work, Les Voyages du Sieur de Champlain Xaintongeois is already in the top 50 most valuable scientific books of all time and both books are widely available in full on the internet (if you can read French).
48 – Letter and brainteaser puzzle from Alan Turing
$136,122 | RR Auctions | February 10, 2016
Perhaps not a scientific document, but we've included it anyway as artifacts from the famous British mathematician and computer scientist are rare. The letter is from Turing to the daughter of his psychologist and includes a brainteaser puzzle. The solution can be found with the auction description.
46 – Dos Libros de Cosmographia by Hieronimo Girava
$137,768 (£104,500) | Christies | July 13, 2016
Girava's Cosmographia was produced in 1556 and is divided into two books and comes with a very rare map, because most copies have been separated from the map after 450 years. Indeed, only two copies with the map have been sold at auction in the last 40 years. The last to sell was the "Frank S. Streeter copy" sold at Christie's New York on April 16, 2007 for $102,000, with the sale prior to that at Sotheby's London in 1987. AbeBooks has an identical copy for sale at present for $145,000 and you can read the full text at Spain's Miguel de Cervantes Biblioteca Virtual.
46 – Algorismus, De Sphaera, Compotus & Quadrans Vetus
by Johannes de Sacrobosco
$137,768 (£104,500) | Christies | July 13, 2016
Produced in the first half of the 14th century on vellum, this volume is an illustrated compilation of the fundamental medieval texts on astronomy, numerical calculation and mensuration by English mathematician and astronomer Johannes de Sacrobosco. Algorismus was a popular mathematical treatise and the first widely-adopted university textbook to introduce Arabic numerals into the curriculum. De Sphaera covers the spherical geometry underpinning the mathematical astronomy of Ptolemy and Compotus is a complex calendrical work on the reckoning of time. Quadrans vetus is a 13th-century treatise describing the construction and use of the newly introduced Arabic "old quadrant" and has been variously attributed to Sacrobosco, Grosseteste, Robertus Anglicus and Johannes de Monte Pessulano (John of Montpellier).
45 – Etymologiae by Isidoris Hispalensis (Isidore of Seville)
$141,667 (£112,500) | Christies | December 1, 2016
Three works in one volume, the most important of which is a rare third edition of Etymologiae, an important 15th century encyclopedia in that the first edition contained the world's first printed map. This later edition contains a more elaborate version of that map. It also contains the first printed reference to arithmetic. Etymologiae provided to medieval and Renaissance scholars an invaluable single source of late classical scientific knowledge and lexicography. Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636) was "the chief authority of the Middle Ages, and the presence of his book in every monastic, cathedral, and college library was a main factor in perpetuating the state of knowledge and the modes of thought of the late-Roman world" (PMM). Etymologiae covers mathematics, astronomy, geography, meteorology, geology, botany, agriculture, human anatomy, medicine, shipbuilding, architecture and other technological subjects.
44 – An autograph draft contract for the manufacture of a calculating machine by Gottfried Leibniz
$141,798 (€ 127,000) | Binoche at Giquello | June 1, 2016
German Polymath Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) was one of history's most accomplished minds and the co-inventor of calculus (see #24 of The most valuable scientific documents of all-time) alongside Sir Isaac Newton.
Autograph manuscripts of Leibniz are very rare, and the significance of this draft contract for the manufacture of a calculating machine makes it even more significant in that it includes 20 paragraphs describing the parts of the machine. During a trip to Paris in 1672, Leibniz discovered the Pascaline, a calculating machine produced by French Polymath Blaise Pascal. Leibniz, who seemed up to almost any intellectual challenge, then designed the machine referred to in this contract, going one better than Pascal in that it could performing 3-digit operations. He conceived this machine in 1673 at the tender age of 27 years.
Only two of these machines were built at the time of Leibniz, one between 1686 and 1694, the other between 1690 and 1720. The latter machine survived and is located at the Niedersächsische Landesbibliothek in Hanover. The Leibniz machine, and in particular the mechanism of the cylinder (the Leibniz wheel), was the main source of inspiration for subsequent numerical calculators, including the arithmometer, the first commercially viable mechanical calculator that was first manufactured in 1851. We owe much to Leibniz, as he also refined the binary number system, which underpins the workings of every computer and mobile phone.
43 – Civitates orbis Terrarum by Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg
$149,000 | Christies | April 5, 2016
This is a hand-colored Latin edition of the first five (of six) volumes of the great city atlas, Civitates Orbis Terrarum, an extraordinary work published between 1572 and 1617, edited by Georg Braun (1541-1622) and largely engraved by Franz Hogenberg. The six volumes contain 546 bird's-eye views and maps of major cities around the world. Considering photography was still centuries away, just how a work of such breadth and detail was created is difficult to comprehend. You can see them all online at the Library of Congress and the Shapell Digitalization Project.
42 – Elementa geometriae by Euclides
$148,842 (£112,900) | Christies | July 13, 2016
A work of monumental significance, written by Greek mathematician Euclid of Alexandria circa 300 BCE. This work is claimed by some to have been even more influential than Newton's Principia, in that it was a standard higher-learning textbook for more than 2000 years. This is the book that first contained the first proof of Pythagoras's theorem and it is also the first dated book with diagrams. The auctioned copy was a first printed edition of the book, translated from Greek or Arabic into Latin by Adelard of Bath, edited by Johannes Campanus and published in Venice on May 25, 1482.
41 – Lunar Planispheres by John Russell
$157,408 (£125,000) | Christies | December 1, 2016
Beginning in 1764, John Russell sketched the moon's surface in intricate detail from his observations with the telescope. These sketches evolved into highly detailed maps of the lunar surface, one of which can be seen at the Museum of the History of Science. In 1797 Russell published the earliest extant lunar globe.
In 1805 the lunar planisphere showing the Moon in flat was published, followed in 1806 by an alternative view of the Moon lit obliquely. It is these two extraordinary works which sold for £125,000 ($157,408) at Christies in New York on December 1, 2016.
The Moon in flat light "is clearly far more detailed that any of its predecessors, and the very complex interplay of delicate shadings reveal the hand of a master artist. Indeed, the highly detailed nature and general accuracy of this image have never been surpassed." (Whitaker, 1999). Both plates would be included in a posthumous publication by his son: A description of the lunar planispheres / engraved by the late J.R. from his original drawing (London : W. Russell 1809). It has been commented that his "drawings are more detailed than anything before and, as 'eye to telescope' maps of the moon, they have never been equalled." (Whitehouse, 2001)
40 – De re militari by Roberto Valturio
$162,320 (£110,500) | Christies | May 25, 2016
An illustrated manuscript of Roberto Valturio's De re militari, one of the most important books on military technology ever created. Valturio wrote his treatise on warcraft circa 1590 while serving as engineer to Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta of Rimini and it became the standard handbook for Renaissance military leaders. Leonardo da Vinci had a copy and used it while chief engineer to Cesare Borgia, employing several of the designs it contained. The rich illustrations within the pages depict an array of state-of-the-art military equipment for the period including catapults, battering-rams, a revolving gun turret, platforms and ladders for siege breakers, paddle-wheels, a diver's suit, a lifebelt, a tank, pontoons and other bridges and a completely enclosed boat that could be partially submerged.
39 – Cosmographia by Claudius Ptolemaeus (Ptolomy)
$163,362 (£131,000) | Bonhams | November 9, 2016
Claudius Ptolemy (AD 100 – c. 170) was a Greco-Egyptian writer, mathematician, astronomer, geographer, astrologer, and poet who created the atlas Cosmographia (also known as Geography and Geographia) whilst living in Alexandria (Egypt) in AD 150, based on a now-lost atlas by Marinus of Tyre using additional Roman and Persian sources. It was translated into Arabic in the 9th century and Latin in 1406, becoming the world's first printed atlas in 1477. The auctioned copy is the second Ulm edition of this book, following that of 1482 which was the first atlas with woodcut maps and the first to be printed outside Italy.
38 – An account of the proceedings, in order to the discovery of the longitude included in a bound collection of pamphlets
$174,400 (£137,500) | Sothebys | December 13, 2016
This collection of 36 pamphlets bound in one volume includes a number of historically significant pamphlets, including An Account of the Proceedings, in order to the Discovery of the Longitude and The Provisions made by the Treaties of Utrecht for separating Spain for ever from France.
The most important of the pamphlets is John Harrison's announcement of his invention and testing of the first accurate marine chronometer, which is arguably the most important navigation aid before the invention of radar.
Like many great breakthroughs in scientific history, the invention of Harrison's marine chronometer was catalyzed by a government offering a prize for the the solution of an important problem. In this case, the British government offered a longitude prize for a method of determining longitude at sea. Announced in 1714, the awards ranged from £10,000 to £20,000 (£2 million to £4 million in today's money) depending on the accuracy of the solution.
After three attempts, Harrison solved the problem with his H4 chronometer designed in 1761 and ultimately claimed the £20,000 longitude prize.
The Treaties of Utrecht were signed by the belligerents in the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713. The treaties between several European states, including Spain, Great Britain, France, Portugal, Savoy and the Dutch Republic, helped end the war.
37 – Apollo 11 Lunar Module Flown LM G and N Dictionary Lunar Module Landing Sequence Pages from Buzz Aldrin
$175,000 | Heritage Auctions | May 20, 2016
The moon landing of Apollo 11's lunar module Eagle on July 20, 1969 was an event which will live in the memory of all those who witnessed it via television – it was unquestionably one of mankind's greatest moments. Hence the sale of three Landing Sequence Pages carried on Eagle for that momentous event was always going to be big news. Heritage Auctions sold those pages with a signed Letter of Authenticity from Buzz Aldrin on his personal letterhead stating: "Enclosed with this letter are three sheets numbered PGNS-43/44, PGNS-45/46, and PGNS-47/48 from the Apollo 11 LM G and N Dictionary, Part No. SKB32100074-361, S/N 1001. They are part of the entire manual that was carried to the lunar surface in Lunar Module Eagle on the first lunar landing mission during July 16 to 24, 1969. These sheets are from the Primary Guidance and Navigation Section and have the exact computer procedures to perform the Power Descent Initiation (PDI) sequence which enabled Neil Armstrong and I to land on the Moon. These are the most significant pages from the entire dictionary, and from my view point, some of the most important pages available to us during the entire flight. These steps enabled the actual landing by Man on the surface of the Moon." The PGNS in the serial number stands for the Lunar Module's Primary Guidance and Navigation System.
36 – Instauratio Magna (Novum Organum) by Sir Francis Bacon
$177,319 (£134,500) | Christies | July 13, 2016
English polymath Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) has been called the father of empiricism. His works, primarily this book, argued for the possibility of scientific knowledge based only upon inductive and careful observation of events in nature. Most importantly, he argued this could be achieved by use of a skeptical and methodical approach whereby scientists aim to avoid misleading themselves. In sending a copy of this book to King James I, the dedicatee, Bacon wrote: "The work, in what colours soever it may be set forth, is no more but a new logic, teaching to invent and judge by induction, (as finding syllogism incompetent for sciences of nature), and thereby to make philosophy and sciences both more true and more active."
35 – De lateribus et angulis triangulorum
by Nicolaus Copernicus
$177,319 (£134,500) | Christies | July 13, 2016
Nicolaus Copernicus booked himself a place in history with the publication of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the revolutions of the heavenly spheres) in 1543, offering the first compelling evidence that the Earth was not the center of the universe, though he acknowledged Aristarchus of Samos had proposed such a model 1800 years prior, which had been rejected in favor of the incorrect geocentric theories of Aristotle and Ptolemy. That said, this book represents the only other published scientific work by Copernicus, and is extremely rare, with only two other copies having sold at auction in the last 40 years.
The auctioned copy includes the section on trigonometry that appeared in De Revolutionibus, making it a partial first edition of one of science's landmark publications. The book also contains the first publication of Rheticus' trigonometric tables.
34 – Le Neptune François (1693)
$185,000 | Christies | April 5, 2016
Three beautiful marine atlases bound as one: Le Neptune François, Cartes Marines à l'Usage des Armées du Roy de la Grande Bretagne and Atlas Martime.
Le Neptune François (which can be seen in full here) is one of the most elaborately decorated atlases ever published and featured the latest maps of the coast of western Europe by the French Académie Royale des Sciences. The frontispiece of the atlas features a hand-colored engraving by Jan van Vianen (at left above) offering an indication of the extraordinary illustration it contains.
Cartes Marines à l'Usage des Armées du Roy de la Grande Bretagne is usually bound together with Le Neptune François as it emanated from the same Dutch publisher, Pieter Mortier. As the title suggests, it is of English origin and was designed and engraved by Romeyn de Hooghe, then in the service of English King William III, and designed to facilitate William's plans for war against France.
Atlas Maritime also came from Mortier and includes 33 engraved charts of Africa, Asia and the Americas, including the Atlantic with northeastern coasts of South America and Africa, Central America, and the North American East Coast from the Hudson to Labrador, and Canada), all with contemporary hand coloring.
33 – Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Tabula
by Frederick De Wit and Giovanni de Rossi
$185,000 | Christies | June 16, 2016
An extremely rare (only one copy is known) and large (1500 x 2380 mm) wall map of the world by Frederick de Wit and Giovanni Giacomo de Rossi, published in 1675. De Rossi's newly engraved map is approximately the same size of De Wit's earlier twelve-sheet map and the geographical correspondence is very close, with the addition of 21 city views along the borders plus other changes which suggest an additional source.
32 – Two atlases bound as one - by Claudius Ptolemaeus (Ptolomy) circa 150 and Martin Waldseemüller 1513
$189,000 (€ 169,756) | Artcurial | May 31, 2016
Two atlases bound together as one, published on vellum in 1513 by Johann Schott in Strasbourg. The first of the bound atlases is an edition of Ptolemy's atlas from antiquity containing 27 maps, the other being 20 modern maps of the period from cartographer Martin Waldseemüller. This atlas was described by medieval authority Michel Pastoureau as "an event in the history of cartography."
31 – Mundus Subterraneus by Athanasius Kircher
$193,139 (£146,500) | Christies | July 13, 2016
The best-known book by German Jesuit scholar and polymath Athanasius Kircher who published 40 major works in the fields of comparative religion, geology, and medicine. Mundus Subterraneus is based on Kircher's visit to Sicily in 1637-38 where he witnessed the eruptions of Mount Etna and Stromboli. His observations of these volcanoes led him to conclude that the center of the earth is a massive internal fire for which volcanoes are safety valves. Kircher's speculations about the interior of the earth in this book include its hidden lakes, rivers of fire and strange inhabitants. It also includes discussions about the moon, the sun, eclipses, ocean currents, meteorology, hydraulics, minerals and fossils, poisons, metallurgy and mining, alchemy, herbs, astrological medicine, distillation and fireworks.
30 – Mondus Novus by Amerigo Vespucci
$217,074 (£152,500) | Christies | March 9, 2016
A very rare work by Amerigo Vespucci, the man who gave America its name. The auctioned copy is a third edition, second issue of the first printed account of Brazil. As a pioneer in exploration and skilled astronomer, Vespucci was the first to measure the positions of the most important southern hemisphere stars, and this work includes the first brief description of the southern skies, along with three star diagrams. An English translation of this book can be found on the internet archive.
29 - Entomologie, ou histoire naturelle des Insectes
by Guillaume-Antoine Olivier
$224,905 (€ 198,824) | Aguttes | March 17, 2016
Entomology, or natural history of Insects is the best known work of French entomologist traveller Guillaume Antoine Olivier (1756-1814), renowned for his scientific accuracy in depicting and classifying the insects he collected in his travels. He would often dissect the insects to ensure complete authenticity of every aspect of his descriptions. This lot contained around 300 original drawings used to illustrate the book which can be seen here in full.
28 – Itinerarium Portugallensium e Lusitania in Indiam
by Fracanzano da Montalboddo
$233,000 | Christies | April 5, 2016
The first edition in Latin of Fracanzano da Montalboddo's Itinerarium Portugallensium e Lusitania in Indiam is one of the most important collections of voyages ever printed. This copy contains an index, which was printed after publication and inserted into the remaining copies. First printed in Italian in Vicenza in 1507 as Paesi novamente retrovati, the work was translated into Latin in 1508. In addition to the first map of Africa in which the continent is represented as surrounded by ocean, it includes the first three voyages of Columbus (1492-1500), the third voyage of Vespucci (1501-1502), Pedro Alvares Cabral's discovery of the Brasilian, Guianaian and Venezuelan coasts in 1500-1501, Alvise da Cadamosto's explorations along the West African coast in 1456, and Vasco da Gama's explorations of Africa and India in 1497-99. Available in full here.
27 – British Algae Volume III by Anna Atkins
$237,222 (€ 219,000) | Sothebys | November 11, 2016
Anna Atkins (1799-1871) was an English botanist and photographer who published the first book illustrated with photographic images (British Algae Volume I in 1843) and she is believed to be the first woman to create a photograph. This was made possible through her friendship with Sir John Herschel, the inventor of the cyanotype printing method. The process, known as blueprinting, was later used to reproduce architectural and engineering drawings, but Atkins chose to use it for capturing images of algae (specifically sea-weed). Extremely rare, this third volume was published in 1853, containing 102 cyanotypes and three text pages, one of which is initialed "A.A."
The book's rarity and historical importance make it very valuable. One copy of the book with 411 plates in three volumes sold for £133,500 in 1996 and another copy with 382 prints in two volumes sold for £229,250 in 2004.
26 – Autograph Manuscript from On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin
$250,000 | Sothebys | June 14, 2016
Originally conceived as a work that might be printed on four or five sheets of paper, Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species evolved during the eight months of its writing into a volume of nearly 500 pages, and when finally published, it changed mankind's self perception and became one of the most important books in history. This single autograph page is one of a handful of scattered leaves that survive from the manuscript that Darwin rushed to complete in the second half of 1858. It is one of just five different autograph pages that have appeared at auction in the last three decades, and hence the value.
25 – A compendium containing astrological and talismanic treatises and tracts mostly by Abu Ma'shar al-Balki
$256,543 (£209,000) | Sothebys | October 19, 2016
A 14th-century compendium of manuscripts on astronomy and astrology (yes, we know, but the work constitutes science at this time), as well as more esoteric talismanic treatises on such subjects as pricing, and divining specific latitudes and longitudes. Much of the manuscript is the work of Abu Ma'shar Ja'far ibn Muhammad ibn 'Umar al-Balki.
24 – Divina proportione by Luca Pacioli
$256,940 (£194,500) | Christies | July 13, 2016
Franciscan friar Luca Pacioli was the man who taught mathematics to Leonardo da Vinci. His book Summa di Aritmetica Geometria Proporzioni e Proporzionalita was the first work on general mathematics ever printed and contained the first detailed description of the double-entry accounting system, making Pacioli the "Father of Accounting". Many of the illustrations for Divina Proportione were done by Leonardo, too. This particular book is a first edition and contains three works, being Divina Proportione (a summary of Euclid's propositions on the golden section), a second work on architecture, inspired by Vitruvius and Alberti, and an Italian translation of a Latin treatise of geometry by Piero della Francesca.
23 – Sphæra Stellisera by Willem Janszoon Blaeu
$264,330 (£200,500) | Christies | July 13, 2016
An extremely rare 34-cm celestial table globe by the best known globe maker, Willem Janszoon Blaeu. This particular globe is made up of twelve beautifully hand-colored and engraved gores and two polar calottes laid to the ecliptic poles on a papier-mâché and plaster sphere, with the axis through the celestial poles.
22 – The first printed account of Charles Darwin's
discoveries on HMS Beagle
$269,528 (£212,500) | Sothebys | December 13, 2016
In 1831, the Royal Navy sent HMS Beagle to map the coasts of South America, plus the Falklands Islands and the Galapagos Islands. It was decided to add a geologist to the expedition, but a leading geologist could not be persuaded to make the voyage. The job finally went to a young Cambridge graduate named Charles Darwin who had studied to become an Anglican parson but had a keen interest in natural sciences. What Charles Darwin learned on that voyage helped change the world. This first edition of Charles Darwin's first separately printed work, made up of extracts from letters sent by Darwin to his mentor and friend Professor John Stevens Henslow and signed by Henslow, sold for £212,500 ($269,528) at Sothebys on December 13, 2016.
21 – Theatre des Cites du Monde by Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg
$293,000 | Christies | April 5, 2016
Six volumes on vellum bound as two of the French edition of the same book which appears at #43 on this list.
20 – General Scientific Manuscript in Latin (circa 1400)
$295,500 | Christies | December 14, 2016
Accurately described by the catalog description as a "striking testament to medieval scientific knowledge : a rare compilation of astronomical texts, including an astrolabe model, various apparently unpublished medical treatises, and an illustrated herbal."
The manuscript sold for $295,500 against an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000 at Christie's New York auction of Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts on December 14, 2016.
19 – Le operazioni del compasso geometrico
by Galileo Galilei
$320,350 (£242,500) | Christies | July 13, 2016
This item sold for such a significant amount because it is a first edition of the first printed work by Italian polymath (astronomer, physicist, engineer, philosopher, inventor and mathematician), Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642), one of the giants of the scientific revolution of the 17th century.
This 80-page booklet is also the first published work on an analogue calculator, which Galileo had manufactured and sold between 1595 and 1598. The book is believed to be one of only 60 copies produced by Galileo for patrons and buyers of his geometrical and military compass. Galileo's sector was based on the proportional compass, an instrument first developed by Federico Commandino (1509 – 1575), but Galileo's version included numerous additions and improvements that rendered it the most useful mathematical instrument of its period.
Galileo's geometrical compass was invaluable as a surveyor's tool. As a calculating device, Galileo's compass remained unsurpassed until the advent of the slide rule in the mid-19th-century. The entire paper with illustrations is available online at the Library of Congress.
18 – Versuche über Pflanzen-Hybriden
by Johann Gregor Mendel
$319,701 (£242,500) | Christies | July 13, 2016
If you've ever felt unappreciated for your work, take heart from this story. This paper was written in 1866 by Augustinian Monk Johann Gregor Mendel (1822 - 1884), and it outlines the Mendelian inheritance mechanism by which evolution by natural selection could work. Despite being widely distributed to more than 150 universities and places of higher learning, this paper was entirely ignored. Charles Darwin's 1859 book On the Origin of Species was equally controversial and hence not initially well received, either. In 1900, three pioneer geneticists acknowledged Mendel's prior work in their research papers and subsequent research over the following half century established its breakthrough significance. It is now acknowledged as "one of the most important papers in the history of biology, and the foundation of modern genetics." The auctioned copy is one of the offprint of 40 copies circulated to Mendel's colleagues 150 years ago and only 14 copies are known to still exist. It required the passing of a century before we recognized Mendel's legacy.
17 – Da Qing Wannian Yitong Tianxia Quantu by Qianren Huang
$333,648 (£269,000) | Sothebys | November 7, 2016
The title of this Chinese map translates as "Complete map of the great Qing's ten-thousand-year unified (realm of) all under heaven." Completed in the third year of the Daoguang reign (1823), it was a revision of a map created in 1767 and highlights the growth of the Chinese empire in just over 50 years with the addition of Tibet and Xinjiang. Apart from its beauty, the most stunning feature of this treasure is the size, having been created with woodblock printing of 16 sections on 8 sheets for a total size of 1370 x 2590mm.
16 – Zakhirah-yi Khwarazmshahi by Zayn al-Din Jurjani
$335,024 (£233,000) | Sothebys | April 20, 2016
Translated as "Treasury dedicated to the King of Khwarazmshahi," this is three partial books (part of Book 1, plus all of Books 2 and 3 of ten volumes) of an encyclopaedia of medical science, written by Zayn al-Din Jurjani in 1267-68 AD. Volume I covers "the definition and utility of medicine; composition, structure, and powers of the human body," Volume II covers "health and disease; causes and symptoms of disease; accidents of the body" and Volume III covers "the preservation of health."
15 – Grooten Atlas by Johannes Blaeu
$338,788 (£272,750) | Sothebys | November 15, 2016
One of several Blaeu atlases on this list, and one of the many remarkable achievements of a father and son who contributed so much to our understanding of the world. Both Dutch cartographers, atlas and globe makers and publishers, Johannes Blaeu (1596 – 1673) was the son of cartographer Willem Blaeu (1570 - 1630).
The Atlas Major was published between 1662 and 1672, in Latin (11 volumes), French (12 volumes), Dutch (9 volumes), German (10 volumes) and Spanish (10 volumes), containing 594 maps and around 3,000 pages of text. The Dutch version was named the Grooten Atlas. It was the largest and most expensive book published in the 17th century and in the auction description of the most valuable copy sold to date (sold by Sothebys in November, 2015 for $883,944 - £581,000) it was described as "the most famous atlas in the history of printed maps" and "the most magnificent work of its kind ever produced."
The work covered the known world, with particular emphasis on Europe, but with important volumes devoted to America and another to China. "The contents of this unprecedented atlas illustrate the high standards of contemporary cartography and geographical knowledge, and its presentation bears witness to the superb craftsmanship of engraver, printer, binder and papermaker ... The costly atlas was in fact exclusively designed for those members of the patriciate who could command both the material and intellectual resources that were needed to buy it and appreciate it." (Koeman II, pp.1-3)."
Some 300 sets are believed to have been published, many of which were presented throughout Europe as a tangible symbol of the Republic of the United Netherlands.
14 – Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica
by Sir Isaac Newton
$352,054 (£266,500) | Christies | July 13, 2016
No single published body of work has ever had the impact upon the world that this book did. Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica was the culmination of the scientific revolution, effectively ushering in the era of modern science and modern physics with its mathematical explanations for gravity and motion. Albert Einstein best summed it up with the words, "perhaps the greatest intellectual stride that it has ever been granted to any man to make." Isaac Newton composed the work during 1685 and 1686, it was published on July 5, 1687 and the world record price for a copy prior to the #1 on this list was $2,517,000 set at a Christie's (New York) auction in December, 2013. This copy of Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica sold for £266,500 ($352,054).
13 – Toonneel des Aerdrijcx, ofte Nieuwe Atlas
by Willem and Johannes Blaeu
$365,000 | Christies | April 5, 2016
A fine set of the first four volumes of the Dutch edition of Willem and Johannes Blaeu's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, first published in German in two volumes (1634) followed by a set in Dutch a year later. Volumes 5 and 6 were not printed until 1654 and 1655, hence their absence from this set.
12 – Aequatorium Astronomicum by Johannes Schöner
$383,759 (£290,500) | Christies | July 13, 2016
Johannes Schöner (1477 – 1547) was a priest, mathematician and astronomer who became one of the most influential figures of the period. His own printing press produced this book, which is a rarer occurrence than even the book itself, with only five copies extant, and this the first copy ever to go to public auction. It is the first book to contain printed equatoria, and the first book to contain printed instruments which predict the position of the planets. One of the many benefits of the newly invented printing press at the time, was the ability to create printed instruments – a significant saving in cost over metallic instruments. Schöner was also the person who persuaded Georg Joachim Rheticus to make his famous journey to meet Nicolaus Copernicus, ultimately resulting in the publication of De Libris Revolutionum in 1540, and of the landmark De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium in 1543. Schöner was also responsible for producing the first pair of globes of the same size to represent the Earth and the heavens, thereby establishing the standard practice of pairing terrestrial and celestial globes.
11 – Figures du Buffon by Jacques de Sève
$311,955 (€279,400) | Binoche et Giquello | June 1, 2016
A collection of 226 original drawings by French illustrator Jacques de Sève (1742 - 1788) who became famous for his superb illustrations of the Comte de Buffon's Histoire Naturelle Générale (see #50 on this list), a monumental work for which Sève produced over 2000 illustrations.
The drawings are dated between 1754 and 1789, all bear the signature of the artist, being 120 of mammals and reptiles, and 106 of birds, and are bound together in an album entitled Figures du Buffon.
Estimated conservatively at €80,000 to €100,000, the final price of €279,400 may well become one of the buys of the year as these are the only original drawings from one of the most important scientific works of the Enlightenment in private hands.
10 – Description De L'Egypte
$398,410 (£320,750) | Sothebys | November 15, 2016
The Description de l'Égypte (full title: Description De L'Egypte Ou Recueil Des Observations Et Des Recherches Qui Ont Été Faites En Egypte Pendant L'expédition De L'Armée Française) was a series of publications, begun in 1809 and continuing until 1830, which offered a comprehensive scientific description of ancient and modern Egypt from its antiquities to its agriculture including language, music, costume, and natural history, and it concludes with a detailed and accurate map of the region. The numerous plates depicting the antiquities provide a comprehensive record of the richness of ancient Egyptian culture.
The Description de l'Égypte was the largest printed work ever produced and is highly sought-after, with the world record of $2,882,500 being achieved by Christie's (New York) in April, 2012 (see also The most valuable scientific documents of all-time #10-1).
9 – Sidereus Nuncius by Galileo Galilei
$415,464 (£314,500) | Christies | July 13, 2016
Sidereus Nuncius is one of the landmark scientific publications in history. Written by Italian polymath Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642), the book introduced the world to his astronomical discoveries made using his home-made telescope, and is hence the foundation work of modern astronomy. Even the word "telescope" was not even coined until the year after this book was published – Galileo refers to the device in this book as a "perspicillum."
Galileo did not invent the telescope, but when he heard about the device being built in Holland in 1609, he set about making his own. Within a few months, he had improved upon his first X9 magnification to a X32 magnification, pointed it towards the heavens and then published his observations in this book in 1610. Those observations included the first details of Jupiter's four moons and his revelations about galaxies such as the Milky Way consisting of numerous stars. The drawings he made of the craters of the moon were published in this book for the first time and, building upon the previously published work of Nicolaus Copernicus, helped to change our understanding of the universe from a geocentric (everything revolves around the Earth) model to a heliocentric (centered on the Sun) model.
The conflict Galileo's discoveries created with the Catholic Church finally resulted in Galileo being sentenced to house arrest for the remainder of his life. Remarkably, four centuries and 120 lunar spacecraft missions later, the church has yet to fully come to terms with the injustices committed against Galileo.
The copy auctioned yesterday sold for £314,500 ($415,464), with the record price for the book being $662,500 which was achieved at a Christie's (New York) auction in December, 2010.
8 – Les Voyages du Sieur de Champlain Xaintongeois
by Samuel de Champlain
$425,000 | Christies | April 5, 2016
This is the second Samuel de Champlain entry in this list, the first being Les Voyages de la Nouvelle France occidentale at #49. This 1613 book is a recognized landmark of French Americana and New World exploration, a pioneering work in ethnography and the first accurate mapping of the New England coast. The work is already in the top 50 scientific books and manuscripts ever sold at auction, with the most expensive copy having sold in 1999 at a Sotheby's New York auction for $360,000, then again for $758,000 at a Dreawatts Bloomsbury auction in New York in December, 2009.
From the auction description of that work: One of the most important works of the 17th century, remarkable in its content and execution, being the work of one man – a gifted naturalist, an artist (trained as a portrait painter in France), a skilled cartographer and sympathetic ethnographer. Samuel de Champlain's account of his voyages of 1604, 1610, 1611 and 1613 are a key exploration narrative, one considerably enhanced by the author's lively illustrations in which he records his mapping of a vast area with unprecedented detail and accuracy, while also depicting the flora and fauna of the New World. The vignettes within the rare Carte Geographique de la Nouvelle Franse are an artist's rendition of new species, giving a hint of the varied and vast natural resources to be found in the New World. Of this monumental cartographic endeavor, Armstrong called the map, "not the work of a bureaucrat, but of a skillful pyschologist, promoter and politician…Champlain's map of 1612 is the most important historical cartography of Canada."
7 – The Great and Small Voyages by Theodor de Bry, Theodor de Johann & Israel de Johann
$545,000 | Christies | April 5, 2016
The inspiration for this work came when Theodor de Bry (1528-1598) visit England in 1587, where he met Richard Hakluyt and became interested in Hakluyt's collection of voyages, eventually published as The Principal Navigations, Voiages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation (see #48 of the Top 50 Most Valuable Scientific Documents), but at that stage Hakluyt's work was still in preparation.
Hakluyt persuaded De Bry to publish a collection of voyages similar to his own to cover the Americas, assisting him with sources of New World exploration and giving him with a copy of Thomas Hariot's 1588 book, A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (full PDF here).
In 1590 Theodor had completed the first part, and he went on to publish five further parts before his death in 1598, when his sons Johann Theodor and Johann Israel took over the task of completing the Great Voyages and began the Small Voyages. These works were immediately popular and provided the standard European image of the Americas and the East Indies.
This set only lacks the final part of the Great Voyages, published in 1634, and the final two parts of the Little Voyages, published in 1619 and 1628. Many of sets which appear on the market today are made up from various copies, often washed and inevitably in later bindings. It is remarkable to find a set such as this in such unadulterated form in a contemporary binding.
6 – Grooten Atlas by Johannes Blaeu
$567,366 (£389,000) | Sothebys | April 28, 2016
See #15 on this list for full description.
5 – Cosmographia by Claudius Ptolemaeus (Ptolomy)
$725,000 | Christies | April 5, 2016
There are two copies of Cosmographia on this list, the other at # 39, having been sold for £131,000 ($163,362) by Bonhams on November 9, 2016. Indeed, copies of this famous atlas often regularly come to auction and they almost never fail to sell for extraordinary amounts. Some previous sales of Cosmographia include $1,267,500 at a Sotheby's auction in June, 1998, $778,803 (£506,500) at a Sotheby's auction in November, 2014 and $725,000 at a Christies auction in April, 2016, while the record price for a copy of the original 1477 printing of Cosmographia is $3,966,804 (£2,139,000) achieved by Sotheby's (London) in 2006 and one of the 10 most valuable scientific documents of all-time.
4 – De Animalibus by Aristotle
$941,000 | Bonhams | June 8, 2016
This recently rediscovered 15th-century illuminated edition of Aristotle's de Animabilis (consisting of three texts: De historia animalium; De partibus animalium; and De generatione animalium) was estimated by Bonhams at $300,000 to $500,000 and clearly went well above expectations.
Though this book was printed in medieval Italy in 1476, and translated into Latin by Greek scholar Theodore Gaza, it was written 2,400 years ago by Aristotle (384 to 322 BC), and is unquestionably the foundation of the scientific study of biology.
From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, this book provided the "first systematic and comprehensive study of animals. There was nothing of similar scope and sophistication again until the 16th century."
Similarly, Grolier Medicine's entry: "Historia animalium is an immense collection of biological data – anatomical, physiological, behavioral – on over five hundred species of animals. Aristotle's interest lay in identifying and classifying groups of animals and in explaining their functioning as a part of nature, and it was the data reported in Historia animalium that provided the basis for his philosophical analyses of relationships between structure, function, and purpose. In De partibus animalium he explored these 'links of causation' in the various groups of animals. In De generatione animalium he dealt with the principles of animal generation, including organs and secretions, gave a detailed account of generation in the different groups of animals, answered various questions connected with generation, and finally gave an explanation of development after birth and of the differences between individuals of the same species."
For those who want to take a look for themselves and don't read Latin, there's a complete English translation available at the MIT Classics Archive.
Aristotle's De animalibus is the earliest known work of empirical natural history and as such it was a milestone in the development of western thought.
3 – De Libris Revolutionum by Rheticus
$2,402,292 (£1,818,500) | Christies | July 13, 2016
As we predicted in our preview of this lot when it came to auction, this copy of De Libris Revolutionum Eruditissimi Viridoctoris sold above its £1,200,000 – £1,800,000 estimate as it is exceedingly rare and the last time a copy came to auction was at a Sotheby's New York auction in November 1989. In the end, it fetched £1,818,500 ($2,402,292), which is somewhat ironic as the book is the work of Georg Joachim Rheticus, and is based on his studies under Nicolaus Copernicus, the person credited with the heliocentric theory. When published in 1540, this book provided the momentum needed for Copernicus to finally have his landmark De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium published in 1543.
The irony comes from the fact that this book sold for more than the most valuable first edition copy of his master's master work which sold for $2,210,500 at a Christie's (New York) auction in June 2008.
2 – Hortus Eystettensis by Basilius Besler
$2,550,247 (£1,930,500) | Christies | July 13, 2016
One of just 15 complete copies of the "most famous flower book in the world," this copy of the 400 year-old Hortus Eystettensis (Garden of Eichstätt) by Basilius Besler attracted considerable interest from around the globe in 2016 when it went to auction in London.
The book was a newly discovered copy of what the auction description termed "the most celebrated florilegium ever published," and what a find it was, being a deluxe colored copy of the first edition still in its original binding.
Besler's Hortus Eystettensis is a codex of the garden of Johann Konrad von Gemmingen, the bishop of Eichstätt in Bavaria. Commissioned by the Bishop, it was compiled over sixteen years, and involving dozens of skilled craftsmen. There's a lot written about this book, but in essence,Hortus Eystettensis changed botanical art forever.
The emphasis in botanical works of previous centuries had been on medicinal and culinary herbs, usually poorly depicted and inadequate for identification, much less for any aesthetic qualities. The illustrations in Hortus Eystettensis covered over 1000 species from garden flowers, herbs and vegetables, through exotic plants such as castor-oil and arum lilies, all large and in rich detail. Two versions of Hortus Eystettensis were published: a black and white edition costing 35 florins, and a luxury version without text, printed on quality paper and lavishly hand-colored, costing 500 florins. Wikipedia records that Besler purchased a comfortable home in a fashionable part of Nürnberg at a price of 2,500 florins with the profits. Such was the wherewithal required to own a book 400 years ago – one fifth the price of a luxury home. It may seem like a small print run these days, but just 300 copies were produced of the first edition and they took four years to sell.
1 – Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica
by Sir Isaac Newton
$3,719,500 | Christies | December 14, 2016
The biggest scientific document sale of the year waited until the last minute to happen, but a first edition of Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica sold for $3,719,500 on December 14 at Christies, setting a new record for the foundation work of modern science. The auctioned copy was one of the original first printing of just 300-400 copies in Latin, of which roughly 150 copies are known to still exist. Only one other copy of Newton's Principia bound in contemporary morocco has sold at auction in the past 47 years, being the presentation copy to King James II, which was sold by Christie's (New York) in December 2013 for $2,517,000 (see also The most valuable scientific documents of all-time #20-11) and held the record until this auction.View gallery - 52 images