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The world's most valuable scientific books and manuscripts - an overview of the marketplace

The world's most valuable scie...
An analysis of the world's most valuable scientific documents and manuscripts, and it illustrates both how far science has come in a relatively short time, and how little we value our legacy in monetary terms
An analysis of the world's most valuable scientific documents and manuscripts, and it illustrates both how far science has come in a relatively short time, and how little we value our legacy in monetary terms
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In 2015, Albert Einstein entered Time's list at #6, just behind Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and John Lennon. He's an unlikely candidate for most charismatic personal brand of all time, given he rarely spoke in public, and wasn't in film, TV or music, but that's the league he's now playing in six decades after his death. By all available measures, Albert Einstein has become one of the strongest personal brand names in history.
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In 2015, Albert Einstein entered Time's list at #6, just behind Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and John Lennon. He's an unlikely candidate for most charismatic personal brand of all time, given he rarely spoke in public, and wasn't in film, TV or music, but that's the league he's now playing in six decades after his death. By all available measures, Albert Einstein has become one of the strongest personal brand names in history.
Moveable type like that used by Gutenberg
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Moveable type like that used by Gutenberg
Our knowledge of medicine was frighteningly ignorant until very recently. Perhaps the most illustrative example of how little physicians knew just a short time ago comes from Edward Dolnick's The Clockwork Universe, about the fate of English Monarch Charles II, who had the misfortune to suffer a stroke in 1685: First, the royal physicians drained the king of two cups of blood. Next they administered an enema, a purgative and a dose of sneezing powder. They drained another cup of blood, still nothing helped. They rubbed an ointment of pidgeon dung and powdered pearls onto the royal feet. They seared the King's shaved skull and bare feet with red hot irons. Nothing helped, and the King fell into convulsions. Doctors then prepared a potion whose principal ingredient was 40 drops of extract of human skull. After four days, Charles died.
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Our knowledge of medicine was frighteningly ignorant until very recently. Perhaps the most illustrative example of how little physicians knew just a short time ago comes from Edward Dolnick's The Clockwork Universe, about the fate of English Monarch Charles II, who had the misfortune to suffer a stroke in 1685: First, the royal physicians drained the king of two cups of blood. Next they administered an enema, a purgative and a dose of sneezing powder. They drained another cup of blood, still nothing helped. They rubbed an ointment of pidgeon dung and powdered pearls onto the royal feet. They seared the King's shaved skull and bare feet with red hot irons. Nothing helped, and the King fell into convulsions. Doctors then prepared a potion whose principal ingredient was 40 drops of extract of human skull. After four days, Charles died.
 Newton's work on pure mathematics was virtually hidden from all but his personal correspondents for many decades, and then a great international debate began with both Newton and Willhelm Gottfried Leibniz claiming the prize of having invented calculus. Mathematics is the language of the Gods, the Queen of Sciences, and it was not until we had calculus, which enabled us to explore the science of things that change, that science was able to move forward at the frenetic pace it has since the addendum to Opticks: a treatise of the reflexions, refractions, inflexions and colours of light . This final addition to Opticks, a tract on the quadrature of curves (integration) and another on the classification of the cubic curves, is one of Newton's many attempts to assert his priority over Leibniz. The two "Treatises of the Species and Magnitude of Curvilinear Figures" included at the end of the text of Opticks are Newton's first published mathematical papers. His Cambridge lectures, delivered from about 1673 to 1683, were published in 1707. It would be fair to say that both of these great men came up with calculus independently, as did the Persians five hundred years before them, and the Greeks went very close 2000 years before them too. Our view of scientific history is largely eurocentric and it is very sad that the scientific breakthroughs of the Chinese civilization are so poorly recognised, as we will only fully understand our heritage when it is fully documented.
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 Newton's work on pure mathematics was virtually hidden from all but his personal correspondents for many decades, and then a great international debate began with both Newton and Willhelm Gottfried Leibniz claiming the prize of having invented calculus. Mathematics is the language of the Gods, the Queen of Sciences, and it was not until we had calculus, which enabled us to explore the science of things that change, that science was able to move forward at the frenetic pace it has since the addendum to Opticks: a treatise of the reflexions, refractions, inflexions and colours of light . This final addition to Opticks, a tract on the quadrature of curves (integration) and another on the classification of the cubic curves, is one of Newton's many attempts to assert his priority over Leibniz. The two "Treatises of the Species and Magnitude of Curvilinear Figures" included at the end of the text of Opticks are Newton's first published mathematical papers. His Cambridge lectures, delivered from about 1673 to 1683, were published in 1707. It would be fair to say that both of these great men came up with calculus independently, as did the Persians five hundred years before them, and the Greeks went very close 2000 years before them too. Our view of scientific history is largely eurocentric and it is very sad that the scientific breakthroughs of the Chinese civilization are so poorly recognised, as we will only fully understand our heritage when it is fully documented.
London auction House
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London auction House
De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the revolutions of the heavenly spheres), by Nicolaus Copernicus was published less than 500 years ago, and presented compelling evidence that the Earth was not the center of the universe with the heliocentric theory. His book was finally published in 1543, though it's core was written at least three decades prior, and Copernicus resisted publication, finally handed one of the first printed copies on his death bed. He was thus spared the fury of the Catholic Church which regarded his heliocentric views as heresy.
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De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the revolutions of the heavenly spheres), by Nicolaus Copernicus was published less than 500 years ago, and presented compelling evidence that the Earth was not the center of the universe with the heliocentric theory. His book was finally published in 1543, though it's core was written at least three decades prior, and Copernicus resisted publication, finally handed one of the first printed copies on his death bed. He was thus spared the fury of the Catholic Church which regarded his heliocentric views as heresy.
The Archimedes Palimpsest was auctioned in New York by Christie's in October 1998 and sold for $2,202,500. It was a common practice to overwrite manuscripts considered no longer useful and this medieval Byzantine prayerbook, written in Greek, probably in Jerusalem, in April, 1229 contained some hidden treasure. The original 174 parchment folios which were overwritten to create the prayerbook include no less than seven treatises by Archimedes (c. 287 BC – c. 212 BC). 
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The Archimedes Palimpsest was auctioned in New York by Christie's in October 1998 and sold for $2,202,500. It was a common practice to overwrite manuscripts considered no longer useful and this medieval Byzantine prayerbook, written in Greek, probably in Jerusalem, in April, 1229 contained some hidden treasure. The original 174 parchment folios which were overwritten to create the prayerbook include no less than seven treatises by Archimedes (c. 287 BC – c. 212 BC). 
The frailty of paper as a recording medium is sadly only too evident from our research. The Gutenberg Bible (above) was the first book produced with movable type and printing began in 1454. Of the roughly 180 copies created with this new production technology (around 45 on the much hardier vellum), there are now only 50 substantial portions of copies still known, of which 21 are complete. There is now a substantial marketplace in leaves or portions of leaves from the remains of the surviving partial bibles. In 2015, Sotheby's auctioned a book with just eight leaves from an original Gutenberg bible, fetching $970,000.
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The frailty of paper as a recording medium is sadly only too evident from our research. The Gutenberg Bible (above) was the first book produced with movable type and printing began in 1454. Of the roughly 180 copies created with this new production technology (around 45 on the much hardier vellum), there are now only 50 substantial portions of copies still known, of which 21 are complete. There is now a substantial marketplace in leaves or portions of leaves from the remains of the surviving partial bibles. In 2015, Sotheby's auctioned a book with just eight leaves from an original Gutenberg bible, fetching $970,000.
This pair of gilt-metal globes (one terrestrial and one celestial) were once owned by Sultan Murad III (1546 – 1595), Emperor of the Ottoman Empire from 1574 until his death in 1595. The globes are 29.6 cm in diameter and are believed to from the workshop of Gerardus Mercator (see listing #42 in this ranking). The globes were sold $1,778,486 (£1,023,000) on an estimate of £400,000 - £600,000 at a Christie's (London) auction in October, 1991.
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This pair of gilt-metal globes (one terrestrial and one celestial) were once owned by Sultan Murad III (1546 – 1595), Emperor of the Ottoman Empire from 1574 until his death in 1595. The globes are 29.6 cm in diameter and are believed to from the workshop of Gerardus Mercator (see listing #42 in this ranking). The globes were sold $1,778,486 (£1,023,000) on an estimate of £400,000 - £600,000 at a Christie's (London) auction in October, 1991.
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The world's most expensive astrolabes ever sold were the royal brass astrolabe of the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II (1447 – 1512 and ruled from 1481) which sold for $1,546,447 (£962,500) at a Sotheby's (London) auction in October, 2014 and a Safavid silver-inlaid brass astrolabe made in the late 17th century in the capital of the Persian empire, Isfahan, by well-known instrument maker Muhammad Khalîl and decorated by Muhammad Bâqir. The astrolabe fetched $1,430,352 (£826,500) at a Sotheby's (London) auction in October, 2008.
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The world's most expensive astrolabes ever sold were the royal brass astrolabe of the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II (1447 – 1512 and ruled from 1481) which sold for $1,546,447 (£962,500) at a Sotheby's (London) auction in October, 2014 and a Safavid silver-inlaid brass astrolabe made in the late 17th century in the capital of the Persian empire, Isfahan, by well-known instrument maker Muhammad Khalîl and decorated by Muhammad Bâqir. The astrolabe fetched $1,430,352 (£826,500) at a Sotheby's (London) auction in October, 2008.
This 34.5 cm (13½ in.) Silesian parcel-gilt statuette of the Greek God Chronos supporting an Armillary Sphere sold for $994,402 (€781,000) at Christie's sale of the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé Collection in February, 2009. Dubbed the "sale of the century" by the art press, the collection fetched a record €373,935,500 ($476.1 million) including a Matisse painting for €35.9 million. The statuette and armillary sphere was created circa 1630, and the legend of Chronos later morphed into another well-known figure – Father Time. Regardless of the fact it includes a working armillary sphere which makes it a working scientific instrument.
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This 34.5 cm (13½ in.) Silesian parcel-gilt statuette of the Greek God Chronos supporting an Armillary Sphere sold for $994,402 (€781,000) at Christie's sale of the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé Collection in February, 2009. Dubbed the "sale of the century" by the art press, the collection fetched a record €373,935,500 ($476.1 million) including a Matisse painting for €35.9 million. The statuette and armillary sphere was created circa 1630, and the legend of Chronos later morphed into another well-known figure – Father Time. Regardless of the fact it includes a working armillary sphere which makes it a working scientific instrument.
This Louis XVI Ormolu Striking Table Clock is part objet d'art and part scientific instrument, with a calendar, moonphase, equation of time and terrestrial 'sphere mouvante'. It was created in Paris circa 1770 – 1775 by Jean-Matthieu Mabille and Martin Baffert. It sold at a Christies (London) auction in July, 2015 for $926,440 (£602,500)
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This Louis XVI Ormolu Striking Table Clock is part objet d'art and part scientific instrument, with a calendar, moonphase, equation of time and terrestrial 'sphere mouvante'. It was created in Paris circa 1770 – 1775 by Jean-Matthieu Mabille and Martin Baffert. It sold at a Christies (London) auction in July, 2015 for $926,440 (£602,500)
The 1933 Patek Philippe Graves Supercomplication Pocket Watch is the world's most valuable watch and arguably, the world's most expensive scientific instrument. It sold for US$24,052,309 (SFr. 23,237,000) at a Sotheby's (Geneva) auction in November, 2014. Think of this watch as an analog iPhone created 80 years ago. There are two faces (front and back) and 24 complications, including a perpetual calendar good until 2100, a moon dial, a sidereal time dial, power reserve indicator, sunrise and sunset times, a night sky map set for New York, and Westminster chimes to mark the passage of time. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the watch is that if you knew how to read it, you could actually use it as a GPS, though perhaps without the same accuracy as the iPhone. See our auction report for the back story.
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The 1933 Patek Philippe Graves Supercomplication Pocket Watch is the world's most valuable watch and arguably, the world's most expensive scientific instrument. It sold for US$24,052,309 (SFr. 23,237,000) at a Sotheby's (Geneva) auction in November, 2014. Think of this watch as an analog iPhone created 80 years ago. There are two faces (front and back) and 24 complications, including a perpetual calendar good until 2100, a moon dial, a sidereal time dial, power reserve indicator, sunrise and sunset times, a night sky map set for New York, and Westminster chimes to mark the passage of time. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the watch is that if you knew how to read it, you could actually use it as a GPS, though perhaps without the same accuracy as the iPhone. See our auction report for the back story.
An analysis of the world's most valuable scientific documents and manuscripts, and it illustrates both how far science has come in a relatively short time, and how little we value our legacy in monetary terms
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An analysis of the world's most valuable scientific documents and manuscripts, and it illustrates both how far science has come in a relatively short time, and how little we value our legacy in monetary terms

After several months researching the marketplace, we've compiled a list of the 50 most valuable scientific documents sold at auction. This article is a preview of the research and an overview of the scientific documents and manuscripts marketplaces. Over the next week we'll reveal our findings in detail, counting down to number one in a series of articles that provide an intriguing insight into both the history of science and the value of its most important writings.

It's been a fascinating journey analyzing the world's most valuable scientific documents and manuscripts, and it illustrates both how far science has come in a relatively short time, and how little we value our legacy in monetary terms.

Moveable type like that used by Gutenberg
Moveable type like that used by Gutenberg

Just 500 years ago, print was emerging as the first mass medium and with it, the first commonly available access to knowledge. Before Gutenberg's bible was completed (circa 1455), there were around 30,000 books in all of Europe. Each one had been written by hand.

In the next 50 years, ten million books were printed. That volume of books broadcast the knowledge of a few to many and the transformation that resulted has continued to accelerate societal development to this day.

Six hundred and seventy years ago, the printing press kicked off the first wave of mass communication and "new thought" could suddenly travel great distances, while education could be leveraged to include more people and, in turn, catalyze further advancement. Which it did, accelerating mankind's understanding of how the world worked, and how to make it better.

As the list of the world's most valuable scientific documents will so clearly illustrate, once the number of printing presses began to multiply and we cast off the shackles of recording information by handwriting alone, knowledge and understanding began propagating across the world at a much greater pace.

The frailty of paper as a recording medium is sadly only too evident from our research. The Gutenberg Bible (above) was the first book produced with movable type and printing began in 1454. Of the roughly 180 copies created with this new production technology (around 45 on the much hardier vellum), there are now only 50 substantial portions of copies still known, of which 21 are complete. There is now a substantial marketplace in leaves or portions of leaves from the remains of the surviving partial bibles. In 2015, Sotheby's auctioned a book with just eight leaves from an original Gutenberg bible, fetching $970,000.
The frailty of paper as a recording medium is sadly only too evident from our research. The Gutenberg Bible (above) was the first book produced with movable type and printing began in 1454. Of the roughly 180 copies created with this new production technology (around 45 on the much hardier vellum), there are now only 50 substantial portions of copies still known, of which 21 are complete. There is now a substantial marketplace in leaves or portions of leaves from the remains of the surviving partial bibles. In 2015, Sotheby's auctioned a book with just eight leaves from an original Gutenberg bible, fetching $970,000.

The frailty of paper as a recording medium is sadly only too evident from our research. The Gutenberg Bible (above) was the first book produced with movable type in 1454. Of the roughly 180 copies created with this new production technology (around 45 on the much more durable vellum), there are now only 50 substantial portions of copies still known, of which 21 are complete. There is now a substantial marketplace in leaves or portions of leaves from the remains of the surviving partial bibles. In 2015, Sotheby's auctioned a book with just eight leaves from an original Gutenberg bible, fetching US$970,000.

It's very hard to determine the value of such books because there are very few data points spread over a long period of time and each data point represents a different sub-set of the original whole bible. Christie's sold the last complete one for $2.2 million in 1978 and a partial copy (the Old Testament) sold for $5,390,000 in 1987, which at the time was the most expensive printed book ever sold. Hence, most of the books, documents and manuscripts on our list are from the last 500 years as the few treasures that might have once been housed in the Library of Alexandria or any other place of higher learning, have survived only in museums and libraries.

De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the revolutions of the heavenly spheres), by Nicolaus Copernicus was published less than 500 years ago, and presented compelling evidence that the Earth was not the center of the universe with the heliocentric theory. His book was finally published in 1543, though it's core was written at least three decades prior, and Copernicus resisted publication, finally handed one of the first printed copies on his death bed. He was thus spared the fury of the Catholic Church which regarded his heliocentric views as heresy.
De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the revolutions of the heavenly spheres), by Nicolaus Copernicus was published less than 500 years ago, and presented compelling evidence that the Earth was not the center of the universe with the heliocentric theory. His book was finally published in 1543, though it's core was written at least three decades prior, and Copernicus resisted publication, finally handed one of the first printed copies on his death bed. He was thus spared the fury of the Catholic Church which regarded his heliocentric views as heresy.

Copernicus is rightfully on this list. Until he presented compelling evidence to the contrary, in our profound ignorance and arrogance, we thought our world was the center of the universe. The first telescope arrived just 400 years ago, highlighting our insignificance. The first microscope arrived soon after, opening a vast window into a world we had previously not known at all.

Our knowledge of medicine was frighteningly ignorant until very recently. Perhaps the most illustrative example of how little physicians knew just a short time ago comes from Edward Dolnick's The Clockwork Universe, about the fate of English Monarch Charles II, who had the misfortune to suffer a stroke in 1685: First, the royal physicians drained the king of two cups of blood. Next they administered an enema, a purgative and a dose of sneezing powder. They drained another cup of blood, still nothing helped. They rubbed an ointment of pidgeon dung and powdered pearls onto the royal feet. They seared the King's shaved skull and bare feet with red hot irons. Nothing helped, and the King fell into convulsions. Doctors then prepared a potion whose principal ingredient was 40 drops of extract of human skull. After four days, Charles died.
Our knowledge of medicine was frighteningly ignorant until very recently. Perhaps the most illustrative example of how little physicians knew just a short time ago comes from Edward Dolnick's The Clockwork Universe, about the fate of English Monarch Charles II, who had the misfortune to suffer a stroke in 1685: First, the royal physicians drained the king of two cups of blood. Next they administered an enema, a purgative and a dose of sneezing powder. They drained another cup of blood, still nothing helped. They rubbed an ointment of pidgeon dung and powdered pearls onto the royal feet. They seared the King's shaved skull and bare feet with red hot irons. Nothing helped, and the King fell into convulsions. Doctors then prepared a potion whose principal ingredient was 40 drops of extract of human skull. After four days, Charles died.

Our knowledge of medicine was equally frighteningly ignorant until very recently. Perhaps the most illustrative example of how little physicians knew just a short time ago comes from Edward Dolnick's The Clockwork Universe, about the fate of English Monarch Charles II, who had the misfortune to suffer a stroke in 1685:

First, the royal physicians drained the king of two cups of blood. Next they administered an enema, a purgative and a dose of sneezing powder. They drained another cup of blood, still nothing helped. They rubbed an ointment of pidgeon dung and powdered pearls onto the royal feet. They seared the King's shaved skull and bare feet with red hot irons. Nothing helped, and the King fell into convulsions. Doctors then prepared a potion whose principal ingredient was 40 drops of extract of human skull. After four days, Charles died.

This was just 330 years ago, and the level of medical knowledge available to even a monarch was clearly quite farcical. And as a whole, the top 50 tells the history of science. Many of the books on the list are the finest specimens of the most important books in history still in private hands.

Equally, or perhaps more important than just the spread of knowledge was the sudden building upon the knowledge of others. Isaac Newton, arguably the greatest scientist of all time, said "if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants", and despite this being a line designed to create further animosity in one of his many spats with other scientists, indeed he had, because if it had not been for the astonishing insights of Copernicus, the bold genius of Galileo, and the invention of analytic geometry by René Descartes and Pierre de Fermat, it's unlikely he (and Gottfried Leibniz) would have had the wherewithal and understanding to create calculus so that we could finally describe movement mathematically.

 Newton's work on pure mathematics was virtually hidden from all but his personal correspondents for many decades, and then a great international debate began with both Newton and Willhelm Gottfried Leibniz claiming the prize of having invented calculus. Mathematics is the language of the Gods, the Queen of Sciences, and it was not until we had calculus, which enabled us to explore the science of things that change, that science was able to move forward at the frenetic pace it has since the addendum to Opticks: a treatise of the reflexions, refractions, inflexions and colours of light . This final addition to Opticks, a tract on the quadrature of curves (integration) and another on the classification of the cubic curves, is one of Newton's many attempts to assert his priority over Leibniz. The two "Treatises of the Species and Magnitude of Curvilinear Figures" included at the end of the text of Opticks are Newton's first published mathematical papers. His Cambridge lectures, delivered from about 1673 to 1683, were published in 1707. It would be fair to say that both of these great men came up with calculus independently, as did the Persians five hundred years before them, and the Greeks went very close 2000 years before them too. Our view of scientific history is largely eurocentric and it is very sad that the scientific breakthroughs of the Chinese civilization are so poorly recognised, as we will only fully understand our heritage when it is fully documented.
 Newton's work on pure mathematics was virtually hidden from all but his personal correspondents for many decades, and then a great international debate began with both Newton and Willhelm Gottfried Leibniz claiming the prize of having invented calculus. Mathematics is the language of the Gods, the Queen of Sciences, and it was not until we had calculus, which enabled us to explore the science of things that change, that science was able to move forward at the frenetic pace it has since the addendum to Opticks: a treatise of the reflexions, refractions, inflexions and colours of light . This final addition to Opticks, a tract on the quadrature of curves (integration) and another on the classification of the cubic curves, is one of Newton's many attempts to assert his priority over Leibniz. The two "Treatises of the Species and Magnitude of Curvilinear Figures" included at the end of the text of Opticks are Newton's first published mathematical papers. His Cambridge lectures, delivered from about 1673 to 1683, were published in 1707. It would be fair to say that both of these great men came up with calculus independently, as did the Persians five hundred years before them, and the Greeks went very close 2000 years before them too. Our view of scientific history is largely eurocentric and it is very sad that the scientific breakthroughs of the Chinese civilization are so poorly recognised, as we will only fully understand our heritage when it is fully documented.

Mathematics, after seemingly lying dormant for several millenia since Zeno, Eudoxus, Archimedes, Euclid, Pappus, Plato and Pythagorus made the first significant discoveries in the language of the Gods, was suddenly and dramatically advanced by Descartes, Fermat, Pascal, Newton and Leibniz, all within a blink of history's eye. Had it not been for mathematical advancement in the Middle East and Asia, you could be excused for thinking that mankind had taken a 2000 year holiday from thinking.

The formation of the Royal Society in London in 1660 marked the beginning of a 50 year period that saw a quantum leap in man's understanding of science. In that period, mankind was given the basic tools to begin unraveling the mysteries of the universe. Those tools gave us the bedrock upon which our understanding is now built. Many of those names have documents in our list of the most valuable scientific documents, and as we expand the list, many more of those names will be added. Our research can currently see what we think is the majority of the top 250 scientific documents and manuscripts, but it's a work in progress so we've concentrated on the top 50 such treasures and will expand it to the top 100 over time.

The Archimedes Palimpsest was auctioned in New York by Christie's in October 1998 and sold for $2,202,500. It was a common practice to overwrite manuscripts considered no longer useful and this medieval Byzantine prayerbook, written in Greek, probably in Jerusalem, in April, 1229 contained some hidden treasure. The original 174 parchment folios which were overwritten to create the prayerbook include no less than seven treatises by Archimedes (c. 287 BC – c. 212 BC). 
The Archimedes Palimpsest was auctioned in New York by Christie's in October 1998 and sold for $2,202,500. It was a common practice to overwrite manuscripts considered no longer useful and this medieval Byzantine prayerbook, written in Greek, probably in Jerusalem, in April, 1229 contained some hidden treasure. The original 174 parchment folios which were overwritten to create the prayerbook include no less than seven treatises by Archimedes (c. 287 BC – c. 212 BC). 

Are historical scientific documents undervalued?

Only 31 scientific documents have ever fetched more than a million dollars and they each have a story worth reading. They represent the most significant contributions to human knowledge with the written word.

By comparison, there are twice as many religious texts, five times that number of wristwatches and heading for 100 times more cars that have sold for a million or more at auction.

Coins and comic books, too, are seemingly considered in the same societal league of importance as these landmarks of human knowledge – more than 30 coins and a dozen comic books have cracked the million-dollar threshold at auction, as have four baseball cards.

Baby boomers were the first widely educated generation in history, and it is likely that as each successive generation becomes better educated, the true worth of these documents to mankind will emerge and they will become exceptional long term investments.

Highest priced is not really the most valuable

Despite the headline of this article, the books and manuscripts listed here are not really the most valuable – they are only the documents that have sold for the most money at auction. Indeed, while our premise in this article is that scientific books and manuscripts don't get the respect they really deserve on the auction block, very few scientific books and manuscripts of note are privately held, which makes their relatively low prices even more surprising. Most genuinely rare and important written or printed items from the realm of scientific knowledge are held in museums and libraries where due respect has long been acknowledged. Our profound acknowledgement must go to the museum curators and librarians who have safeguarded mankind's scientific heritage.

We believe that one day, the artifacts of the greatest scientific discoveries in history will command more money at auction than entertainment and sporting memorabilia. It may be a long way into the future before true perspective on human achievement is restored, but it's almost certain that it will come to pass, and scientific books and manuscripts of monumental significance and provenance are the type of investment that your children's children's children will undoubtedly appreciate.

So too will be first folio editions, and subsequent editions of books of lasting value to humanity. The legendary exploits of sporting heroes such as Muhammad Ali, Juan Manuel Fangio and Babe Ruth may or may not diminish over time. Similarly, the great cinematic and literary works of history, but the contribution to mankind of pioneering thinkers whose genius underpinned our understanding of the universe will increase much more markedly. Historical documents can be expected to follow a similar trajectory.

London auction House
London auction House

Christie's and Sotheby's dominate the scientific manuscript auction marketplace

Christie's has sold 49 of the top 100 scientific documents, and Sotheby's has sold 36 of the top 100, accounting for 85 percent of the elite end of the market between them. Interestingly, Christies has more strength at the very top with 14 of the top 20 and 27 of the top 50, after which Sotheby's share of the elite scientific auction market is almost equal.

Only three other auction houses have sold more than one document in the top 100, being Alde and Bonhams with three each, and Pierre Berge with two. Other auction houses to have sold a book or manuscript in the top 100 include Australian Book Auctions, Dreweatts & Bloomsbury, Guernseys, James D Julia, Swann Galleries and Thomas Scheler. As far as we know, the Kansas City Womens Club (which auctioned an autograph copy of Einstein's Theory of Relativity paper in 1944 for the war effort, fetching $6.5 million) are no longer in the auction game.

New York and London account for the majority of sales

Of the top 50 scientific documents sold at auction, New York auctions account for slightly more than half (27), with London auctions another 13, giving the two cities 80 percent between them. Only Paris appears to offer a viable alternative location if you are selling something in this elite space, with six of the top 50 sales. Melbourne and Kansas City were the outliers.

Science's rock-star

In 2015, Albert Einstein entered Time's list at #6, just behind Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and John Lennon. He's an unlikely candidate for most charismatic personal brand of all time, given he rarely spoke in public, and wasn't in film, TV or music, but that's the league he's now playing in six decades after his death. By all available measures, Albert Einstein has become one of the strongest personal brand names in history.
In 2015, Albert Einstein entered Time's list at #6, just behind Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and John Lennon. He's an unlikely candidate for most charismatic personal brand of all time, given he rarely spoke in public, and wasn't in film, TV or music, but that's the league he's now playing in six decades after his death. By all available measures, Albert Einstein has become one of the strongest personal brand names in history.

When we started searching for documents and manuscripts for Albert Einstein, we spent days correlating them all, realizing along the way that the world's best known scientist was indeed a rock star celebrity with a remarkable record on the auction block.

At auction, there are many names with a stellar multiplication factor beyond the obvious entertainers: people who have influenced history as a leader, politician, captain of industry, artist, musician, sports star ... people with personal qualities that resonate with a very large marketplace ... items with a connection to Princess Diana, Princess Grace, Audrey Hepburn, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, Elvis Presley, Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali and Yves St Laurent all command big prices at auction.

Many people don't enter the pantheon of celebrity while they are still alive. Indeed, many people earn more in death than they did in life and it's no coincidence that those individuals with the highest auction multiples (Monroe, McQueen, Lennon, Taylor, Jackson) can be regularly found on Time's Top Earning Dead Celebrity List. Included on that list are Charles Schultz (Peanuts) and Theodor Giesel (Dr. Seuss), James Dean, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Lee, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Cash.

In 2015, Albert Einstein entered Time's list at #6, just behind Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and John Lennon. He's an unlikely candidate for most charismatic personal brand of all time, given he rarely spoke in public, and wasn't in film, TV or music, but that's the league he's now playing in six decades after his death. By all available measures, Albert Einstein has become one of the strongest personal brand names in history.

We covered Einstein's remarkable record on the auction block when his leather jacket went to auction earlier this year, and again when his childhood building blocks and pocket watch broke auction records.

Throughout the next week we'll bring you the full list of the 50 most valuable scientific documents to have sold at auction.

The first documents of the top 50, from numbers 50 through 41 is now available.

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