Isaac Newton’s hand-written revisions to Principia fetch $2.35 million
One of the most valuable scientific documents in history changed hands this week, when an autographed Isaac Newton manuscript of revisions to three sections of the first edition of the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica sold at Christie’s in London for £1,702,500 (about US$2,350,000).
Newton’s Principia is arguably the most influential book in history. It was lauded by Albert Einstein as "perhaps the greatest intellectual stride that it has ever been granted to any man to make," so the manuscript of revisions was expected to fetch a princely sum. Christie’s official estimate ranged from £600,000 to £900,000 ($833,000 to $1,250,000), despite the fact the revisions didn’t appear in the second edition published in 1713, or the third edition in 1726.
The final price was well beyond expectations though, since the most expensive copy of a first-edition Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica ever sold fetched just $3,719,500 – and that was a Continental presentation copy bound in full inlaid Morocco leather. Indeed, this latest manuscript almost matched the price of the second-most valuable first-edition Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica ever sold, which was originally the King James II presentation copy. It sold in 2013 for $2,517,000, at a Christie’s auction in New York.
Hence it was the handwriting of Newton and the relationship to the most important book in history that appears to have fetched the massive price.
Written in Latin on one and a half pages of 220 x 189-mm paper, the heavily-corrected draft is dated from May to July, 1694. It features a total of 39 lines in Newton’s hand and 21 lines by Scottish mathematician and astronomer David Gregory, with whom Newton was collaborating.
Autographed scientific manuscripts by Newton are extremely rare and valuable, with a Newton handwritten document related to the Principia – just 1.625 x 7.25 inches in size – selling for $118,750 at University Archives on May 26th, 2021, and a previous Newton Principia-related manuscript fetching just over $230,000 in October 1999. Prior Principia autograph manuscripts also went to auction in 1991 and 1979, emphasizing their rarity.
There's more information on the latest manuscript in the video below.