It has been another fabulous week for rare scientific and historical artifacts, though the flavor of our regular On the Block column this week is largely automotive, with the first of the New Year round of auctions looming.
In our last report we raised the possibility that Newton's Principia might set a new record, and it did.
Newton's Principia fetches $3.7 million
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. 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.
This copy was estimated to fetch between $1 million and $1.5 million, but the record fell easily in the end, as the estimate was more than doubled. Of the original indeterminate number of copies printed, roughly 150 copies are known to still exist.
Hendrix acoustic guitar fetches $260K
Jimi Hendrix's longest-owned guitar might have been estimated to sell for between £80,000 and £120,000 (US$100,000 to $150,000), but Hendrix has special cachet on the auction block and the acoustic 1951 Epiphone sold for £209,000 (US$259,557) at Bonhams' London Entertainment Memorabilia auction on December 15.
As the guitar Hendrix owned longest, he used it more than any other in his tragically short career and as predicted, it easily moved into our list of the 60 most valuable guitars ever sold at auction.
Autograph George Washington letter sells for $307,500
Items of significance in American history always do well at auction, and this autograph 6-page letter from George Washington (1732-1799) to François Jean de Beauvoir, Marquis de Chastellux (1734-1788) fetched $307,500.
The letter was written while Washington was awaiting news on the ratification of the constitution: "Should it be adopted … America will lift up her head again and in a few years become respectable among the Nations."
Prince's Cloud Guitar sells for £87,500 ($108,444)
The Bonhams auction on December 16 also included the instantly recognizable custom-made Schecter Cloud Guitar used by Prince. Prince used a number of Cloud guitars during his career, purchasing his first in 1983, and he used numerous examples of different colors to match the theatrical themes of his concert performances, sometimes respraying existing guitars. The image above shows Prince with this guitar from the Act II program, a copy of which is included in this sale with the New Power Generation band members' autographs on the back.
The guitar was estimated to sell for between £25,000 and £30,000 ($30,000 to $40,000) and fetched £87,500 ($108,444).
THE Indian-Vincent prototype heads for auction
There are more Vincents in our list of the top 250 motorcycles ever sold at auction than any other marque. Indian ranks fourth behind Harley-Davidson and Brough Superior. There were however, two Indian Vincents created when a joint-venture was planned in 1948. This is one of them and it is potentially one of the most valuable motorcycles on the planet. It will sell at auction at Bonhams Las Vegas sale.
The Indian-Vincent uses a Series C Rapide 1000 cc v-twin engine and components with an Indian frame and electrics, left-side gearshift, a bigger headlight, crashbars and a more upright seating position and wider bars.
Incomplete North American Indian fetches £70,000
This incomplete set of the North American Indian sold in the centre of the estimated range at £70,000 ($86,755). The full set was produced in 40 volumes between 1907 and 1930 by Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952) and was one of the most expensive undertakings in the history of book production and the most comprehensive ethnographic records of any aboriginal people. According to author and critic A.D. Coleman, it is "an absolutely unmatched masterpiece of visual anthropology, and one of the most thorough, extensive and profound photograph works of all time." The world record price for a complete set of The North American Indian is $2,882,500, set by Christie's (New York), in April, 2012. See also the most valuable scientific documents of all-time #10-1.
First edition of the "The Hobbit" fetches $8,675
Many of our readers would have seen a copy of Tolkien's The Hobbit that looked equally as loved as this one was, but few would have such a back story. The gift inscription is from Tolkien's aunt Emily Jane Suffield, to Bertram and Dorothy Stone and their two sons; "Aunt Jane" had famously passed letters between Tolkien's parents when they were initially courting, and her Cotswolds cottage was in part the inspiration for Bag End, home to Bilbo Baggins. The pencilled note addended to the blurb on the lower inside flap of the jacket refers to the secret back door into the Lonely Mountain. The book and assorted papers sold for £7000 ($8,675).
Farm-find Aston Martin DB4
Finding buried treasure has been a fantasy for everyone at some stage, and that's why barn-finds make such good stories. This 1961 Aston Martin DB4 was recently discovered after 45 years in the New Hampshire woods and will be one of the more interesting lots at this year's Scottsdale auctions – this one at Worldwide Auctioneers' inaugural Scottsdale sale on 18 January, 2017. It represents a lot of work, plus the estimated $375,000 to $475,000 for the car in current condition. The math adds up at that price.