It was as recently as June 13 that a presentation copy of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species made a record $400,000 (£316,353) at Bonhams New York – as reported in ATG No 2398. However, barely a month had passed before another 1859 first attracted a substantial six-figure bid in London.
Extracted from Antiques Trade Gazette | Ian McKay
Sold for £180,000, it was part of the Braune collection of scientific books offered by Christie’s (25/20/13.5% buyer’s premium) on July 9, it was a copy first owned by two of Darwin’s contemporaries, the first of whom was Edward Twisleton, a British civil servant who counted Charles Lyell, the pioneering geologist, among his circle of friends.
The other was Lawson Tait, a leading gynaecological surgeon who, as the cataloguer noted, had a remarkable gift for making himself very unpopular but was a man whose burning ambition was to gain Darwin’s respect.
In 1860 he published a pamphlet called Has the Law of Natural Selection by Survival of the Fittest Failed in the Case of Man? (1869) and subsequently “initiated a substantial sycophantic correspondence with Darwin”, said Christie’s.
Darwin was unimpressed with Tait’s work as a natural historian and annoyed when he realised that he was unwittingly replicating some of the work of the botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker.
Tait hoped to be elected a fellow of the Royal Society, but in 1876 it was Darwin who informed him of his rejection.
Other major works from the exceptional Braune collection have previously featured on these pages (ATG Nos 2303/05).
Top lot was a 1687 first in contemporary vellum of Newton’s …Principia Mathematica sold for £400,000.
Further highlights include a record £85,000 for a 1496 first of Epitoma in Almagestum Ptolemaei, an epitome of the work that until that time had remained the principal astronomical text since the 2nd century AD.
It was produced at the behest of Cardinal Bessarion by the Austrian astronomer Georg Peurbach and, following his death in 1461, completed by Johannes Müller (aka Regiomontanus) in 1463.
This first printed edition was later edited for publication by Caspar Grosch and Stephen Römer.
Yet another record-breaker, at £70,000, was a 1663 Florentine publication that marks the first appearance in print of Evangelista Torricelli’s description of his experimental proof of barometric pressure. It was originally included in a 1644 letter that Torricelli sent to Michelangelo Ricci, but here makes its printed debut in a short pamphlet containing extracts from Torricelli’s correspondence that was published in 1663 by the philologist Carlo Dati.
Only one other copy appears in auction records for the last 50 years, that in great Haskell F Norman library which sold for $40,000 at Christie’s New York in 1998.