Rare Sir Isaac Newton book sells for ‘astonishing’ amount at auction

Posted on 14/10/2020 in Press Coverage

A rare copy of a centuries-old book regarded as the most important work in the history of science has sold at auction for £24,000.

A first edition copy of Sir Isaac Newton’s Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy in English went under the hammer in Hansons Auctioneers’ Library Auction on October 13 – and smashed its estimate.

The 291-year-old book, which comes in two volumes and was published in 1729, had a guide price of £8,000-£10,000 but reached £24,000. It was bought by a private international phone bidder.

Jim Spencer, books expert at Hansons Auctioneers, said: “It’s an astonishing amount but this is an incredibly scarce book, perhaps only a few hundred were printed. The very first edition of Newton’s Principia was published in 1687 in Latin and a copy sold in recent years for millions of dollars. This is the first edition in English, translated by Andrew Motte, and is such an important thing.

“This one arrived in the post during lockdown, marked for my attention, from a client in the Channel Islands. I couldn’t believe it. I was just thrilled to hold something of such significance in my hands - what an honour to catalogue this. It was a good example and deserved to smash its estimate.

The seller, who did not wish to be named, said: “This book has been in my family’s possession for at least 60 years having been procured by my grandfather during the 1950s and left to me on his death in 1980.

“I remember my grandfather well. I was 14 when he died. He was an amazing man, entirely self-made and educated, rising from extreme poverty and willing to do anything if he had to, including, but this may be apocryphal, shooting himself in the foot and digging out the bullet to get out of the Somme.”

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1726) was an English mathematician, physicist, astronomer, theologian, and author, described in his own day as a natural philosopher.

He is widely recognised as one of the most influential scientists of all time and as a key figure in the scientific revolution. His book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), first published in 1687, laid the foundations of classical mechanics.

The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, first edition in English, translated by Andrew Motte, with The Laws of the Moon's Motion, by John Machin, in two volumes, London: Benjamin Motte, 1729, sold on October 13, Lot 45.

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