Auctions | March 10, 2014

Astronomy and Science Books from the Collection of Martin C. Gutzwiller at Swann Galleries


New York—On Thursday, April 3, coinciding with the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, Swann Galleries will auction Astronomy & Science Books from the Library of Martin C. Gutzwiller, the Swiss-American physicist best known for his work on chaotic systems in classical and quantum mechanics. Educated at ETH Zurich and the University of Kansas, where he received his doctorate, Gutzwiller worked for many years as a researcher at IBM and has taught at ETH Zurich, Columbia, and Yale. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1992, and received the Dannie Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics in 1993 and the Max Planck Medal in 2003. Gutzwiller’s collection documents the transition from Ptolemaic to Copernican astronomy in the early modern era, the historical development of celestial mechanic and related advances in physics and mathematics.

Some highlights from the 16th century are the Harmsworth-Honeyman copy of Johann Schöner, Opera Mathematica, Nuremberg, 1551, complete with working volvelles, i.e. rotating paper discs, which serve as analog computing devices for determining planetary positions (estimate: $15,000 to $25,000); Giuseppe Moleti, Tabulae Gregorianae motuum octavae sphaerae ac luminarium ad usum calendarii ecclesiastici, Rome, 1580, the earliest astronomical tables based on the Copernican model to be published in Italy ($1,500 to $2,500); and a selection of works by Christoph Clavius, the foremost early figure in Jesuit science—and last major adherent of the Ptolemaic system—including his Astrolabium, Rome, 1593 ($3,000 to $4,000) and In Sphaeram Joannis de Sacro Bosco commentarius, Rome, 1596 ($1,500 to $2,500).


Among the 17th-century titles are Giovanni Antonio Magini, Supplementum ephemeridum, ac tabularum secundarum mobilium, Venice, 1614, the first ephemerides based on Keplerian astronomy ($2,000 to $3,000); Giovanni Battista Riccioli, Almagestum Novum, Bologna, 1651, an encyclopedic treatise containing lunar maps that introduced the system still in use today for naming the surface features of the Moon ($6,000 to $9,000); and Vincent Wing, Astronomia Britannica, London, 1669, a treatise on Copernican astronomy ($4,000 to $6,000).

Eighteenth-century books include Galileo Galilei, Dialogo . . . sopra i Due Massimi Sistemi del Mondo Tolemaico e Copernicano, Florence (actually Naples), 1710 ($2,500 to $3,500) and selections by Sir Isaac Newton and Leonhard Euler, such as Newton's Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica, London, 1726 ($6,000 to $9,000) and Euler's Methodus inveniendi lineas curvas maximi minimive proprietate gaudentes, Geneva, 1744 ($4,000 to $6,000).

Significant later works are the Marquis Pierre-Simon Laplace, Traité de Mécanique Céleste, Paris, 1799-1827, a landmark treatise on planetary motion ($2,000 to $3,000) and Mécanique Céleste . . . translated, with a Commentary, by Nathaniel Bowditch, Boston, 1829-34, the influential first edition in English, inscribed by the translator's son to his own son ($1,000 to $2,000); Pierre-François-André Méchain and Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Delambre, Base du Système Métrique Décimal, Paris, 1806-10, the codification of the metric system ($3,000 to $5,000); and Mary Somerville, Mechanism of the Heavens, London, 1831, a condensed English version of Laplace's work by one of the leading female science writers of the 19th century, inscribed by her to Francis Chantrey, the sculptor who exccuted a bust of her commissioned by the Royal Society, which did not then admit women as fellows ($1,500 to $2,500).

Also featured are a small number of books from other owners, most notably Archimedes, Opera, quae quidem extant, omnia, Basel, 1544, first edition in the original Greek of the writings of the greatest mathematician of the ancient world, bound with Apollonius of Perga, Opera, Venice, 1537 ($30,000 to $50,000).

The auction will begin at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, April 3. The books will be on public exhibition Saturday, March 29, from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.; and Monday, March 31, through Wednesday, April 2, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

An illustrated catalogue is available for $35 from Swann Galleries, Inc., 104 East 25th Street, New York, NY 10010, or online at

For further information, and to make advance arrangements to bid by telephone during the auction, please contact Tobias Abeloff at (212) 254-4710, extension 18, or via e-mail at

Live online bidding is also available via

First image: Johann Schöner, Opera Mathematica, Nuremberg, 1551. Estimate $15,000 to $25,000.

Second image: Giovanni Battista Riccioli, S.J. Almagestum novum, 2 vols., 1651. Estimate $6,000 to $9,000.