Auctions | October 22, 2015

Christie’s to Hold Dedicated Auction of Books From the Royal Institution of Great Britain

London—Christie’s is honoured to announce the auction of scientific and medical books from the Royal Institution of Great Britain (Ri) to take place on 1 December. The sale comprises a choice selection of 90 lots, which are being sold to enable the Ri to continue its vital work for the benefit of future generations. Proceeds of the sale will reinforce the charity’s mission in providing science education and heritage activities for people of all ages and backgrounds across the UK and around the world.

The auction presents an opportunity to acquire scientific and medical works spanning the 16th to 19th centuries and coming on the market for the first time in up to two centuries. The selection presents works highly desirable not only for their important subject matter—often ground-breaking works in medicine, science or natural history—but also for their distinguished history associated with the Ri, with some books presented to the Ri by earlier generations of scientists. Estimates range from £800 to 5,000, with highlights ranging from £20,000 to 140,000. The top lot of the sale is a fine copy of the first edition of Andreas Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica (estimate: £140,000-220,000). The Fabrica is widely considered the most influential medical book of all time, forever changing our understanding of human anatomy and dividing medical science between pre- and post-Vesalian knowledge. The work is also considered the most beautiful medical book ever published. The Ri copy has distinguished provenance from a contemporary of Vesalius—Alberto Lollio, a noted literary figure in Renaissance Ferrara—and, subsequently, two medical doctors: Gennaro Giannelli, a Neapolitan doctor of the first half of the 18th century, and Martin Tupper, physician to the Duke of Wellington.

Other books being offered include a highly attractive set of the hermetic works of Robert Fludd (1547-1637), uniformly bound in vellum and richly illustrated with engravings by de Bry, Merian, and the author himself. It is very rare to find a copy of this work complete (estimate: £18,000-25,000).

Another highlight is Francis Godwin’s (1562-1633) The Man in the Moone (estimate: £7,000-10,000). This is a first edition of one of the earliest works in English devoted to space travel and highlights Godwin’s utopian fantasy and the developments in astronomy at the time, as he mentions Copernicus by name, and draws on the theories of Kepler, Galileo and Gilbert. We are delighted to offer the exceptionally rare geological sections by William Smith (1769-1839) (estimate: £30,000-50,000). This spectacular lot represents a major contribution to the science of geology and in the past 50 years only two copies of the London-Snowdon section have sold at auction.

Margaret Ford, International Head of Books and Manuscripts, Christie’s: “Christie's is honoured to work with the Ri to offer these highly desirable books. It has been exciting to work closely with such important and interesting books and gratifying to enable a new generation of collectors to engage with the history of science and medicine.”