August 2014 | Nate Pedersen

Copernicus Book Thought Destroyed in Fire is Found Again

The Duchess Anna Amalia Library in Weimar, Germany--one of the country's finest special collections--suffered a terrible fire in 2004. Fifty thousand books were lost to the flames, a full 25 percent of which were considered by the library to be irreplaceable. One of the lost titles was Copernicus's 1543 treatise De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, Libri VI, an essential work in the history of science.  

This month, ten years after the fire, the book was found amongst a group of damaged books awaiting restoration. (The above photo is of the Library's copy.)

In the chaotic aftermath of the fire, books injured by flames, smoke, or water were put into groups based on their level of damage to await restoration. Copernicus's work was placed in Group 4, amongst the most damaged books, where it languished for a decade while the books in Groups 1 - 3 were restored first. This year, the Duchess Anna Amalia Library finally began work on Group 4 and were overjoyed at finding Copernicus.

De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, Libri VI, written toward the end of Copernicus's life, offers mathematical proof that the earth rotates around the sun and spins on its own axis. Even in its damaged state, the Library's copy is thought to be valued at about $1.8 million.

Hopefully more pleasant surprises await the library's conservators as they continue to restore the remaining damaged books.

[Photo Credit: Nikolaus Kopernikus: De Revolutionibus Orbium coelestium, Libri VI., Nürnberg, Petreius, 1543, Foto: Candy Welz © Klassik Stiftung Weimar]