Auctions | March 26, 2015

Rare Milestone in the History of Science Sells for $540,000 at Bonhams


A rare first edition of Robert Boyle's The Sceptical Chymist, a milestone in the history of chemistry, sold at Bonhams, London yesterday (25 March) for £362,500. It had been estimated at £50,000-70,000.

The Sceptical Chymist: or Chymico-Physical Doubts & Paradoxes, touching the Spagyrist's Principles commonly call'd Hypostatical, as they are wont to be Propos'd and Defended by the Generality of Alchymists, was published in 1661.

It is the first book that combined chemistry with physics and paved the way for the work of Isaac Newton and, 200 years later, Antoine Lavoisier. In it, Boyle postulated the then revolutionary theory that matter was composed of atoms and clusters of atoms in motion and that every phenomenon was the result of the collision of particles in motion. He also explored the relationship between chemicals through the use of theory and experiments rather than largely through observation.

The Sceptical Chymist was the highest selling lot in the sale of the Library of the late Dr. Hugh Selbourne who assembled one of the finest private collection of books of the mid-20th century while practicing as a physician in Manchester.  The sale of Part One of the collection made more than £1,750,000 and 90 percent of the books and manuscripts were sold. This take total sales in Bonhams Book department in the past two weeks to over £3,000,000. 

Among other highlights were a first edition of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species which sold for £98,500 and a first edition of the influential work of moral philosophy, A Treatise of Human nature by the 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume which set a new world record price at auction of £80,500.

Bonhams Head of Books, Matthew Haley said, "Hugh Selbourne was a remarkable man who assembled one the finest private collection of books I've ever seen. The interest in the sale and the prices achieved are a testimony to his great taste and judgment."