Incunabula, Books on Astronomy Among Highlights of Swann Galleries Nov. 12 Auction


New York—Swann Galleries’ auction of Early Printed, Medical & Scientific Books on November 12 saw a wide range of material that performed well, illustrating the continuing demand for excellent examples of early printed books.

Among the top lots in the sale were works on the planets, such as Julius Firmicus Maternus, De Nativitatibus, a first edition of a compilation of ancient Roman and Greek writings on astrology, astronomy and meteorology and the first substantially illustrated book from the Aldine Press, Venice, 1499, with other texts, which brought $18,750*; Increase Mather, Kometographia; or, A Discourse concerning Comets . . . as also Two Sermons occassioned by the Late Blazing Stars, which blended contemporary scientific knowledge with superstition, first edition, Boston, 1683, $15,000; and John Bainbridge, An Astronomicall Description of the Late Comet from the 18. Of Novemb. 1618, first edition, London, 1619, $6,000.

Also from the medical and scientific portion of the auction were George Berkeley, The Analyst; or, A Discourse addressed to an Infidel Mathematician, first edition of a sustained critique of Newton's influential theory of fluxions, London, 1734, $10,625; Conrad Lycosthenes, Prodigiorum ac ostentorum chronicon, first edition in Latin of the most extensive 16th-century chronicle of monsters, curiosities of nature and portents, Basel, 1557, $8,750; and Edward Topsell, The Historie of the Foure-Footed Beastes with The Historie of Serpents, first editions of credulous compilations of animal lore by an English clergyman, London, 1607-08, $7,250.


Among the earliest items in the sale were a vellum bifolium from a Greek manuscript, an excerpt from the Notitae episcopatuum of the Church of Constantinople, Asia Minor, 11th century, $5,250; Petrus Lombardus, Sententiarum libri IV, Strassburg, circa 1476, $8,125; Nicolaus de Lyra, Postilla super quattuor Evangelistas, Mantua, 1477, $5,000; an illuminated manuscript Book of Hours in Latin and French on vellum, France, circa 1500, and Novum testamentum omne, Bible in Greek and Latin, Basel, 1522, which sold for $12,500 each.

Other religious texts included John Bale, The Apology of Johan Bale against a ranke Papyst . . ., first edition, London, 1550, $5,000; Richard Tracy, A Bryef & Short Declaracyon Made, Whereby Every Chrysten Man May Knowe, What Is a Sacrament, London, 1548, $5,000; and [Psalterium Davidcum], Bible in Latin with manuscript additions, Paris, 1536, $4,500.

An interesting counterpoint could be found in a first edition of Baruch Spinoza’s Opera posthuma, which contains his Ethics, the first exposition of pantheism, Amsterdam, 1677, $7,000. Also from the 17th century was William Shakespeare, A Midsommer Nights Dreame, extracted from the first folio, London, 1623, $10,625.

Rounding out the top lots was Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language, first edition in two volumes, London, 1755, $8,125.

An illustrated catalogue, with complete prices realized, is available for $35 from Swann Auction Galleries, 104 East 25th Street, New York, NY 10010, and may be viewed online at

For further information, and to consign to upcoming auctions of Early Printed, Medical & Scientific Books, please contact Tobias Abeloff at 212-254-4710, extension 18, or

*All prices include buyer’s premium.

First image: Julius Firmicus Maternus, De Nativitatibus, with other texts, first edition, Venice, 1499. $18,750

Second image: Novum testamentum omne, Bible in Greek and Latin, Basel, 1522. $12,500