Auctions | November 21, 2013

Sotheby&#8217;s London to Offer Rare First Edition of Newton&#8217;s <i>Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica</i>

On 27th November 2013, Sotheby’s London will offer a first edition of the most important book in the history of science-Sir Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (“Mathematical principles of natural philosophy”), which was published for the Royal Society in 1687. The highlight of Sotheby’s Music, Continental and Russian Books and Manuscripts sale, this exceptionally rare first issue copy of the first edition, which is in its contemporary vellum binding, is estimated to realize £250,000-300,000. The Principia explained a system of the universe that, once established, was unchallenged until the twentieth century ushered in quantum theory and the theories of relativity. Probably fewer than three hundred copies of the first edition of Principia were printed.

Dr David Goldthorpe, Sotheby’s Senior Director, Senior Specialist, Books and Manuscripts Department commented: “This book changed man's understanding of the universe. Newton's Principia was the culmination of the scientific revolution, effectively ushering in the era of modern science and modern physics with its mathematical explanations of gravity and motion. Through its legacy, the book has probably done more to shape the modern world than any other ever published. Even Einstein, whose theories of relativity eventually came to revise those of Newton's, declared that the Principia was 'perhaps the greatest intellectual stride that it has ever been granted to any man to make'?.

The Principia explains the phenomena described by Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler, by elucidating the universal laws underlying them. At the urging of Edmond Halley, secretary to the Royal Society, Newton set about to prove that Kepler's law of planetary motion would cause a planet to orbit elliptically around the sun. Newton established the mathematical basis for the law of inertia and the mechanics of fluids, including the effect of bodies moving through resistant fluids (friction). Newton's law of universal gravitation further proved the physical unity of the cosmos: he demonstrated that all of bodies—from dust particles to the moon in its orbit to tidal waves and the blaze of a comet—were subject to the universal law of gravitation, and could be explained, in mathematical terms, within a single physical theory.

"For the first time a single mathematical law could explain the motion of objects on earth as well as the phenomena of the heavens... It was this grand conception that produced a general revolution in human thought, equalled perhaps only by that following Darwin's Origin of the Species" (Printing and the Mind of Man, 1967).