Incunabula, Manuscripts, and Astronomy on the Block at Swann Galleries Nov. 12


New York—On Tuesday, November 12, Swann Galleries will auction a choice selection of Early Printed, Medical & Scientific Books, featuring Bibles, incunabula, manuscripts and works on astronomy, chemistry and mathematics.

Among the earliest items in the sale are manuscripts and manuscript leaves including an 11th century vellum bifolium from a Greek manuscript, probably from Asia Minor, containing an excerpt from the Notitiae episcopatuum of the Church of Constantinople, and an Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin and French on vellum, France, circa 1500 (estimates: $3,000 to $5,000 each).

Featured incunabula are Petrus Lombardus, Sententiarum libri IV, Strassburg, circa 1476 ($8,000 to $12,000); Nicolaus de Lyra, Postilla super quattuor Evangelistas, Mantua, 24 July 1477 ($4,000 to $6,000); and a first edition of the first substantially illustrated book from the Aldine Press, Julius Firmicus Maternus, De nativitatibus, a compilation of ancient Roman and Greek writings on astrology, astronomy and meteorology, Venice, October 1499 ($20,000 to $30,000).

Also from a run of works on astronomy are a first edition of Increase Mather, Kometographia; or, A Discourse concerning Comets . . . as also Two Sermons occassioned by the Late Blazing Stars, his complete writings on comets, ($6,000 to $9,000); and Alessandro Piccolomini, De la Sfera del Mondo. Di nuovo da ripolita, accresciuta & fino a Sei Libri, Venice, 1566 ($2,000 to $3,000).

An assortment of Bibles dating back to the 16th century includes a third edition of the New Testament in Greek, edited with Latin translation and commentary by Erasmus, which had a profound impact on later Protestant versions of the Bible, Basel, 1522 ($4,000 to $6,000), and a handsome set of John Baskett’s elegantly printed imperial folio edition of the King James Version, known as the “Vinegar Bible” for the misprint “vinegar” instead of “vineyard” in the running head of Luke 20, among other errors, Oxford, 1717-16 ($3,000 to $5,000).

Celebrated for its illustrations is the “Fermiers Généraux" edition of Jean de la Fontaine’s Contes et Nouvelles en Vers, so named for having been commissioned by an association of tax collectors, with engravings after Charles Eisen, Paris, 1762 ($3,000 to $4,000). Also fascinating to look at is Andrea Ghisi, Laberinto dato novamente in Luce, a game of divination in book form, profusely illustrated with woodcuts resembling the Northern Italian “Mantegna Tarocchi” instructional cards, Venice, 1616 ($6,000 to $9,000).

There are two exceptional Shakespeare lots: A Midsommer Nights Dreame, extracted from the First Folio—the first collected edition of his plays—London, 1623 ($8,000 to $12,000), and a bound volume containing a fragment of 115 leaves from the Second Folio, comprising nine complete plays including The Tragedie of Romeo and Iuliet, The Tragedie of Iulius Caesar, The Tragedie of Macbeth and The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke, London, 1632 ($10,000 to $15,000).

Books on travel and geography include Vincenzo Maria Coronelli, An Historical and Geographical Account of the Morea, Negropont, and the Maritime Places, as far as Thessalonica, first edition in English, London, 1687 ($2,500 to $3,500) and Pomponii Melae de orbis situ libri III. & C. Julii Solini, Polyhistor, with 33 woodcut maps, Basel, 1595 ($1,500 to $2,500).

Rounding out the early printed books are Baruch Spinoza, Opera posthuma, first edition, containing his Ethics, considered the first systematic exposition of pantheism, Amsterdam, 1677 ($4,000 to $6,000) and the first edition of Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language, two volumes, one of 2000 sets, London, 1755 ($6,000 to $9,000).


Profusely and idiosyncratically illustrated early works on natural history include Conrad Lycosthenes, Prodigiorum ac ostentorum chronicon, first edition in Latin of a universal chronicle of monsters, curiosities of nature and portents, the most extensive 16th century work of its kind, Basel, 1557 ($4,000 to $6,000); Edward Topsell, The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes bound with his The Historie of Serpents. Or, The second Booke of living Creatures, first editions of credulous compilations of animal lore by an English clergyman, London, 1607 and 1608 ($3,000 to $5,000); and Antoine du Pinet, L'Histoire des Plantes [etc.], containing supplementary texts on quadrupeds, birds, fish, reptiles and distillation, Paris, 1619-20 ($2,000 to $3,000).

Mathematical highlights include works by Sir Isaac Newton and one of his critics. There are Newton’s Universal Arithmetick; or, A Treatise of Arithmetical Composition and Resolution, London, 1728, and Opuscula mathematica, philosophica et philologica, first collected edition, Lausanne and Geneva, 1744 ($2,000 to $3,000 each); and George Berkeley’s The Analyst; or, A Discourse addressed to an Infidel Mathematician, a sustained critique of Newton's influential theory of fluxions, London, 1734 ($4,000 to $6,000).

Also of mathematical interest is Ramon Lull, Opera ea quae ad adinventam ab ipso artem universalem, scientiarum artiumque omnium brevi compendio . . . pertinent, first collected edition of writings by the medieval polymath on his Ars magna, or universal system of knowledge, a distant forerunner of modern computer science, Strassburg, 1598 ($2,000 to $3,000).

From a run of works on chemistry is Robert Boyle, The Sceptical Chymist: or Chymico-Physical Doubts & Paradoxes, the first complete edition of the most famous book in the history of chemistry, Oxford, 1679 ($2,500 to $3,500).

Medical titles include the greatly influential The Principles and Practice of Medicine by Sir William Osler, first edition, first state with “Georgias” instead of “Gorgias,” New York, 1892 ($1,500 to $2,500), and a scarce McGill University Faculty of Medicine registration ticket signed by Osler as registrar, Montreal, 1881 ($500 to $750).

The auction will begin at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 12. The books will be on public exhibition Friday, November 8, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, November 9, from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.; Monday, November 11, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Tuesday, November 12, from 10 a.m. to noon.

An illustrated catalogue is available for $35 from Swann Galleries, Inc., 104 East 25th Street, New York, NY 10010, or online at

For further information, and to make advance arrangements to bid by telephone during the auction, please contact Tobias Abeloff at (212) 254-4710, extension 18, or via e-mail at

Live online bidding is also available via

First image: Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin and French on vellum, France, circa 1500 (estimate $3,000 to $5,000).

Second image: Edward Topsell, The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes bound with his The Historie of Serpents. Or, The second Booke of living Creatures, first editions, London, 1607 and 1608 (estimate $3,000 to $5,000).

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