Books de-accessioned for sale at King Street could raise £750,000 to help safeguard the charity's future.
Two years ago the RI was saved from having to sell its Mayfair home by an anonymous gift of £4.4m, but still has debts to pay following a major refurbishment.
The sale has provoked criticism that the RI is selling the family silver. Nobel prize-winning physicist Sir Andre Geim was reported as saying that the RI, which has "a proven record of not being a good caretaker", should reconsider a suggestion made two years ago that it merge with the Royal Society.
However the RI say that the books de-accessioned for this one-off sale are "non-core heritage items" subject to strict selection criteria, something confirmed to ATG by the head of Christie's book department, Thomas Venning.
Nevertheless, the sale does include many significant and desirable works - the most highly valued at £140,000-220,000 being a 1543 first of Vesalius' pioneering anatomical study De humani corporus fabrica.
Pictured here is a 1616 first of William Barlow's Magneticall Advertisements..., containing his findings on the properties of the compass needle. It is valued at £12,000-18,000.