The latest copy of the first printed edition of his Elementa geometriae to come to auction – one that will be cherished rather than used, I suspect – was offered in a Christie’s New York (25/20/12% buyer’s premium) sale of June 15.
Printed by Erhard Ratdolt of Venice in 1482, it used as its text the standard, late medieval recension of Campanus of Novara, itself based principally on 12th century translations into Latin from the Arabic made by Adelard of Bath.
Ratdolt’s method of printing explanatory diagrams in the margins of mathematical and astronomical texts, as seen in the page reproduced above, came to be adopted as standard practice in later scientific publications.
In a 19th century binding, this US copy sold at $100,000 (£78,740), but as many as half a dozen copies have made more – and in one or two instances, a great deal more.
In January 2001 a copy in the Freilich scientific library made $400,000 (then £317,240) at Sotheby’s in New York and in December of the same year the ex- Honeyman-Garden-Ritman copy made £280,000 in their London rooms.
Published in Acta Eruditorum of 1684, a German scientific journal launched just two years earlier, Nova methodus pro maximis et minimis… is Leibniz’s announcement of his work on differential calculus. This was a paper that led to a longstanding controversy as to whether Newton or Leibniz had priority in the discovery of this key development in mathematical physics.
Showing some worming and foxing, but bound in contemporary calf, a copy in a Reiss & Sohn (18% buyer’s premium) sale of May 16-18 made €11,000 (£9480). In sterling terms at least, that just beats in value a copy that nearly 20 years ago sold for $15,000 (then £9150) in one of the great Haskell F Norman science library sales at Christie’s New York.
Sold at €12,000 (£10,345), a 1593, Breslau first in contemporary half pigskin of Sigismundus Suevus’ Arithmetica historica… fell some way short of expectations in the Reiss sale. However, in 1981 this copy – the only one to feature in auction records of recent decades – was offered as part of the vast Honeyman science library by Sotheby’s and made just £160.