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    Sale 2013

    Important Scientific Books: The Richard Green Library

    17 June 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 45

    BRAHE, Tycho (1546-1601). Epistolarum astronomicarum libri. Uraniborg [Hven] and Frankfort: Godfried Tampach, 1610 (colophon: Uraniborg: at the author's press, 1596).

    Price Realised  


    BRAHE, Tycho (1546-1601). Epistolarum astronomicarum libri. Uraniborg [Hven] and Frankfort: Godfried Tampach, 1610 (colophon: Uraniborg: at the author's press, 1596).

    4o (229 x 165 mm). Large woodcut author/publisher's device at end, 3 woodcut diagrams, 5 woodcut illustrations of Brahe's observatory of which 2 full-page, 1 woodcut map (lacking portrait, woodcut on 2K2v slightly shaved by binder). (Some pale browning.) Near-contemporary vellum over pasteboard, gilt arms of the Signet library at center of each cover (some minor wear and soiling).

    Provenance: JOANNES HEVELIUS (1611-1687), astronomer from Danzig, considered the founder of lunar topography (annotations in text, four-page manuscript index at end on rear blanks and endleaves); Signet Library (arms on binding); Dawsons of Pall Mall, catalogue 148, item 66.

    FIRST EDITION, third issue of the scientific correspondence between Tycho Brahe, Landgrave William IV of Hesse (1532-1592), and the latter's court astronomer Christopher Rothmann (d. ca. 1599-1608), printed at Brahe's private press in his observatory on the island of Hven, on paper made at the observatory papermill. Only the title-page and some preliminary leaves are changed by the Frankfurt-printer Tampach in the third issue.

    AN OUTSTANDING ASSOCIATION COPY FROM THE LIBRARY OF JOANNES HEVELIUS, WITH HIS ANNOTATIONS AND FOUR-PAGE MANUSCRIPT INDEX AT END. Hevelius spent 4-years making astronomical observations from the specially built observatory (at one point the finest in the world) at his house in Danzig, using instruments of his own construction. His first major work, the Selenographia (see lot 176) ends with a description of a mounted lunar globe, "perhaps the first of its kind, permitting the representation of librational movements" (DSB). Many of the names given to lunar features by Hevelius are still in use. To this copy of Brahe's Epistolarum Hevelius added more than 150 annotations on 72 leaves, including deletions, shoulder notes and markings, and he wrote a manuscript index over the four rear flyleaves and endleaves. Hevelius made extensive studies of comets, and many of his annotations in Brahe's work relate to passages about comets. Hevelius quoted from the present work in his Cosmographia (1668), giving page references. He stated there that no one before Brahe correctly observed comets. His observatory, instruments and virtually all of his books were maliciously destroyed by fire in 1679, which he described in his Annus climactericus (1685).

    Brahe had projected publication of a series of volumes containing selections from his vast scientific correspondence, but this was the only one to appear. Prince Wilhelm, who had been tutored in his youth by Rumold Mercator, was an important patron of the study of astronomy and a gifted amateur astronomer whose primary concern was the improvement of techniques of astronomical observation. He designed several astronomical instruments, built the first observatory with a revolving dome, and conceived the project, only completed after his death, of a complete catalogue of the Hessian sky, for which vast undertaking he obtained, at Brahe's advice, the assistance of the industrious Rothmann. The latter's claim to fame resides mainly in the present correspondence. Tycho had visited Wilhelm at Kassel in 1575, and had favorably impressed the Landgrave, whose recommendation to King Frederick II of Denmark may have been a decisive factor in the monarch's offer to Brahe of the island of Hven for the construction of a modern observatory. The three are not known to have communicated again until the comet of 1585, "which led to an exchange of letters between Tycho in Hven and William IV and Rothmann in Kassel that lasted for six years... This correspondence covered all aspects of contemporary astronomy: instruments and methods of observing, the Copernican system (which Rothmann supported against Tycho's system), comets, and auroras" (DSB).

    Appended is a short description of the Uraniborg observatory -- site of "the last of the pre-telescope observations" (Dibner) -- illustrated with woodcuts that include a map of the island of Hven and that would be reused in the 1598 Astronomiae instauratae mechanica. This is one of the first such descriptions of an astronomical observatory, and is the precursor to the more detailed report of the Mechanica. Brahe sent out a few copies of the first edition accompanied by an engraved portrait of the author and 11 leaves of woodcuts of his instruments that would be used to illustrate the 1598 catalogue (only one such copy seems to have survived).

    Adams B-2655; Dibner Heralds of Science 4; Dreyer Tycho Brahe, pp. 369-70; Houzeau & Lancaster 7824; Rosenkilde and Balhausen, Thesaurus Librorum Danicorum (Copenhagen 1987) 256. AN OUTSTANDING ASSOCIATION COPY.

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    Saleroom Notice

    The Sotheby's description in the 11 April 1960 sale catalogue (lot 1092) states that the notes are not in Hevelius's hand. However, Christie's comparison of the notes with the Hevelius papers at the Paris Observatory clearly shows that the annotations and the index are indeed Hevelius's.