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    Sale 2013

    Important Scientific Books: The Richard Green Library

    17 June 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 130

    GALILEI, Galileo (1564-1642). Le operazioni del compasso geometrico, et militare. Padova: in the house of the author by Pietro Marinelli, 1606.

    Price Realised  


    GALILEI, Galileo (1564-1642). Le operazioni del compasso geometrico, et militare. Padova: in the house of the author by Pietro Marinelli, 1606.

    2o (280 x 195 mm). 34 woodcut diagrams. (Some pale mostly marginal staining, small hole to blank margin of title and last leaf repaired.) Contemporary Italian limp boards. Provenance: M. Favia del Core (bookplate).

    EXTRAORDINARILY RARE FIRST EDITION, OF GALILEO'S FIRST PRINTED WORK privately issued in an edition of only 60 copies for presentation to patrons and buyers of the compass, with a correction in a contemporary hand, possibly the printer's, correcting "geometriche" to "aritmetriche" on folio 10 recto.

    Galileo may have issued the Operazioni del compasso in order to establish his sole priority as the inventor of the "geometrical and military compass," or sector a calculating and observation device that he had begun manufacturing in 1597. It was based on the proportional compass, an instrument first developed by Commandino prior to 1568, but Galileo's version included numerous additions and improvements that rendered it the most useful mathematical instrument of its period and even beyond a calculating device, Galileo's compass remained unsurpassed until the advent of the slide rule in the mid-nineteenth century. His pamphlet is the first published work on an analogue calculator. The success and popularity of Galileo's instrument naturally made it attractive to imitators, and Galileo deliberately omitted any illustration of the compass in his treatise as a deterrrent to unauthorized copying. Nevertheless, Galileo's design was copied, most notably by Baldassare Capra, who published a work entitled Usus et fabrica circini cuiusdam proportionis (1607) claiming that he himself was the inventor of the compass, and accusing Galileo of plagiarism. Galileo took legal action against Capra and won - all copies of Capra's book were suppressed, and Galileo published the Difesa contro alla calumnie & imposture di Baldessare Capra (1607), exonerating himself in the affair. Galileo's compass consisted of a pointed sector, made from a pair of pivoted arms, which could be converted to an observation instrument by the addtion of a quadrant. The front faces of the arms were engraved with a scale of logarithmically based "lines of numbers" by which an operator could compute the results of any arithmetical multiplication or division to within an accuracy of 0.1 Supplementary scales, including squares, cubes, roots, and densities of metals and stones, were also added. Historian of science Stillman Drake, author of the definitive modern translation of Operazioni del compasso, noted how Galileo's compass revolutionized and democratized practical mathematics in the same way that the pocket calculator has done in our own time. Galileo kept producing compasses until at least 1610, and this treatise of the compass was reprinted several times during his lifetime. At the very end of his life, Galileo finally authorized a large engraving illustrating his invention (included in the 1640 edition of the Operazioni del compasso), thereby ending the virtual monopoly on its manufacture that he had been careful to preserve. VERY RARE: According to American Book Prices Current only 3 other copies have sold at auction in at least the last 30 years. Bedini Science and Instruments in Seventeenth-Century Italy I. pp. 262-68; Carli and Favaro 23; Cinti 16.

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