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    Sale 2013

    Important Scientific Books: The Richard Green Library

    17 June 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 268

    [NEWTON, Sir Isaac]. Opticks: or, a Treatise of the Reflexions, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light. Also Two Treatises of the Species and Magnitude of Curvilinear Figures. London: Samuel Smith and Benjamin Walford, 1704.

    Price Realised  

    [NEWTON, Sir Isaac]. Opticks: or, a Treatise of the Reflexions, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light. Also Two Treatises of the Species and Magnitude of Curvilinear Figures. London: Samuel Smith and Benjamin Walford, 1704.

    4o (242 x 186 mm). Title printed in red and black. 19 engraved folding plates. Woodcut diagrams and letterpress tables in the text (some spotting, small marginal tear not affecting image to plate one [Book I, part 2]; plate for p. 211 lightly soiled and frayed at the fore edge). (Early leaves spotted and with a few pale stains, small marginal closed tear R2.) Contemporary panelled calf (rebacked to style preserving contemporary lettering-piece, corners renewed); quarter morocco slipcase. Provenance: Contemporary textual corrections throughout; H.W.U. (19th-century inscription); Lowndes (19th-century signature in pencil on pastedown).

    "MY DESIGN IN THIS BOOK IS NOT TO EXPLAIN THE PROPERTIES OF LIGHT BY HYPOTHESES, BUT TO PROPOSE AND PROVE THEM BY REASON AND EXPERIMENTS" (Newton, page 1).

    FIRST EDITION, FIRST ISSUE, with the title printed in red and black within a border and with the imprint, but without the author's name, and with the two treatises on calculus at the end. Opticks was "every bit as revolutionary and challenging, and every bit as controversial as the Principia" (Feingold). Opticks contains Newton's summarisation of his discoveries and theories concerning light and color, from his first published paper in 1672 (see lot 264) onward, and includes his work on the spectrum of sunlight, the degrees of refraction associated with different colors, the color circle, the rainbow, "Newton's rings", and his invention of the reflecting telescope. "The core of his work was the observation that the spectrum of colours (formed when a ray of light shines through a glass prism) is stretched along its axis, together with his experimental proof that rays of different colours are refracted to different extents. This causes the stretching, or dispersion, of the spectrum. All previous philosophers and mathematicians had been sure that white light is pure and simple, regarding colours as modifications or qualifications of the white. Newton showed experimentally that the opposite is true" (PMM). In contrast to the belief in the simple composition of natural white light, Newton demonstrated that natural white light is a compound of many pure elementary colours which could be separated and recombined at will.

    The book ends with two mathematical papers in Latin, published to establish Newton's prior claim over Gottfied Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646-1716) in the invention of the calculus. "In a Letter written to Mr. Leibnitz in the Year 1676 and published by Dr. Wallis, I mentioned a Method by which I had found some general Theorems about squaring Curvilinear Figures, or comparing them with the Conic Sections... And some Years ago I lent out a Manuscript containing such Theorems, and having since met with some Things copied out of it, I have on this Occasion made it publick" (Newton's "Advertisement"). Babson 132; Dibner Heralds of Science 148; Feingold The Newtonian Moment pp. 41-42; Grolier Science 79b; Norman 1588; PMM 172.


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