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BRAHE, Tycho (1546-1601). Astronomiae instauratae mechanica. Wandsbeck: Philipp von Ohr for the author, 1598.
BRAHE, Tycho (1546-1601). Astronomiae instauratae mechanica. Wandsbeck: Philipp von Ohr for the author, 1598.

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BRAHE, Tycho (1546-1601). Astronomiae instauratae mechanica. Wandsbeck: Philipp von Ohr for the author, 1598.

Super-royal 4o (320 x 236 mm). Collation: )::(4 A6 B-F4 G-H6. 42 leaves. Roman, Greek and italic types. Title printed in red and black. 22 illustrations of Brahe's astronomical instruments (4 engraved and 18 woodcut), 9 woodcut plans and diagrams including a map of Hven, title and final verso with two different woodcut versions of the author's large allegorical device, woodcut head- and tail-pieces and ornamental initials, type-ornament page borders throughout (including blank verso of title), ALL ILLUSTRATIONS, DIAGRAMS AND ORNAMENTS FINELY COLORED AND ILLUMINATED BY A CONTEMPORARY HAND, the initials colored mainly in red, page-borders all in green. The imperfectly printed headline on G3r completed, as in most copies, in manuscript, possibly by the author. (A few tears to lower fore-corner of title-leaf, tape-repair on verso obscuring a portion of page-border, small neatly repaired tears to lower corners of last four leaves slightly affecting borders, last leaf a bit stained and with another small repair affecting three letters on recto, occasional cracking or small holes to paper along page-borders from acidic green pigment, first leaf of dedication with tiny printing flaw affecting a letter and small portion of border, small repair in gutter of E4, fols. A1.6, E1-4, and H1.6 on old guards, gutters of H6 neatly reinforced with modern archival tape, occasional slight offsetting of color.) Late 17th-century German speckled sheep, 5 raised bands on spine outlined in blind with small scallop-roll, later manuscript paper label, red-speckled edges, endpapers watermarked with crowned double-headed eagle astride a capital A (joints and extremities rubbed). Provenance: effaced signatures on front free endpaper; with John Howell, catalogue 40/10 (1970), sold to; the present owner.

UNRECORDED COPY OF THE FIRST EDITION of Brahe's detailed description of his astronomical instruments and observatory on the island of Hven in the Danish Sound. In 1576 King Frederick conferred upon Brahe the lifelong use of the 2,000 square-acre island of Hven, to enable him to establish there a well-equipped modern observatory. The astronomer immediately launched into construction of the most advanced astronomical observatory of his day, christening it Uraniborg (heavenly castle), and adding to it in 1584 a second smaller observatory, Stjerneborg (castle of the stars) along with a printing press, and later a windmill, papermill and other artisans' workshops. The complex was furnished with two dozen large and sophisticated astronomical instruments of Brahe's own design -- all without magnification but precisely graduated to facilitate angular measurements on the celestial sphere. This was his famous globe, originally constructed at Augsburg, which Brahe had encased in brass sheets engraved with the zodiac and the equator, and upon which he marked, over the years, his observations of the exact position of the fixed stars. Equally celebrated was Brahe's mural quadrant, which had a 6-foot radius and required three men to use, and within whose arc Brahe had had painted, purely for decoration, a life-sized portrait of himself in the act of making an observation, by Tobias Gemperlin of Augsburg. Thanks to such relatively simple but surpisingly accurate instruments Brahe spent a decade in these "fantastically ornate but exceedingly useful observatories" (DSB) carrying out the first systematic astronomical observations since the Alexandrian period. It was from Brahe's mass of data that Kepler would discover the laws of planetary motion and construct a theory of the universe.

Already in 1588 Brahe had mentioned to a correspondent his desire to publish a description of the instruments, of which he had had some woodcut reproductions made. By 1596, the 18 woodblocks used in the present edition were ready and a few specimens had been printed, of which some were included with presentation copies of the Epistolarum astronomicarum libri (see lot 14). Following the death of his protector Frederick II in 1588, Brahe had fallen out of favor at court, and, unable to obtain from the young King Christian IV the necessary funds for maintenance of the observatory, inspired also perhaps by sheer intellectual restlessness, Brahe left Hven in the spring of 1597, taking along as many of his instruments as possible along with his rather large household, chemical apparatus and printing press. By October he had taken up residence, instruments and all, in the castle of his friend and patron Landgrave Heinrich Rantzov at Wandsbeck near Hamburg, where he remained for a year, devoting himself to observations and to the realization of his project of publishing a descriptive catalogue of his extraordinary instruments and observatories, a project that had now taken on added urgency through the need to cultivate new patrons who would enable him to pursue his work.

To do this Brahe hired the talents of the Hamburg printer Philipp von Ohr, who printed a small number of copies of the Mechanica on Brahe's press in Rantzov's castle, making it THE FIRST BOOK PRINTED AT WANDSBECK (and the last, for several decades). The book was printed on thick good-quality paper, probably not, as sometimes suggested, from Brahe's Uraniborg paper-mill (an imperial eagle watermark can be made out in the gutters of this copy). To the original 18 woodcut illustrations of his instruments were added 4 engravings, two reserved for the most famous instruments, the wall quadrant and the globe. Probably executed in Germany, these were THE FIRST COPPERPLATE ILLUSTRATIONS TO APPEAR IN A DANISH BOOK. The book also contains an autobiographical sketch and extracts of correspondence relating to Brahe's work at Hven. It was printed for private distribution in a small press-run, certainly not exceeding 100 copies, and dedicated to Rudolph II, whose patronage Brahe was actively seeking at the time.

Brahe presented copies of his work, often inscribing them on the front flyleaf, to a number of prominent scientists and patrons of the arts and sciences including King Christian IV, Scaliger, Pietro Duodo, Prince Maurice of Orange, and Kepler, and it is likely that the entire edition was intended for presentation. Wilhelm Norlind's 1970 update to Nielsen's census of 42 copies (which included one destroyed by war and one now thought to be the 1602 edition), added 5 copies plus 9 or 10 copies known through correspondence to have been sent by Brahe to various personnages. To these approximately 55 copies should be added a further 3 copies sold within the past 20 years at auction: the uncolored Honeyman copy, which reappeared at auction in Berlin in 1989, the aforementioned copy inscribed to Duodo, sold at Sotheby's London, 27 June 1985 (lot 10), and a copy sold at Christie's London, 23 November 1998 (lot 60). At least 39 of this total are documented presentation copies, most with autograph inscriptions.

All but 3 or 4 of the recorded copies are colored, most, apparently, at Brahe's behest; in a 1599 letter to Kepler he expressed irritation at having to wait for copies to return from the illuminator (cf. Norlind, p. 292). There seems to be, however, no strict uniformity in the palette of the coloring, pointing to the likelihood that it was carried out by different illuminators working in Hamburg and Prague during the three years between the work's publication and its author's death. (Some copies may also have been given to persons of status after Brahe's death by members of his entourage.) In some presentation copies one or another of several contemporary engraved portraits of Brahe has been mounted on the verso of the title, blank except for a type-ornament frame, and some retain their silk presentation bindings stamped with a portrait of the author and his arms. Most have their edges gilt. The present copy bears none of these marks of presentation, but its coloring was certainly executed soon after publication. In the palette and powdery quality of the gold its illumination resembles that of the British Library copy. It was rebound, probably in the latter half of the 17th century, at which time the front flyleaf, possibly bearing Brahe's presentation inscription, was removed; at this time the edges, perhaps originally gilt, may also have been cut down.

Dreyer, Tycho Brahe, p. 260, passim; Brunet I, 1200; Houzeau & Lancaster 2703; Nielsen, Dansk Bibliografi 432; W. Norlind, Tycho Brahe (1970), pp. 268-293; Rosenkilde and Balhausen, Thesaurus Librorum Danicorum 258; Zinner 3758.
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