BRAHE, Tycho (1546-1601). Astronomiae instauratae mechanica. Wandsbeck: for the author by Philip von Ohrs, 1598.
Super-royal 4° (343 x 245mm). Collation: )(4 A6 B-F4 G-H6. 42 leaves. Roman, Greek and italic types. Title printed in red and black. 22 (4 engraved, 18 woodcut) illustrations of Brahe's instruments, 9 woodcut plans and diagrams FINELY ILLUMINATED AND COLOURED BY A CONTEMPORARY HAND, wide type-ornament border and allegorical woodcut with sphere and compass on title, narrow type-ornament border to all pages, allegorical woodcut on final verso, head- and tailpieces, ornamental initials, all woodcuts hand-coloured in green, other ornaments hand-coloured in red, purple, green, yellow and blue. (Third line of title partly renewed in manuscript, some light finger-soiling, a few tears neatly repaired, tiny hole in A4, occasional light stains.) 17th-century calf-backed flexible mottled paper boards (restored), gilt spine, gilt edges, modern slipcase preserving old paper sides. Provenance: 17th-century inscriptions and early stamp deleted from title and second leaves; Giorgio Francesco Egregio di (?)Sobotca (inscription dated 1652); P. Bergmann (title inscription); Antonius Strnadt (royal astronomer, gift inscription by Bergmann dated 3 July 1785); 'Astronomus David 1801'.
FIRST EDITION AND AN UNRECORDED COPY of Brahe's important work describing his astronomical instruments and his observatory at Hven. Brahe took up residence on the island of Hven in the Danish Sound in 1576 at the invitation of King Frederick II. There he constructed a residence and observatory, Uraniborg (heavenly castle), a smaller observatory, Stjerneborg (castle of the stars), a windmill, a papermill and workshops; in 1584 a printing press was also installed. The instruments he built at Hven (to complement his travelling instruments) were among the most advanced of the time, greatly benefitting from large-scale construction which space on Hven allowed. In a letter to Caspar Peucer in 1588 Brahe reported that he was planning to write a detailed report on his instruments, numbering 'at least 24'.
It was not until 1598, having left Hven the previous year, that Brahe realised his project to publish a description of his instruments. He temporarily installed himself in the castle at Wandsbeck of his friend and patron, Landgraf Heinrich Rantzov, to write and oversee the printing of the Mechanica. He brought the accomplished Hamburg printer Philip von Ohrs to the castle to print the work on thick paper, possibly produced at Brahe's papermill on Hven. It was printed for private distribution only, possibly in an edition as small as 60. Hasselberg located only 33 copies at the beginning of this century; L. Nielsen increased the number of copies to 42 (including 4 destroyed by war and one now thought to be the 1602 edition); and most recently Norlind has added a further 5 coies, plus approximately 9 known from contemporary correspondence to have been sent by Brahe to European luminaries. To this list may be added a copy presented to Pietro Duodo (Sotheby's, 27 June 1985, lot 10) and the present copy. The survival rate of copies appears to be quite high, due in no small part to the high status of the recipients, the provenance of the copy ensuring its survival. Of the copies recorded from all sources, at least 39 are known as presentation copies, most usually bearing autograph dedication inscriptions. Among the known recipients were Rudolph II, Archduke Matthias, Wolfgang Theodor, Archbishop of Salzburg, Prince Maurice of Orange, Scaliger, and Kepler.
Virtually all copies were hand-coloured before presentation (the Kiel and NYPL copies are exceptional as uncoloured), although the colouring delayed sending copies, as Brahe complained about having to wait for coloured copies to return from the illuminator (letter to Kepler 1599, see Norlind p.292). A number of copies retain their special presentation binding, stamped with a portrait of the author. An engraved or watercolour author portrait was inserted into some copies, pasted onto the verso of the title-page. It is likely that the copy offered here is a presentation copy. Although contemporary evidence of this is lacking, it is finely illuminated, and its edges have contemporary gilding as do those in presentation bindings. Brahe typically inscribed the volume on the front flyleaf; that leaf has now been lost, presumably at the time of rebinding in the 17th century. Among the later owners of the volume are a 17th-century Polish nobleman and Antonius Strnadt, who identifies himself as a royal astronomer in 1785; the surviving provenance therefore indicates that the book was in the hands of men of status commensurate with contemporary recipients. This copy formerly had an engraved author portrait on the title verso, evident in offsetting still faintly visible.
At the very foundation of all Brahe's work lay his instruments, since the accuracy of his observations depended on their precision. Beginning in 1577 he began having woodcuts made of them, first inserting a few specimens in copies his work on the new star and comet of 1577, De mundi aetherei, printed in 1588. Woodcuts of his 18 principal instruments were ready by 1596 and he sent these to accompany a few presentation copies of his Astronomical letters published that year. Brahe would have preferred that the instruments be illustrated by copper-engraving, not woodcut, but in fact only 4 were reproduced as engravings (these probably executed in Germany, a fifth was engraved for the 1602 edition). It is perhaps no coincidence that of those four engravings, two are of Brahe's most famous instruments: the mural quadrant and the globe. The mural quadrant had a radius of 6 feet and required three people to use. For ornamental purposes a portrait of Brahe was painted in its arc; in his description of the engraving in the Mechanica Brahe identifies the artist as Tobias Gemperlin of Augsburg. The globe, originally constructed at Augsburg, was covered by Brahe with brass sheets, on which he engraved the zodiac and equator; on its surface he marked the exact positions of the fixed stars he observed. The globe is preserved at Copenhagen.
The Mechanica contains not only a description of the instruments, but also a sketch of Brahe's life, his discoveries and observations and a record of his work at Hven; with its publication Brahe ranked himself with great scientists as Hipparchus, Ptolemy and Copernicus. Although planned from an early date, the publication of the Mechanica took on greater importance in 1598 after the death of Frederick II, and Brahe must have viewed it as vital to his livlihood after leaving Hven. It is dedicated to the Emperor Rudolph II, who duly invited Brahe to the imperial court at Prague.
Dreyer, Brahe p.260, passim; W. Norlind, Tycho Brahe, pp.268-93; V.Thoren, The Lord of Uraniborg, p.367, passim; Brunet I, 1200; Houzeau & Lancaster 2703; Kayser & Dehn, Bibliographie der Hamburger Drucke 88; Nielsen, Dansk Bibliografi 432, and supplement; Zinner 3758.