BRAHE, Tycho (1546-1601). Epistolarum astronomicarum libri. Uraniborg [Hven]: at the author's press, 1596.
4o (224 x 169 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. (Title and prelims washed, skillful paper repair to lower blank corner of title-leaf, few small chips to upper and fore-edges of title, occasional minor loss to blank corners.) Modern blue morocco (joints slightly rubbed, spine faded). Provenance: J. ?Benborg or ?Benson (contemporary signature, motto "hope against hope" inscribed in Latin ["contra spem in spem credendum"] and Greek); a few faded marginalia in same hand and possibly one later hand; later ?price inscription at top of title]; trace of inkstamped "G" on title verso; Albert Ehrman (1890-1969), Broxbourne Library (bookplates, inscription on front free endpaper "All books from this press are very rare," shelfmark R790 at end, sale Sotheby's London, 9 May 1978, lot 618, 2200 to Maggs).
FIRST EDITION, FIRST 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. 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 (see lot 15). 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 present 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).
VERY FEW COPIES OF THIS FIRST ISSUE REMAIN IN PRIVATE HANDS. The work is more commonly known through the re-issues of 1601 (Nuremberg: Hulsius, with new title-page) and 1610 (Frankfurt: Tampach, new title-page and some sheets reprinted). In the past quarter-century only two other copies have been sold at auction, the Honeyman copy in 1978, and a copy sold by Tenner in Heidelberg in 1982. 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.