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    Scarce Second Edition of Copernicus's "On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres"

    [Nicolaus Copernicus. De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, Libri VI...Item, De libris revolutionum Nicolai Copernici Narratio prima, per M. Georgium Joachimum Rheticum ad D. Joan. Schonerum scripta. Basel: Ex Officina Henricpetrina, 1566].

    Scarce second edition of one of the most important books in the history of science, the work that established the heliocentric planetary system. Folio (10.75 x 7.1875 inches; 274 x 183 mm.). 196 (of 220) leaves. This copy lacks the six preliminary leaves, including the correct 1566 title (a facsimile of the 1543 title has been supplied), the author's preface, and the index, and the last eighteen leaves (Dd1-4, Ee1-4, Ff1-4, and Gg1-6; fols. 197-213, [1]), containing the Narratio prima of Georg Johann Rheticus, the colophon on the verso of fol. 213, and printer's device on the verso of the final leaf (the Narrratio prima most likely removed due to censorship). Collation of this copy: a-z4 A-Z4 Aa-Cc4. Leaves c1-e1 are supplied from another copy. Leaf a1 is signed 2C. A few leaves are misnumbered. Roman type, with occasional Greek type. With 149 woodcut diagrams and numerous letterpress tables in the text. Decorative and historiated woodcut initials.

    Contemporary limp vellum (possibly a remboîtage) with yapp edges. The vellum is rubbed and stained, with a few small holes. The text block is separating from the binding at both front and back. There is considerable foxing and browning to the text leaves, which is typical of copies with an Italian provenance, some occasional marginal dampstaining, and a small dark stain to the lower corner of leaves C3-T1 (fols. 103-165). Otherwise the text is generally clean. Neat paper repairs to the upper margin of leaves c1-4 and d1-4 (fols. 9-16), to the lower gutter margin of leaves Cc1 (fol. 193) and Cc4 (fol. 196). Leaf Cc4 is also stained, has two short tears from the gutter, and the first portion of the text on the verso (the letter from Achilles Gasser to Georg Vögelin which precedes the Narratio prima) has been obliterated due to censorship, affecting the text on the recto and in a few spots on leaf Cc3. Small wormtrack in the lower outer blank corner of leaves a1 and a2 (fols. 1 and 2), and in the outer blank margin of leaves a3-b4 and e2-g1 (fols. 3-8 and 18-25), a few additional minor wormholes, and a few leaves have small holes in the text. Although this copy is imperfect, the text of the De revolutionibus itself is complete.

    "The publication of 'On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres' in 1543 was a landmark in human thought. It challenged the authority of antiquity and set the course for the modern world by its effective destruction of the anthropocentric view of the universe. We owe this book, which was more or less completed as early as 1530, to Georg Joachim Rheticus of Wittenberg, who persuaded Copernicus to allow him to publish it; for until 1540 the author had permitted only preliminary statements to circulate in manuscript. He died on the eve of its publication...Within a century the Copernican view was generally accepted by the leaders of science; Galileo and Gilbert were strong supporters as well as Mästlin and Kepler. Newton finally established its truth" (Printing and the Mind of Man).

    The second edition of De revolutionibus, which reproduces the text of the 1543 edition, was the first edition to contain Rheticus's Narratio prima (here lacking), which was first printed separately in 1540.

    In 1616, De revolutionibus was placed on the Index librorum prohibitorum (Index of Prohibited Books) "until corrected," and in 1620 ten specific corrections were announced. In examining copies of the 1543 and 1566 editions for his Annotated Census, Owen Gingerich found that roughly two-thirds of the copies in Italy were censored, but virtually none in other countries, including the Catholic countries of Spain and France. The deletions and corrections were to be made on preliminary leaf [*]4v, and on a3r, [b1v], b2r, b3r, c1r, c2r, and H2r (preliminary leaf [4]v, and on fols. 3r, [5v], 6r, 7r, 9r, 10r, and 122r) (see Augustus de Morgan, A Budget of Paradoxes (2007 reprint of the 1915 edition ), pages 90-95). In this copy, preliminary leaf [4] is lacking, and the corrections have been made in ink (the printed text has been heavily crossed out and the new text added in the margins) on fols. 3r, 6r, 7r, and 122r, but not on fols. 9r and 10r, which have been supplied from another copy. Ink marginalia on fol. 2v (not part of the "corrections"?) has caused a burn hole at the outer edge.

    Adams C2603; VD16 K2100; Zinner 2390. Dibner, Heralds of Science, 3; Grolier/Horblit 18b; Printing and the Mind of Man 70 (all describing the 1543 first edition). See also Owen Gingerich's An Annotated Census of Copernicus' De Revolutionibus (Nuremberg, 1543 and Basel, 1566) (Leiden: 2002), which apparently does not list this copy; "The Censorship of Copernicus' De revolutionibus" in his The Eye of Heaven: Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler (New York: 1993), pages 269-285; and The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus (New York: 2004).

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    October, 2012
    4th-5th Thursday-Friday
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