Saturday - 06 February 2016

The John Greaves connection encourages a £520,000 bid for Copernicus

22 June 2004Written by ATG Reporter

THE 463 lots that made up the first portion of science books from the Earl of Macclesfield’s library at Shirburn Castle, sold by Sotheby’s on June 10, covered just the letters A-C, but the contents of this extraordinary library, virtually untouched since the 18th century, are such that even this starter helping raised a premium-inclusive total of £3.57m.

That total was achieved with considerable help from the books pictured right and below right, a 1543 first edition in contemporary pigskin of a book that Printing and the Mind of Man terms a "landmark in human thought" and one that changed our view of the universe forever - De revolutionibus orbium coelestium by Copernicus.

Any copy of the Nuremburg first edition of this famous book would be desirable, but in this copy, heavily annotated by the English mathematician, astronomer, Orientalist and traveller, John Greaves (1602-52), we had what the cataloguer termed "...a microcosm of the astronomical, mathematical and calendrical interest of the 17th century, demonstrative of both the international nature of science and of the private study of a man of wide and deep scholarship". Here, said the Sotheby's, cataloguer, we have an important book "transformed by Greaves' copious notes and remarks [which are in English, Arabic, Latin and French] into an unique insight into an age and its concerns".

An Oxford Fellow, Gresham Professor of Geometry in London and, from 1643, occupant of the Savilian chair of astronomy at Oxford, Greaves also travelled extensively in Europe and the Middle East to further both his Arabic an astronomical studies - a large brass quadrant that he used during observations made in Egypt in 1639 is now in the Oxford Museum of the History of Science - and as the cataloguer further observes, he was a most remarkable figure, a savant and traveller, and a man as equally at home in the Egyptian desert, or inside a pyramid, as in a cold library or study.

Greaves may have acquired his Copernicus, previously owned by a scholarly Venetian cleric, Cardinal Delfino, whilst he was in Venice in 1636, but while many of his books were acquired after his death by the Bodleian, this was one that followed another route, via Richard Bentley and William Jones, to the Shirburn Castle library.

Earlier this month in London this remarkable copy came onto the market once more to sell for £520,000.

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ATG Reporter

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