• <b>Il Ponte, Jan. 31:</b> BLAEU, Joannes and Martinus MARTINI - <i>Theatrum orbis terrarum, sive Novus Atlas. Pars sexta. Novus Altas Sinensis.</i> Amsterdam: Blaeu, 1655. €8.000 to €12.000.
    <b>Il Ponte, Jan. 31:</b> ORTELIUS, Abraham - <i>Theatrum orbis terrarum.. Nomenclator ptolemaicus.</i> Antwerp: Christopher Plantin, 1579. €10.000 to €15.000.
    <b>Il Ponte, Jan. 31:</b> PIRANESI, Giovanni Battista - <i>Carceri d'invenzione.</i> [Rome: G.B. Piranesi, second half of the 18th century]. €20.000 to €30.000.
  • <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
  • <b><center>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> Gideon Welles, <i>Extensive archive of personal and family papers of Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy,</i> 1791-1914. Sold September 29 — $281,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Charles Addams, <i>Rock Climbers,</i> cartoon for <i>The New Yorker,</i> watercolor, ink and gouache, 1954. Sold December 15 — $37,500.
    <b>Swann:</b> Charlotte Brontë, <i>Jane Eyre. An Autobiography. Edited by Currer Bell,</i> three volumes, first edition, 1847. Sold June 16, 2022 — $23,750.
    <b>Swann:</b> Geoffrey Chaucer, <i>The Workes of Geffray Chaucer Newlye Printed,</i> London, 1542. Sold October 13 — $106,250.
    <b><center>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> Dorothea Lange, <i>Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age 32),</i> silver print, 1936. Sold October 20 — $305,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> George Washington, Autograph Document Signed, with two manuscript plat maps in holograph, 1751. Sold October 27 — $37,500.
    <b>Swann:</b> Winfred Rembert, <i>Winfred Rembert and Class of 1959,</i> dye on carved & tooled leather, 1999. Sold October 6 — $233,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> M.C. Escher, <i>Relativity,</i> lithograph, 1953. Sold November 3 — $81,250.
  • <b><center>Sotheby’s<br>Original Film Posters<br>27 January - 10 February 2023</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jan. 27-Feb. 10:</b> Vertigo (1958), poster, US. The ultimate poster on this classic Hitchcock title, one of three known examples. £40,000 to £60,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jan. 27-Feb. 10:</b> Lawrence of Arabia (1962), roadshow poster, US. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jan. 27-Feb. 10:</b> Star Wars (1977), style C poster, printer's proof, US. £7,000 to £10,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jan. 27-Feb. 10:</b> The Navigator/ La Croisiere du Navigator (1924), re-release poster (1931), French. £5,000 to £8,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jan. 27-Feb. 10:</b> Bullitt (1968), special test poster, US. £3,000 to £5,000.

Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2018 Issue

Sir Isaac Newton and the Philosopher's Stone

10e8b740-1190-47a6-847b-f8a069b6c811

Manuscript handwritten by Isaac Newton.

The University of Illinois reported that it had recently obtained an important late 17th century document for its Rare Book and Manuscript Library. It did not come cheaply. They paid $275,000 for it at an auction at Bonham's. It was funded by a gift of $500,000 from university graduates Jim and Lionelle Elsesser. It will not be put on display, other than at an unveiling ceremony later this summer, but will be made physically available to scholars and digitized for the rest of the world to see.

 

The document is a handwritten manuscript, eight pages in length, headed Opus Galli Anonymi. That's Latin for "Anonymous Work of the Gauls." It presents detailed instructions for creating the philosopher's stone, the miraculous substance that can turn lead to gold. Of course, it doesn't. If it actually told us how to prepare it, this would be worth a lot more than $275,000. For centuries, people sought this wondrous substance that would make them rich. It does not exist, though perhaps someday we will figure out how to split apart lead atoms and turn them to gold.

 

You may think this document was prepared by some 17th century alchemist, a pseudo-scientist kook fruitlessly seeking riches. It was not. It was created by one of the greatest scientific minds that ever lived. This manuscript was handwritten by that great scientist, Sir Isaac Newton. As the heading suggests, it was not Newton's original work. He copied it from some French writer, quite possibly translated it as well. We don't know who the author was as no record of it has shown up anywhere else. It must not have been published. However, this does not mean that Newton contributed nothing more than a scribe. It has numerous deletions and replacements. Either he added something to it, or was such a poor scribe or translator that he had to constantly correct his work.

 

That still leaves us with the question, what was a legitimate scientist like Newton doing playing around with alchemy? Einstein didn't do that. I guess Newton was no Einstein? Well, actually he was, just in another time. We didn't have a completely separate field for science back then, let alone each separate type of science. There weren't chemists, physicists, astronomers, geologists, alchemists, theologians, and philosophers. They were all philosophers, sometimes with separate specialties, but all philosophers. That's why it was the philosopher's stone, not the alchemist's stone. Newton wrote about physics and chemistry and theology because he was a philosopher. They were all aspects of the same universe to him.

 

Newton dabbled in alchemy, not so much to get rich, as to make discoveries. He thought gravity might be related to some chemical reaction, and what is today chemistry and alchemy were particularly closely related. Besides which, it was thought the philosopher's stone could do other amazing things, such as granting the possessor immortality.

 

Newton was also deeply religious, at least by today's standards, though some of his views were sufficiently unorthodox in his day he feared for his life if he revealed them. Nevertheless, God figures prominently in the operation of his universe, making the various heavenly bodies move in a predictable manner. Gravity doesn't just happen without a thinking mind behind it. Scientists today would not speak of it this way, but in the age when all fields were combined into philosophy, one could readily move from one to another. Newton was a child of his time, a brilliant one, but still bound by his connection to the 17th century. One can only wonder what he would have come up with had he lived today.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams Skinner, Jan. 23 – Feb. 2:</b> [Black Sun Press] Proust, Marcel, 47 Unpublished Letters from Marcel Proust to Walter Berry, Paris: The Black Sun Press, 1930. $400 to $600.
    <b>Bonhams Skinner, Jan. 23 – Feb. 2:</b> Williams, William Carlos (1883-1963), <i>Spring and All,</i> first edition, Paris: Contact Publishing Co., 1923. $400 to $600.
    <b>Bonhams Skinner, Jan. 23 – Feb. 2:</b> Washington, George (1732-1799), Autograph Letter Signed. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams Skinner, Jan. 23 – Feb. 2:</b> Poe, Edgar Allan (1809-1849), Autograph Letter Signed. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams Skinner, Jan. 23 – Feb. 2:</b> Thoreau, Henry David (1817-1862), Autograph Manuscript. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Bonhams Skinner, Jan. 23 – Feb. 2:</b> [Paris Commnue], Photograph album. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Bonhams Skinner, Jan. 23 – Feb. 2:</b> Fleming, Ian (1908-1964), <i>Casino Royale,</i> first edition, London: Jonathan Cape, 1953. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Bonhams Skinner, Jan. 23 – Feb. 2:</b> Audubon, John James and the Rev. John Bachman, <i>The Quadrupeds of North America,</i> New York: V.G. Audubon, 1849, 1851, 1854. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Bonhams Skinner, Jan. 23 – Feb. 2:</b> Lewis, C.S. (1898-1963), <i>The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,</i> first edition, London: Geoffrey Bles Ltd, 1952. $600 to $800.
    <b>Bonhams Skinner, Jan. 23 – Feb. 2:</b> [Bhagavad Gita] Wilkins, Charles, trans., <i>The Bhagvat-Geeta, or Dialogues of Kreeshna and Arjoon…,</i> first edition, London: Printed for C. Nourse, 1785. $700 to $1,000.
    <b>Bonhams Skinner, Jan. 23 – Feb. 2:</b> Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, <i>Faust: Eine Tragodie von Goethe,</i> Hammersmith: Printed by T.J. Cobden-Sanderson & Emery Walker at the Doves Press, 1906-1910. $800 to $1,200.
  • <b><center>University Archives<br>Rare Manuscripts, Books & Sports Memorabilia<br>February 1, 2023</b>
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 1:</b> Thomas Paine ALS Confirming Christmas Eve Attack Likely Based on Anti-Christianity, “The account you heard of a man firing into my house is true.” $24,000 to $35,000.
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 1:</b> George Washington Gives a Horse and Guns to His Loyal Guard 10 Days Before Resigning as Commander-in-Chief. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 1:</b> John Hancock ALS, “General Howe is bent on coming here” - Troops, Martha Washington, & 1777 Continental Congress, to Wife Dolly! $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b><center>University Archives<br>Rare Manuscripts, Books & Sports Memorabilia<br>February 1, 2023</b>
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 1:</b> Abraham Lincoln Boldly and Fully Signs Appointment of Consul Who Would Facilitate Bond Sales in Europe Financing Civil War. $6,000 to $7,000.
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 1:</b> The Rarest of Dual Signed Kennedy Items! 1963 Christmas Card with "Blessed Christmas" Removed at the Last Minute for Kennedy's Jewish Friends. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 1:</b> George Gershwin Signed Contract for 1st Production of <i>Porgy and Bess,</i> Also Signed by Dubose Heyward & Ira Gershwin, Historic! $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b><center>University Archives<br>Rare Manuscripts, Books & Sports Memorabilia<br>February 1, 2023</b>
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 1:</b> Einstein Signed, “Two years after the fall of the German Goyim” 1st Ed. of <i>Mein Weltbild.</i> $12,000 to $14,000.
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 1:</b> Walt Disney <i>Fantasia</i>-Era Boldly Signed TLS Re: "Special Effects Department," PSA Certified Authentic & With Phil Sears COA. $6,000 to $7,000.
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 1:</b> 1996-97 Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls Home Game-Worn Jersey Showcasing "Light" Evident Use, MEARS A5. $6,000 to $7,000.
    <b><center>University Archives<br>Rare Manuscripts, Books & Sports Memorabilia<br>February 1, 2023</b>
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 1:</b> Wayne Gretzky’s 1994 All-Star Used Game Jersey, Inscribed to Former MLB Player! $4,500 to $5,500.
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 1:</b> <i>The Astronauts</i> Signed by All 7 Mercury Astronauts! $4,000 to $5,000.
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 1:</b> Fabulous Edison, Firestone, Burroughs Signed Journal With 44 Original Photos, Very Rare. $4,000 to $5,000.
  • <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 817. Bellin's complete five-volume maritime atlas with 581 maps & plates (1764). $24,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 325. An early and important map of the Republic of Texas (1837). $11,000 to $14,000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 45. De Bry's early map of North Pole depicting Willem Barentsz' expedition (1601). $3,500 to $4,250.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 154. Poignant map of the United States documenting lynchings (1931). $250 to $325.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 457. Extremely rare matching set of pro-German propaganda from WWI (1914). $2,000 to $2,400.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 815. Homann's world atlas featuring 110 maps in contemporary color (1751). $14,000 to $16,000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 60. Miniature pocket globe based on Herman Moll (1785). $3,500 to $4,500.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 8. Visscher's rare carte-a-figures world map (1652). $14,000 to $16,000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 158. Matching satirical maps of the US by McCandlish: "Ration Map" & "Bootlegger's Map" (1944). $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 820. One of the finest English atlases of the early 19th century (1808). $4,750 to $6,000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 59. Important milestone in preparation for 1969 moon landing (1963). $750 to $900.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 805. Superb bible leaf with image of crucifixion of Jesus with gilt highlights (1518). $800 to $950.
  • <center><b>Potter & Potter Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts,<br>including Americana<br>February 16, 2023</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 16:</b> [KELMSCOTT PRESS]. CHAUCER, Geoffrey. <i>The Works…now newly imprinted.</i> Edited by F.S. Ellis. Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, 1896. $100,000 to $125,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 16:</b> [EINSTEIN, Albert (1879–1955)]. –– ORLIK, Emil (1870–1932), artist. Lithograph signed (“Albert Einstein”). N.p., 1928. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 16:</b> TOLKIEN, John Ronald Reuel. <i>[The Lord of the Rings trilogy:] The Fellowship of the Ring.</i> 1954. –– <i>The Two Towers.</i> 1954. –– <i>The Return of the King.</i> 1955. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 16:</b> CLEMENS, Samuel Langhorne ("Mark Twain") and Charles Dudley WARNER. <i>The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today.</i> Hartford and Chicago, 1873. $6,000 to $8,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 16:</b> LOVECRAFT, Howard Phillips. <i>Beyond the Wall of Sleep.</i> Collected by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1943. $2,000 to $3,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions