Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2020 Issue

June 9: Highly important Isaac Newton presentation copy to be offered at Forum Auctions


A truly superlative copy of the first edition of Newton’s Opticks, 1704, given by the author to Nicolas Fatio de Duillier will appear at auction for the first time in its history as part of Forum Auctions’ sale of Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper on Tuesday 9th June (NB change of date from 28th May).

The copy, in its totally unrestored original blind-stamped calf binding, bears an inscription in Fatio’s hand “Ex Dono Autoris Clarissimi: Londini, Februarii undecimo, 1703/4. Nicolaus Facius” and also includes ink and pencil corrections, most definitively in Fatio’s own hand. This is the earliest known presentation copy, dated 11th February 1704, a full 5 days before Newton himself presented a copy to the Royal Society, of which he was then President.

Swiss-born Fatio (1664-1753) was himself an important mathematician, becoming a friend and collaborator of the already famed Newton. He came to England in 1687 after working in the Netherlands where he befriended Christiaan Huygens and won fame for uncovering a plot to assassinate William of Orange. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1688 and quickly made the acquaintance of the leading mathematicians and astronomers, in particular Edward Bernard (Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford) and Isaac Newton (Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge). Fatio was then the leading intermediary between Newton and Huygens on the continent and in the 1690s, as Newton’s closest confidant, became the most likely person to oversee a revised edition of the Principia, discussing corrections to the work with Newton and exchanging letters. They also collaborated on practical alchemical experiments and Fatio advised Newton on the purchase of French alchemical books and, most significantly, later became the main defender of Newton in his bitter decade and a half long dispute with Leibniz and other continental mathematicians over the invention of calculus. This is one of only 4 books known to exist from Fatio’s library.

Very few presentation copies of Opticks exist, and none has an inscription in Newton’s own hand. Likewise, very few copies have contemporary annotations. Fatio’s corrections include many not in the printed errata, making this copy undoubtedly the most interesting of all known annotated complete copies.

The combination of the presentation, the close association of the author and the recipient, the earliness of the date of gifting, the annotations and the unsophisticated condition of such an important mathematical work make this a book that would grace any major scientific library. It carries an estimate of £300,000 – 400,000.

For further details, please email me directly at r.powell@forumauctions.co.uk, or visit forumauctions.co.uk.


Rare Book Monthly

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