Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2008 Issue

<i>In The News:</i> The First Telephone Book, Christie's Scientific Auction, AbeBooks Top 10

Phonecop

The first telephone book, Copernicus' heliocentric universe. Courtesy of Christie's.


By Michael Stillman

One of the most important auctions of scientific books, the Richard Green Library, took place at Christie's in New York on June 17. The auction set price records for many authors, including Galileo, but most attention was focused on a seemingly mundane item, a simple telephone book. There must be tens if not hundreds of millions of these massive books printed every year. Twelve months later they are in the trash. So why would anyone pay $170,500 for a telephone book? The answer is that this is the very first telephone book ever published. It followed the invention of the telephone by just two years.

Alexander Graham Bell invented his life-altering device in 1876. While the first long-distance lines were laid the following year, it was not until 1878 that the first commercially available phone system began operation. That was the Connecticut District Telephone Company of New Haven. They ran wires from their subscribers to a central office, enabling communications from one customer to another. While an initial list of 50 subscribers (now lost) is believed to have been published in February 1878, this publication dated November of that year is the first true telephone book. Christie's was not able to locate any other copies of this first edition of the first phone book still in existence.

This book contained an alphabetical listing of 391 subscribers plus an addendum of 16 more names, advertisements, some essays on the telephone and related equipment (such as the microphone), an essay on "Progress in Electric Lighting," and instructions on using this new device. Some of these include, "you should...commence the conversation by saying 'Hulloa!' When you are done talking, say 'That is all!'" There's nothing about text messaging. Others include, "While talking, always speak slow and distinct, and let the telephone rest lightly against your upper lip, leaving the lower lip and the jaw free..." Rules include no calls lasting more than three minutes and no more than two calls an hour (these are still good rules). Any use of profane language is to be reported to the telephone company immediately.

While the first phone book was the most curious item at the auction, it was hardly the most expensive. The Green Library took in a total of $11,019,688, or $38,130 on average for each of the lots sold. The top price was $2,210,500 for De revolutionibus orbium colestium, libri V by Copernicus, from 1543. This is the work in which the great astronomer proclaimed that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the universe, and explained the planet's rotation and revolution around the sun. The second highest price was for Arte de navegar by Pedro de Medina, published in 1545, which sold for $578,500. This very rare original edition is considered the first practical treatise on navigation and includes the map first showing the papal demarcation between Spanish and Portuguese America. Third was Le operazioni del compasso geometrico, et militare... by Galileo, published in 1606. This is the extremely rare privately printed first work of Galileo, published in only 60 copies. It sold for $506,500. Other names in the ten highest prices were Kepler, Einstein, Darwin and Cellarius.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> <i>Westvaco–Inspirations for Printers,</i> 3 volumes, 1938-61. $200 to $300.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Proef van Letteren, <i>Welk gegooten worden in de Nieuwe Haerlemsche Lettergietery,</i> 1768. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Paul Klee, <i>Bauhaus Ausstellung Juli – Sept.,</i> Weimar, 1923. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Michel Seuphor & Jozef Peeters, <i>Het Overzicht Nos.</i> 22-23-24, Antwerp, 1922. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Wolfrum & Co., <i>Modern Graphik, Serie I…,</i> complete portfolio, 1909. $1,200 to $1,800.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> <i>Gravure et Fonderie deC. Derriey: Specimen-Album,</i> Paris, 1862. $5,000 to $7,500.
  • <b><center>Sotheby’s<br>Science: Books and Manuscripts<br>15-25 May 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, 15-25 May:</b> Mary Anning. Autograph letter signed, to William Buckland, 24 November 1834. £50,000 to £70,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 15-25 May:</b> Bolyai. <i>Scientiam spatii absolute veram exhibens,</i> Maros Vásárhelyi, 1832-1833, 2 volumes, half calf. £50,000 to £70,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 15-25 May:</b> Vesalius.<br><i>De humani corporis fabrica,</i> Basel, 1555, modern crushed burgundy morocco. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b><center>Sotheby’s<br>Science: Books and Manuscripts<br>15-25 May 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, 15-25 May:</b> Copernicus.<br><i>De revolutionibus orbium coelestium,</i> Nuremberg, 1543, later boards, Rostock duplicate. £70,000 to £100,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 15-25 May:</b> Payan-Dumoulin. Profusely illustrated manuscript of fossils, France, c.1875-1979. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 15-25 May:</b> Albert Einstein. Autograph letter signed, to his son Albert, 4 November [1915]. £10,000 to £15,000.
  • <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Images of Angling:<br>The David Beazley Collection<br>of Angling Prints<br>Online Sale<br>20th May 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, May 20:</b> Alken (Henry), after. Salmon Fishing; Fishing in a Punt; Pike Fishing, three works, 1820. £600 to £800.
    <b>Forum Auctions, May 20:</b> Early Images of Angling.- Hollar (Wenceslaus) Angling; River Fishing; and Salmon Fishing, after Francis Barlow, 3 engravings, [c. 1671]. £500 to £700.
    <b>Forum Auctions, May 20:</b> Rolfe (Henry Leonidas). <i>Studies of Fresh Water Fish,</i> 1851. £500 to £700.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Images of Angling:<br>The David Beazley Collection<br>of Angling Prints<br>Online Sale<br>20th May 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, May 20:</b> Morland (George), After. A Party Angling; The Anglers' Repast, a pair, mezzotints, 1789. £400 to £600.
    <b>Forum Auctions, May 20:</b> Pollard (James), After. Bottom Fishing; Anglers Packing Up, etchings with aquatint, 1831. £400 to £600.
    <b>Forum Auctions, May 20:</b> Angling's Age of Romance.- Sayer (Robert, publisher) & J. Bennett. The Angelic Angler, mezzotint, 1781; and another. £300 to £400.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Images of Angling:<br>The David Beazley Collection<br>of Angling Prints<br>Online Sale<br>20th May 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, May 20:</b> Fishing Satire.- London.- Roberts (Piercy). Patience at Paddington or angling in the Junction Canal, etching after Woodward, 1807; together with Woodward's 'Angling at Sadler's Wells', and another, 1794. £300 to £400.
    <b>Forum Auctions, May 20:</b> Fishing Satire - Cats Fishing.- Seymour (Robert). Waltonizing or - Green-land Fisherman, [c. 1830s]; together with 3 lithographs of cats fishing, [c. 1830s]. £300 to £400.
    <b>Forum Auctions, May 20:</b> Fishing Portraits.- Zoffany (Johan), After. Master James Sayer, at the age of 13, mezzotint by Richard Houston, 1772. £300 to £400.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Images of Angling:<br>The David Beazley Collection<br>of Angling Prints<br>Online Sale<br>20th May 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, May 20:</b> Wilkinson (Norman). Come to Britain for Fishing, lithographic poster, [c. 1947]. £300 to £400.
    <b>Forum Auctions, May 20:</b> Scottish Fishing.- Heath (William). Sporting in the Scottish Isles no. III. Salmon Fishing, 1835; and another. £150 to £200.
    <b>Forum Auctions, May 20:</b> Simpson (Joseph). The Border Angler, drypoint, [c. 1927]. £150 to £200.

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