Aristotle, Astronomy and the Occult come to Swann's rare books auction

In the last five centuries, the world has travelled rapidly from a medieval to a modern mindset, with much of the acceleration due to the invention of the printing press which allowed the written word to spread like never before.

Consequently, the earlier printed books were a heady mix of religion, budding philosophical and scientific ideas, and the occult. A number of works from this time, when alchemy and basic medicine were equally convincing appear in Swann Auction Galleries' sale this week.

However, the most valuable works in the 200 lot auction, Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Occult Books, are those which still have resonance today.

One book which stands out in the early scientific category is Abraham Bar Hiyya and Elijah Mizrahi's Sefer Tsurat ha-Arets... (the full title is very long) - the first edition of the first complete textbook of astronomy printed in Hebrew.

Woodcut astronomical diagrams appear in text which is bound in contemporary limp vellum, and the whole fascinating work is valued at $8,000-12,000.

A great inspiration to science as well as philosophy, Aristotle's texts are represented here by Aristotle, The Works Translated from the Greek With Copious Elucidations from the Best of his Greek Commentators by Thomas Taylor.

The first complete edition in English, limited to only fifty sets and infrequently found complete, the works are bound in contemporary calf gilt and expected to achieve $10,000-15,000 - though they are probably worth more as an investment.

Scene from the Book of Hours
Nativity scene from the Book of Hours

From a 10-book section on Catholic liturgy, the expected top lot is an absolutely beautiful copy of Horae Beatae Mariae Virginis - that is the Book of Hours. 

The illuminated manuscript in Latin and French on vellum was printed in Paris, in the late 15th century and is expected to charm bidders to a $15,000-20,000 price in the auction, which takes place in New York and online tomorrow, November 9, in the afternoon.


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