Learning through the ages... rare books sale has everything from Euclid to DNA

The early weeks of 2011 are not overrun by book auctions, as these seem to have taken a step back compared to other collectibles. However, there is an auction of books looming at Bonhams next month which should prove to be a strong performer.

Two of the early lots in the Fine Books and Manuscripts sale are classics of rational thinking, though very different in most other ways:

Firstly, there is an early printed copy of Elementa Geometriae by Euclid. The original work dated to around 300BC, but this early printed work was translated and then made in 1482. The printer was Erhard Ratdolt of Venice.

Euclid Elements book
Euclid's Elements

The work has "exercised an influence upon the human mind greater than that of any other work except the Bible" according to the Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography in their 2008 version.

Ratdolt's Euclid is one of the most technically ambitious of all Venetian incunables. It is widely acknowledged as a tour-de-force of Renaissance printing, a masterpiece of typographical ingenuity.

It remains a matter of some bibliographic debate whether the diagrams were achieved with woodcuts or metalcuts. It is in need of cleaning and rebinding, but unpressed and notably well-margined, without shaving to the all-important diagrams. It is expected to achieve $50,000-70,000 and represents a solid investment.

Whilst Euclid may have been one of the key founders of mathematics, Watson and Crick must go down as the founders of molecular genetics. Three items make up a lot relating directly to their groundbreaking discovery:

Firstly there is the paper Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids in Nature (April 25, 1953). Lacking wrappers and preliminary advertising leaves, it is signed ("James D Watson" and "Francis Crick") on p 738.

Watson Crick Nature

Secondly, there is Genetical Implications of the Structure of Deoxyribonucleic Acid in: Nature (May 30, 1953). Also lacking wrappers and preliminary advertising leaves, it is signed ("James D Watson" and "Francis Crick") on p 964.

Finally, there is the Index to Nature (January 3-June 27, 1953) in eight volumes. Lacking wraps, all volumes are re-backed with archival tape and housed together in custom clamshell box featuring the signature of Francis Crick tipped to inside cover.

Crick has now died of course, so this autograph is only likely to become more valuable. This lot is listed at $30,000-50,000 in Bonhams' auction which takes place on February 13, 2011 in San Francisco, California, USA. The signature of another pioneering scientist, Albert Einstein, is also available.


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