SOLD! A First-edition Copernicus at Christie’s London Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is copernicus-detail.jpg

Update: The first-edition Copernicus sold for £587,250, or $734,569.

What you see: A 1543 copy of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, libri V [On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres], by Nicolaus Copernicus, the first scientific work to place the sun at the center of the heavens, rather than the Earth. Christie’s London estimates it at £500,000 to £700,000, or $633,000 to $886,200.

The expert: Barbara Scalvini, expert specialist in the book and manuscript department at Christie’s.

Do we know how many copies of this book were printed in 1543, and how many survive? By conjecture, we can get to between 400 and 500 copies printed of the first edition. 277 have been described, but we have lost some of those. There are about 250 we know of.

Who would have been the audience for this book in 1543? Universities? Yes, but universities would have bene more fluid entities than we know now. The purchaser would have been an astronomer or a lecturer. The book would have traveled with the scholar. The audience would have been a specialized community of scientists devoted to astronomy, and astronomy was not what we intend it now to be. It was a lot to do with calendar-setting and what we’d now say are horoscope predictions. It wasn’t just observing celestial phenomena.

Can we tell, simply by looking at the finished book, how challenging it might have been to make? The book has 142 woodcut illustrations in it. You appreciate that the scientist had to draw these illustrations and the woodcutter had to reproduce them. A lot of precision was needed. Copernicus, at the time, was living in the very north of Poland, and his publisher was in Nuremberg, Germany, about 1,000 miles away. He didn’t have the chance to personally oversee [the book’s] production. He had to delegate production to a pupil, Georg Joachim Rheticus. Then Rheticus got another job at a university that was miles away, and Andreas Osiander was asked by the publisher to oversee the last bit.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is lot-599.jpg

What challenges did Copernicus face in publishing this book? How did those challenges shape how he presented his information? It was the publisher’s skin at stake as much, if not more, than Copernicus. That has to get into the picture. Copernicus wrote a very diplomatic introduction that makes Osiander’s preface irrelevant. Another challenge, for example, was the patronage challenge.

Copernicus and the publisher sought funding from patrons? No. The aim was to get protection, not money, not advancement.

So, patronage in this case meant asking influential people not to aim their guns at this book? I think so. Copernicus was very clever [to say in his introduction] “It’s all for astronomers. It doesn’t question the prime mover or the God side of things, really. It’s going to be used by professionals so we can have a better calendar, and better predictions of the future, so you should be happy.” That probably means he was conscious that the content might raise eyebrows.

How real were the risks that Copernicus and his publisher faced? What consequences could have, or would have, followed if they hadn’t proceeded in the way that they did? Copernicus was a Catholic canon [a type of administrator within his local church], so he could have lost his position in the hierarchy. Dissemination of the book could have been impaired [by church censorship]. The idea that the earth was not the center of the universe had been mooted by others. The risks to his nice, quiet life as a Catholic canon were there, but it wasn’t the risk of prison that Galileo faced later.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is lot-599-1.jpg

Yeah, about that. How did Copernicus present his information in a way that spared him the persecution that Galileo suffered later? How much of it is down to Copernicus’s introduction, in which he lays out the historical underpinnings of his findings? I think it’s in the nature of the book. Galileo produced evidence, actual observed evidence, that this is how physical, material things work. Copernicus was projecting a mathematical model, and said in a letter that it didn’t necessarily have bearing on reality. Observing something physical is almost like piercing a tire–the whole thing didn’t hold up anymore. An observation can be repeated, and shown to be the case. Galileo said it was the only possibility. Copernicus said, “Ok, we’ve gone through a lot of hypotheses, and I believe this is a better and more useful model for making predictions, and you’re going to find, I think, that people will demonstrate this to be the case.” When Copernicus was censored, [the church’s prohibition meant] people must not read the book until it had been corrected. There were only ten corrections. If people possessed the book, they were invited to insert the corrections, and with the corrections, it was accepted by the Catholic Church. One correction was brutal–an entire chapter taken off. But of those extant, only one copy [reflects] carried-out corrections. Most don’t have any expurgations at all.

I imagine some reluctance to carry out the corrections was rooted in the cost of the book. Books were more expensive then… This book cost about one florin. An academic salary was about 100 to 120 florins per year. Considering that the academics had to buy and ship their books, plus cover their own food and maintenance, 1/100th of a yearly salary is not little.

As for Osiander and his preface–I’m guessing the publisher pressured him to write it, to double-cover everyones’ backsides, just in case. I think so, and it’s not just me, but these are conjectures. I quote mainly Owen Gingerich [Harvard professor emeritus, who wrote, in essence, a biography of this Copernicus book] that Rheticus, the pupil who oversaw the publication, crosses Osiander’s bit out in his own copy. Copernicus’s pupil, the one he trusted most, got quite cross with it and crossed it out. I believe if Rheticus had seen to the completion of the work, it [Osiander’s preface] probably would not have happened. Again, how much is conjecture, I don’t know. It’s just a really good story.

How physically involved was Copernicus in the production of the book? He gave the manuscript to Rheticus, who brought it to Nuremberg and started work on it. The printer printed quires, groups of leaves, and sent them to Copernicus for corrections. The last batch of leaves was never corrected, or Copernicus’s corrections were never sent back to the printer. Copernicus did remain involved and engaged with the production of the book, even at a distance, up until the last part.

Do we know how long a gap there was between Copernicus receiving a finished copy and Copernicus’s death? The lot notes say a copy “reached him on the eve of his death,” but is that literally true? They finished printing the whole book on April 20, 1543. We know because Rheticus dedicated a letter to a friend that said, “look at what [we] finished.” Nuremberg was 1,000 miles from Copernicus, so it took two weeks, possibly more, to ship it. Rheticus’s account says Copernicus received it the day before he died, and there’s no reason to doubt that.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is nicolaus-copernicus-.jpg

Do we know if Copernicus was lucid enough to recognize and savor the achievement represented by the finished book? We don’t know. There’s no account of his reaction, but he had seen the proofs of most of the book, and he worked on it for 15 years. He was a perfectionist. There were no telescopes then–all observations were done with the naked eye. Copernicus had to be pushed to produce the book. Seeing the physical quires would have given him a sense of it actually happening.

How was it received in 1543? Did people recognize it for what it was? Absolutely. There was no sense of it being kept under the radar. A second edition was printed in 1566, in the same amount of copies, and it was an exact reprint of the first edition–no corrections. The fact that demand [was strong enough for a reprint] only 20 years later means the reaction was very positive and people picked it up.

What condition is this copy in? I’d say it’s comparable with other copies sold in the past. It’s an OK copy, it’s good. Most copies have blemishes. It’s important to bear in mind that the record $2.2 million price set at Christie’s New York in 2008 by the Richard Green copy is a total outlier. That copy was exceptional. No copy is as good, [whether it is held] privately or in an institution.

How often does a copy of this first edition come to auction? In the last 20 years, five copies have come up at auction. It’s always been a prized book, a milestone in the history of thought. I’d say half a million and upward is a consistent result.

What is the provenance of this copy? It comes from a Japanese university that’s not looking to continue its mission. Its library is going to be discontinued. It’s been in Japan for 40 years. The copy went through Italy and possibly France and eventually Japan via the book trade. It didn’t belong to any scientist or head of state that we know of. People have done very naughty things to these books–stealing pages and cutting out pages with stamps [library identification stamps] on them. This book has not been stolen from a library. You can be confident that’s the case.

What is the book like in person? What’s it like to handle it? The binding is later, but you don’t want to over-open it. Other than that precaution, it’s actually a very natural, very good, very wholesome experience to hold a book of that age. You feel confident that you can leaf through it, back and forth. To me, one of the most affecting parts of the book is the illustration of the concentric circles of the planets around the sun. You can see the earth, a little dot emphasized with a circle, that says we humans are not the center of the universe, but an accident on the periphery.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is copernicus-detail-1.jpg

Why will this book stick in your memory? For me, the excitement does not necessarily come from a specific copy, but its [being part of] a momentous edition. The whole story is exciting. The passing of geocentrism, putting the sun at the center of the universe, turns a page of history. It’s a fantastic testament to humanity, to people’s ability to reason.

How to bid: The first edition of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, libri V is lot 599 in the Valuable Books and Manuscripts sale at Christie’s London on July 10, 2019.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Christie’s also produced a story with Barbara Scalvini discussing the Copernicus and other landmark books that established that the Earth was not at the center of the universe.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Images are courtesy of Christie’s.

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

Apollo 11 Moon Walk Videotape from NASA Could Command $2 Million at Sotheby’s

What you see: Original, first-generation NASA videotape recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk and subsequent events. Sotheby’s estimates the three reels of tape at $1 million to $2 million.

The expert: Cassandra Hatton, vice president and senior specialist for books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s.

How do we know these are the only surviving first-generation recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk? Let me add a word in there: only surviving first-generation NASA recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk. That’s important. The way these tapes were created was the images were sent from the moon and captured in California and Australia, and those images were recorded onto slow-scan tapes that took up 45 reels. The information on the 45 reels were scanned onto two-inch AMPEX reels, of which there are only three. What was seen at Houston and NASA mission control is what is on those tapes. NASA was the first place to receive the images [from ground stations in Australia and California], and they were then sent to various television stations around the world. With each subsequent bounce from station to station, [the images] degraded each time. What you saw live on TV was a lower quality than what was on these tapes.

So it–the TV images of the moon walk–were like a photocopy of a photocopy? Kind of, yeah. How we know these are the only surviving original first-generation NASA tapes is they were sold at a government surplus auction in 1976. The selling body was NASA. Many years later, when NASA searched for the slow-scan tapes, the 45 reels couldn’t be found. Then they discovered, unfortunately, that they had been erased and recorded over. The slow-scan tapes were the best tapes until the moment they were recorded over. Then the ones we’re selling became the best-surviving tapes because they’re the only NASA recording left.

Do we know when the 45 reels of slow-scan tapes were erased and recorded over? Nobody knows, but it’s safe to assume NASA had not discovered that, or had not erased the tapes when they sold [this set of three tapes] in a government auction. My guess is they would not have sold them if they realized [the slow-scan tapes] were erased or would be erased.

So it was safe for NASA to sell the trio of tapes in 1976 because they had, or reasonably believed they had, the slow-scan tapes? Yes. It was not a negative for NASA to sell them, because they had a superior copy.

When did NASA discover that the slow-scan tapes had been erased? In 2008 or 2009, around the time of the 40th moon walk anniversary.

That must have been a gut punch, to realize the slow-scan tapes of the first moon walk were gone. I’m sure it was because of budget cuts. Around the period of the [1970s] energy crisis, federal buildings were required to turn the air-conditioning off if there were no employees there on the weekend. The tapes in one building in Texas were found covered in mold [as a result of the energy conservation directive]. I’m sure it spurred the sale of the tapes. They couldn’t store them properly, so sell them and get some money out of them or throw them in the trash.

The press release also describes the tapes as “unrestored, unenhanced, and unremastered.” Does that mean that other period tapes of the moon walk have suffered that fate? Yes. When NASA discovered the slow-scan tapes had been erased, they decided to use other footage for the 40th anniversary. That footage was made sharper, crisper, more viewable. But once you restore something, you change it. It’s no longer in its original condition, and that has an impact from an artifactual and a value standpoint. Everything about these tapes is original, untouched, and unenhanced. I sat and watched every second of every reel. It’s exactly what mission control saw as it was happening.

Ok, so we’ve established that NASA had no reason to believe they were giving away a gem when they consigned these tapes to auction, but this isn’t the first time that the government has unwittingly or accidentally sold a priceless artifact of the space race. Why does this keep happening? You’ve got to remember what NASA is and what its purpose is. They’re engineers. Not archivists. Not librarians. If you want archivists, there’s a specific degree and training you need. They have done their best to archive material, but after all, it’s a government agency, and it’s not funded as much as it could be. They’re not a museum. They’re a space agency. If they hired someone to oversee all their artifacts before they go into a GSA auction, that’d be great.

But they’d need more than one person to do that… They’d have to have an army. People make a living out of paying attention to these sales. It’s impossible to go over every item to make sure it’s not super-valuable. The amount of research we did on this…

How long did it take you to research this lot? Days? I couldn’t even quantify it in days.

Because you’re picking it up and putting it down… And discussing, and reading books and articles, and watching videos, and talking to colleagues, and scratching my head. It does take quite a lot of time. We put quite a lot of thought into it. It’s very much a team effort.

So Gary George bought the lot, which contained over 1,000 videotapes, for $217.77 in 1976, and he could have sold any one of those tapes for $200 at the time. That was exactly what he was doing. He was an intern at NASA, and a lot of interns, for fun, would go to government surplus auctions. George said he bought himself a sports car with the money he made. They were guys in their twenties, being entrepreneurial. He hit the jackpot, but he didn’t realize it at first.

When did George find the trio of tapes within the larger group? He filled three U-Haul trucks [with tapes] and stored them in his parents’ garage. He sold them as quickly as he could. It was his dad who said, “Those tapes say ‘Apollo 11 EVA July 20 1969’ on them. Maybe you should keep them.” His dad really saved those tapes. George was a young guy. He was going to resell them.

I guess George thought NASA couldn’t have done something so silly as to sell tapes that record the first moon walk? Yeah. At that point, he held onto them, close to when he bought them. It was not until 2006 or 2007, when NASA was hunting for the slow-scan tapes, that he saw them and thought, “Gee, maybe I have something that’s important.”

When did you and your colleagues at Sotheby’s learn about the tapes? George reached out to us recently, in 2018.

I’ve heard tell of badly stored nitrate films from the silent era bursting into flame. Do these tapes pose a similar risk? Luckily, that’s not an issue here. I think post-1965, most were recorded using safety film. It will eventually degrade, but it is in remarkable condition. [When I brought it to an engineer who owned a device that could play it,] I didn’t tell them what it was. They spontaneously said, “Wow.” They kept remarking on the quality and how sharp the image was. Just by looking, they were able to tell me the tape was an original–I didn’t tell them it was an original. I was just a weird lady who came into the office with tapes she wanted to play.

Will the winning bidder need to hunt down a period AMPEX videotape device to watch these reels? No. They’ve been digitized in a super-high-resolution manner and saved onto a one-terabyte hard drive and a thumb drive. You can watch the hard drive or the thumb drive and keep the reels as artifacts. It’s kind of like having the manuscript, a first edition, and a paperback of the same book. You read the paperback, and the manuscript and the first edition stay on the shelf. I always bring it back to books…

I apologize if this is a silly question, but did NASA shoot these videos in black and white? Not that that makes much difference on the lunar surface, which is pretty close to black-and-white as it is. They’re in both. In the opening footage, you see engineers in mission control, and that’s in color. On the lunar surface, it’s black and white. [It might have been] because they didn’t have the capability to broadcast color from the moon, and because most people had black and white televisions [in 1969].

And to clarify–these are NOT three reels from the missing 45. These are separate and different yes? They are not three from the 45, but they represent what’s on the 45 reels. This is the complete EVA [extra-vehicular activity]. I can only imagine what the quality would have been if they’d taken up the 45 reels. Maybe there was a little extra, but who knows? The 45 reels have been erased. But the content should be the same.

Again, apologies for what might be a silly question, but I feel I should clarify–the winner gets the physical things in the lot, and does not receive copyright or control over the images shown on the three reels, yes? We’re just selling the tapes themselves as artifacts. The content is in the public domain. There is no copyright. If you want to make and sell t-shirts [with these images], you’ve got to ask permission [from NASA].

Is there anything about these tapes that doesn’t come across in the photos? For example, how heavy are they? They are very heavy. Each reel weighs about 15 pounds. They were too heavy for one person to carry all three on the airline.

It hadn’t occurred to me that you had to fly the tapes to New York. How did that work? It was complicated to get them on the plane. At security, they could have been demagnetized, because they’re magnetic tapes. We had to flag them for special screening, so they weren’t brought anywhere near magnetic machines. I viewed them on the East coast to be sure they didn’t get erased between the West coast and getting here.

It must have been a relief to watch the tapes and realize they’d arrived safely. It was a tense moment, watching the engineer spool it up on the machine. It was nerve-wracking. But I realized what a nerd I really am–it started, and I narrated it. I really know this mission!

Why will this lot stick in your memory? When I watched the tapes, I was surprised, because I started tearing up. The engineer spooling the tapes started tearing up. His wife started tearing up. It has such an impact on people. I’ve sold a lot of cool things that flew to the moon, but this represents what all that effort was for. This is the primary witness to the moment we worked for. It really is representative of man’s greatest achievement. It’s the original artifact from the agency that made it possible. It all comes back to the moments captured on these tapes.

How to bid: The trio of Apollo 11 videotape recordings is lot 104 in the Space Exploration sale taking place at Sotheby’s New York on July 20, 2019 (of course).

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Sotheby’s is on Twitter and Instagram.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Images are courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Cassandra Hatton has appeared on The Hot Bid before, talking about Richard Feynman’s Nobel Prize and an Apollo 13 flight plan.

In a NASA story about the search for the slow-scan tapes that mentions this trio of videotapes, the agency states, “If the tapes are as described in the sale material, they are 2-inch videotapes recorded in Houston from the video that had been converted to a format that could be broadcast over commercial television and contain no material that hasn’t been preserved at NASA.”

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

A First-edition Copernicus Could Sell for Almost $900,000 at Christie’s London

What you see: A 1543 copy of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, libri V [On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres], by Nicolaus Copernicus, the first scientific work to place the sun at the center of the heavens, rather than the Earth. Christie’s London estimates it at £500,000 to £700,000, or $633,000 to $886,200.

The expert: Barbara Scalvini, expert specialist in the book and manuscript department at Christie’s.

Do we know how many copies of this book were printed in 1543, and how many survive? By conjecture, we can get to between 400 and 500 copies printed of the first edition. 277 have been described, but we have lost some of those. There are about 250 we know of.

Who would have been the audience for this book in 1543? Universities? Yes, but universities would have bene more fluid entities than we know now. The purchaser would have been an astronomer or a lecturer. The book would have traveled with the scholar. The audience would have been a specialized community of scientists devoted to astronomy, and astronomy was not what we intend it now to be. It was a lot to do with calendar-setting and what we’d now say are horoscope predictions. It wasn’t just observing celestial phenomena.

Can we tell, simply by looking at the finished book, how challenging it might have been to make? The book has 142 woodcut illustrations in it. You appreciate that the scientist had to draw these illustrations and the woodcutter had to reproduce them. A lot of precision was needed. Copernicus, at the time, was living in the very north of Poland, and his publisher was in Nuremberg, Germany, about 1,000 miles away. He didn’t have the chance to personally oversee [the book’s] production. He had to delegate production to a pupil, Georg Joachim Rheticus. Then Rheticus got another job at a university that was miles away, and Andreas Osiander was asked by the publisher to oversee the last bit.

What challenges did Copernicus face in publishing this book? How did those challenges shape how he presented his information? It was the publisher’s skin at stake as much, if not more, than Copernicus. That has to get into the picture. Copernicus wrote a very diplomatic introduction that makes Osiander’s preface irrelevant. Another challenge, for example, was the patronage challenge.

Copernicus and the publisher sought funding from patrons? No. The aim was to get protection, not money, not advancement.

So, patronage in this case meant asking influential people not to aim their guns at this book? I think so. Copernicus was very clever [to say in his introduction] “It’s all for astronomers. It doesn’t question the prime mover or the God side of things, really. It’s going to be used by professionals so we can have a better calendar, and better predictions of the future, so you should be happy.” That probably means he was conscious that the content might raise eyebrows.

How real were the risks that Copernicus and his publisher faced? What consequences could have, or would have, followed if they hadn’t proceeded in the way that they did? Copernicus was a Catholic canon [a type of administrator within his local church], so he could have lost his position in the hierarchy. Dissemination of the book could have been impaired [by church censorship]. The idea that the earth was not the center of the universe had been mooted by others. The risks to his nice, quiet life as a Catholic canon were there, but it wasn’t the risk of prison that Galileo faced later.

Yeah, about that. How did Copernicus present his information in a way that spared him the persecution that Galileo suffered later? How much of it is down to Copernicus’s introduction, in which he lays out the historical underpinnings of his findings? I think it’s in the nature of the book. Galileo produced evidence, actual observed evidence, that this is how physical, material things work. Copernicus was projecting a mathematical model, and said in a letter that it didn’t necessarily have bearing on reality. Observing something physical is almost like piercing a tire–the whole thing didn’t hold up anymore. An observation can be repeated, and shown to be the case. Galileo said it was the only possibility. Copernicus said, “Ok, we’ve gone through a lot of hypotheses, and I believe this is a better and more useful model for making predictions, and you’re going to find, I think, that people will demonstrate this to be the case.” When Copernicus was censored, [the church’s prohibition meant] people must not read the book until it had been corrected. There were only ten corrections. If people possessed the book, they were invited to insert the corrections, and with the corrections, it was accepted by the Catholic Church. One correction was brutal–an entire chapter taken off. But of those extant, only one copy [reflects] carried-out corrections. Most don’t have any expurgations at all.

I imagine some reluctance to carry out the corrections was rooted in the cost of the book. Books were more expensive then… This book cost about one florin. An academic salary was about 100 to 120 florins per year. Considering that the academics had to buy and ship their books, plus cover their own food and maintenance, 1/100th of a yearly salary is not little.

As for Osiander and his preface–I’m guessing the publisher pressured him to write it, to double-cover everyones’ backsides, just in case. I think so, and it’s not just me, but these are conjectures. I quote mainly Owen Gingerich [Harvard professor emeritus, who wrote, in essence, a biography of this Copernicus book] that Rheticus, the pupil who oversaw the publication, crosses Osiander’s bit out in his own copy. Copernicus’s pupil, the one he trusted most, got quite cross with it and crossed it out. I believe if Rheticus had seen to the completion of the work, it [Osiander’s preface] probably would not have happened. Again, how much is conjecture, I don’t know. It’s just a really good story.

How physically involved was Copernicus in the production of the book? He gave the manuscript to Rheticus, who brought it to Nuremberg and started work on it. The printer printed quires, groups of leaves, and sent them to Copernicus for corrections. The last batch of leaves was never corrected, or Copernicus’s corrections were never sent back to the printer. Copernicus did remain involved and engaged with the production of the book, even at a distance, up until the last part.

Do we know how long a gap there was between Copernicus receiving a finished copy and Copernicus’s death? The lot notes say a copy “reached him on the eve of his death,” but is that literally true? They finished printing the whole book on April 20, 1543. We know because Rheticus dedicated a letter to a friend that said, “look at what [we] finished.” Nuremberg was 1,000 miles from Copernicus, so it took two weeks, possibly more, to ship it. Rheticus’s account says Copernicus received it the day before he died, and there’s no reason to doubt that.

Do we know if Copernicus was lucid enough to recognize and savor the achievement represented by the finished book? We don’t know. There’s no account of his reaction, but he had seen the proofs of most of the book, and he worked on it for 15 years. He was a perfectionist. There were no telescopes then–all observations were done with the naked eye. Copernicus had to be pushed to produce the book. Seeing the physical quires would have given him a sense of it actually happening.

How was it received in 1543? Did people recognize it for what it was? Absolutely. There was no sense of it being kept under the radar. A second edition was printed in 1566, in the same amount of copies, and it was an exact reprint of the first edition–no corrections. The fact that demand [was strong enough for a reprint] only 20 years later means the reaction was very positive and people picked it up.

What condition is this copy in? I’d say it’s comparable with other copies sold in the past. It’s an OK copy, it’s good. Most copies have blemishes. It’s important to bear in mind that the record $2.2 million price set at Christie’s New York in 2008 by the Richard Green copy is a total outlier. That copy was exceptional. No copy is as good, [whether it is held] privately or in an institution.

How often does a copy of this first edition come to auction? In the last 20 years, five copies have come up at auction. It’s always been a prized book, a milestone in the history of thought. I’d say half a million and upward is a consistent result.

What is the provenance of this copy? It comes from a Japanese university that’s not looking to continue its mission. Its library is going to be discontinued. It’s been in Japan for 40 years. The copy went through Italy and possibly France and eventually Japan via the book trade. It didn’t belong to any scientist or head of state that we know of. People have done very naughty things to these books–stealing pages and cutting out pages with stamps [library identification stamps] on them. This book has not been stolen from a library. You can be confident that’s the case.

What is the book like in person? What’s it like to handle it? The binding is later, but you don’t want to over-open it. Other than that precaution, it’s actually a very natural, very good, very wholesome experience to hold a book of that age. You feel confident that you can leaf through it, back and forth. To me, one of the most affecting parts of the book is the illustration of the concentric circles of the planets around the sun. You can see the earth, a little dot emphasized with a circle, that says we humans are not the center of the universe, but an accident on the periphery.

Why will this book stick in your memory? For me, the excitement does not necessarily come from a specific copy, but its [being part of] a momentous edition. The whole story is exciting. The passing of geocentrism, putting the sun at the center of the universe, turns a page of history. It’s a fantastic testament to humanity, to people’s ability to reason.

How to bid: The first edition of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, libri V is lot 599 in the Valuable Books and Manuscripts sale at Christie’s London on July 10, 2019.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Christie’s also produced a story with Barbara Scalvini discussing the Copernicus and other landmark books that established that the Earth was not at the center of the universe.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Images are courtesy of Christie’s.

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

WHOA! Christie’s New York Sold Edgar Allan Poe’s Pocket Watch for (Scroll Down to See)

Poe Edgar Allen pocket watch-b.jpg

Update: Edgar Allan Poe’s pocket watch sold for $250,000–more than double its high estimate.

What you see: An 18-karat gold French quarter-repeating pocket watch that once belonged to Edgar Allan Poe. Christie’s estimates it at $80,000 to $120,000.

The expert: Heather Weintraub, associate specialist in books, manuscripts, and archives at Christie’s New York.

Could you talk a bit about what a gold pocket watch represented in 1840s America? According to the lot notes, Poe probably bought this watch when he was earning $800 per year, and he likely spent between $120 to $150 if he bought it new. What did a watch like this say about its owner? In Philadelphia at this time, you would have seen a good selection of European watches. This would have been a nice watch, a nice middle-class watch. It wouldn’t have been expensive, but it also wasn’t cheap. It was a quarter-repeater, which means it chimed every 15 minutes. The most expensive watch at the time was a minute repeater. It would retail for $120 to $150, but he could have bought it secondhand for $100 or less. He also could have received it as a gift at some point. What makes it so interesting is we have nailed down what we can, but there’s a little bit of intrigue. We don’t have all the exact details. We researched it and pinned down what we could. One really nice detail is it has signs of wear, as if it was worn considerably. I love that. I think of Poe wearing the watch during the time he had it.

Poe had the watch engraved with his name. Was that a common practice at the time? Engraving was very common. Engraving shops would have been readily available. It was partly done to [deter] theft. Having it engraved would have cost less than a dollar.

Is this pocket watch valuable without the Poe provenance? We worked closely with the watch department to catalog this. On its own, it would be in the low thousands, we were told. The value for us is really in the wonderful provenance.

Do we know how long Poe owned it? Poe had a brief window of prosperity in the early 1840s. It seems a likely time for him to have acquired this. He filed for bankruptcy in 1842. Adding that to what we learned from an 1880 newspaper article [titled The Gold Watch of Edgar A. Poe], which says J.W. Albright acquired it between 1841 and 1842, that creates a pretty narrow window.

Poe published The Tell-Tale Heart in 1843, which likens the thumping of the tell-tale heart to “much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton”. Is there any chance this pocket watch was available to him while he wrote the story? He first submitted The Tell-Tale Heart to the Boston Miscellany in 1842. It’s not impossible there might have been overlap.

poe_edgar_allan_pocket watch

Does it work? It does not work, but our watch expert says it can be repaired.

Does the watch expert advise repairing it? It depends on the person who buys it. It’s up to the buyer if they’d like to repair it.

What is the pocket watch like in person? Have you held it? I have held it. It has a nice weight to it. It’s wonderful to be able to hold something from the 1840s that Poe may have held. It’s one of the reasons to love this job.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $80,000 to $120,000? Coming up with an auction estimate is definitely more of an art than a science. One [result] we looked at was a 2016 sale of Albert Einstein’s pocket watch, which fetched £266,500 [roughly $337,000] at Christie’s London.

Why Einstein? Why is he a good analog in this context? Poe and he are both well-known people who are associated with time…? We considered a number of things. This was just one of them. In the most obvious sense, it was another pocket watch owned by a well-known individual.

How rarely do objects owned by Edgar Allan Poe come up at auction? Objects related to Poe are rare. The only other thing we’re aware of is an engagement ring that was also engraved, which came up in 2012. [It was part of a group of Poe material sold at Profiles in History in December of that year.] Also in the June 12 auction is a signed autograph letter from Poe. Ten autograph Poe letters have appeared over the last 20 years–they’re scarce.

What’s the world auction record for Poe? I suspect it’s a rare book… I believe it’s a first edition copy of his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, which sold at Christie’s New York in December 2009 for $662,500.

Looking at the lot notes, I see several private sales in the pocket watch’s past, but no auctions. Is this the first time it’s been consigned? Correct, yes. It’s changed hands over the years, but this is the first time it’s been to auction.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s not every day you get to hold Edgar Allan Poe’s pocket watch in your hands. Working with items such as this–six months ago, I didn’t know it existed–it’s one of the joys of working at auction. It’s a wonderful piece. We’re so excited to have it in the sale.

How to bid: Edgar Allan Poe’s pocket watch is lot 209 in the Fine Printed Books & Manuscripts Including Americana auction taking place at Christie’s New York on June 12, 2019.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

Christie’s New York Could Sell Edgar Allan Poe’s Pocket Watch for $120,000

Poe Edgar Allen pocket watch-b.jpg

What you see: An 18-karat gold French quarter-repeating pocket watch that once belonged to Edgar Allan Poe. Christie’s estimates it at $80,000 to $120,000.

The expert: Heather Weintraub, associate specialist in books, manuscripts, and archives at Christie’s New York.

Could you talk a bit about what a gold pocket watch represented in 1840s America? According to the lot notes, Poe probably bought this watch when he was earning $800 per year, and he likely spent between $120 to $150 if he bought it new. What did a watch like this say about its owner? In Philadelphia at this time, you would have seen a good selection of European watches. This would have been a nice watch, a nice middle-class watch. It wouldn’t have been expensive, but it also wasn’t cheap. It was a quarter-repeater, which means it chimed every 15 minutes. The most expensive watch at the time was a minute repeater. It would retail for $120 to $150, but he could have bought it secondhand for $100 or less. He also could have received it as a gift at some point. What makes it so interesting is we have nailed down what we can, but there’s a little bit of intrigue. We don’t have all the exact details. We researched it and pinned down what we could. One really nice detail is it has signs of wear, as if it was worn considerably. I love that. I think of Poe wearing the watch during the time he had it.

Poe had the watch engraved with his name. Was that a common practice at the time? Engraving was very common. Engraving shops would have been readily available. It was partly done to [deter] theft. Having it engraved would have cost less than a dollar.

Is this pocket watch valuable without the Poe provenance? We worked closely with the watch department to catalog this. On its own, it would be in the low thousands, we were told. The value for us is really in the wonderful provenance.

Do we know how long Poe owned it? Poe had a brief window of prosperity in the early 1840s. It seems a likely time for him to have acquired this. He filed for bankruptcy in 1842. Adding that to what we learned from an 1880 newspaper article [titled The Gold Watch of Edgar A. Poe], which says J.W. Albright acquired it between 1841 and 1842, that creates a pretty narrow window.

Poe published The Tell-Tale Heart in 1843, which likens the thumping of the tell-tale heart to “much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton”. Is there any chance this pocket watch was available to him while he wrote the story? He first submitted The Tell-Tale Heart to the Boston Miscellany in 1842. It’s not impossible there might have been overlap.

poe_edgar_allan_pocket watch

Does it work? It does not work, but our watch expert says it can be repaired.

Does the watch expert advise repairing it? It depends on the person who buys it. It’s up to the buyer if they’d like to repair it.

What is the pocket watch like in person? Have you held it? I have held it. It has a nice weight to it. It’s wonderful to be able to hold something from the 1840s that Poe may have held. It’s one of the reasons to love this job.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $80,000 to $120,000? Coming up with an auction estimate is definitely more of an art than a science. One [result] we looked at was a 2016 sale of Albert Einstein’s pocket watch, which fetched £266,500 [roughly $337,000] at Christie’s London.

Why Einstein? Why is he a good analog in this context? Poe and he are both well-known people who are associated with time…? We considered a number of things. This was just one of them. In the most obvious sense, it was another pocket watch owned by a well-known individual.

How rarely do objects owned by Edgar Allan Poe come up at auction? Objects related to Poe are rare. The only other thing we’re aware of is an engagement ring that was also engraved, which came up in 2012. [It was part of a group of Poe material sold at Profiles in History in December of that year.] Also in the June 12 auction is a signed autograph letter from Poe. Ten autograph Poe letters have appeared over the last 20 years–they’re scarce.

What’s the world auction record for Poe? I suspect it’s a rare book… I believe it’s a first edition copy of his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, which sold at Christie’s New York in December 2009 for $662,500.

Looking at the lot notes, I see several private sales in the pocket watch’s past, but no auctions. Is this the first time it’s been consigned? Correct, yes. It’s changed hands over the years, but this is the first time it’s been to auction.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s not every day you get to hold Edgar Allan Poe’s pocket watch in your hands. Working with items such as this–six months ago, I didn’t know it existed–it’s one of the joys of working at auction. It’s a wonderful piece. We’re so excited to have it in the sale.

How to bid: Edgar Allan Poe’s pocket watch is lot 209 in the Fine Printed Books & Manuscripts Including Americana auction taking place at Christie’s New York on June 12, 2019.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

The Hot Bid, Shelf Life: “Art Collecting Today: Market Insights for Everyone Passionate About Art” by Doug Woodham

Art Collecting Today cover

What you see: Art Collecting Today: Market Insights for Everyone Passionate About Art by Doug Woodham. *$24.99, Allworth Press.

 

Does it fit in my purse? Yes, just.

 

Cut to the chase. Should I buy this book? Yes.

 

You could call this Everything You Wanted to Know About the Art World, But Were Afraid to Ask, but Woodham wouldn’t, because he knows better than to reach for a joke that last got laughs in 1975.

 

Still, ACT serves that sort of role, explaining all the things you should know about art-collecting, but might not, or might have forgotten, and it does it without condescension.

 

ACT came out in Spring 2017 and has aged well overall (the GOP tax bill passed later that year affected the information on art and taxes, but c’mon,).

 

Woodham knows whereof he speaks, having embraced contemporary art as a 15-year-old and having followed a path that took him to a PhD in economics, a stint at McKinsey, and president of the Americas at Christie’s from 2012 to 2015.

 

This background helped him obtain almost 100 interviews for the book with collectors, art advisors (which is his current profession), auction house and gallery folks, lawyers, and others who might not normally speak as freely.

 

The material Woodham gathered from the anonymous dozens ensures that ACT is not a dry recitation of dos and don’ts. It pulls in topical art controversies that were live before May 2017, including the unusual threat that the Detroit Institute of the Arts faced in the wake of the city of Detroit declaring bankruptcy. It acknowledges the rise of Instagram and details its impact. It spends a chapter showing how six artists–Christopher Wool, Amedeo Modigliani, Yayoi Kusama, Rene Magritte, Ruth Asawa, and Elizabeth Murray–have seen their market reputations rise and fall.

 

And it deals head-on with the emotions of buyers and sellers. For ages, the tenets of economics assumed that market movers generally acted rationally. That’s never been true for art, and could never be true for art, because loving art isn’t rational. And art that goes unloved eventually goes unloved by the art marketplace.

 

ACT excels at grappling with the inherent irrationality of the art market, shedding light on its mysteries without killing its romance. It explores the alchemy of how love turns into money, or fails to, with deftness and brevity.

 

This book is perfect for subway journey reading and just-before-you-fall-asleep reading in that you can jump into it and out of it at will with the confidence that you’ll learn something, enjoy yourself, or both. Usually both.

 

Worth buying new, at full price.

 

How to buy Art Collecting Today: Please purchase it from an independent bookstore near you. If there isn’t one near you, try ordering it from the Strand Bookstore.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Doug Woodham is on Instagram, and he has a website. He also publishes a quarterly e-newsletter, dubbed Art and Money. Scroll to the bottom of this page to subscribe.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Doug Woodham.

 

* I received Art Collecting Today as an advance review copy through one of the five people whose brains I picked when I was working out whether and how to do this blog. I’m confident that if I’d heard about it later, I would have bought it or put it on my wish list.

 

Art Collecting Today was originally published in Spring 2017.

 

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

 

 

 

 

SOLD! Potter & Potter Sold “The True History of Pepper’s Ghost” for (Scroll Down to See)

71_405_1

Update: Potter & Potter sold the copy of The True History of Pepper’s Ghost for $1,020.

 

What you see: A copy of The True History of Pepper’s Ghost, an 1890 book by Professor John Henry Pepper. Potter & Potter estimates it at $600 to $900.

 

The expert: Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter.

 

What is Pepper’s Ghost, and how was John Pepper involved in it? It’s a theatrical effect used to manifest figures on a stage. They could be ghosts, they could be people, they could be objects, even. It was devised in the mid-19th century by Henry Dircks and popularized by John Pepper.

 

How did he popularize it? Pepper came up with a way to streamline the installation of the device. Dircks wanted to modify every theater in a major way to install the invention. Pepper made it adaptable and practical.

 

Why was the special effect such a big deal when it debuted in 1862? Because it made ghosts walk on stage.

 

Were there previous attempts to do something like Pepper’s Ghost, which fell short? I’m not aware of any, and I’m not an authority, but people had played with using glass in a similar way going back centuries.

 

To what extent, if at all, was the impact of Pepper’s Ghost amplified by debuting in a play based on a book by Charles Dickens? My recollection is the play it was used in involved the appearance of a ghost. What I like about that was Charles Dickens was an amateur magician. They probably chose it [the debut of the effect] coincidentally, but there’s some serendipity there.

 

What I find interesting is Pepper tried, almost heroically, to give due credit to Dircks, but the public persisted in calling the effect “Pepper’s Ghost.” But look at songwriting. Maybe it’s a stretch, but how many of Whitney Houston’s songs did she actually write? It’s the performance that makes the memory in the public mind.

 

But it’s not typical for someone to try as hard as Pepper did to share credit. No, especially when the profit motive is involved. But, eventually, Henry Dircks signed the patent over to Pepper. It shows he had no animosity to Pepper. It helped cement it in the public mind, I suppose, but the public doesn’t go back and read patent papers.

 

Have you read the book? Do we know why Pepper felt he had to write a book titled The True History of Pepper’s Ghost? I have not read it, and I don’t know his motivation.

 

Does it go into detail about how to produce the Pepper’s Ghost effect? Oh, yeah. The folding frontispiece shows you how to set it up. It’s literally the first page.

 

How is the Pepper’s Ghost effect used today? I know it’s been adapted for many practical and entertaining purposes. One you probably don’t think of is the headsup display on a car’s windshield. A more frivolous use brought Tupac Shakur to life on stage. It’s been used for decades in carnivals to turn a girl into a gorilla.

 

It’s a surprisingly durable special effect, given that it’s more than 150 years old. Sometimes, you know, simplicity is an art. It’s hard to improve upon something so direct and effective.

 

Do we know how many copies of the book were printed? Also, how many copies have you handled? I don’t know the number printed, but I’ve handled two or three in 11 years.

 

What condition is the book in? Lovely. It’s not in fine condition, but considering its age and scarcity, it’s good, in bookseller’s terms.

 

Who would have been the audience for this book? I imagine it would be scientists, or theater owners, or people who wanted to incorporate effects into a production. It could have been magicians or curiosity seekers as well. The cover is beautiful–one of its main attractions these days. The skeleton on the cover says it all.

 

How to bid: The True History of Pepper’s Ghost is lot 405 in The Magic Collection of Ray Goulet, a sale taking place at Potter & Potter on April 27, 2019.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Follow Potter & Potter on Instagram and Twitter.

 

Gabe Fajuri is a favorite on The Hot Bid. He’s talked about a Will & Finck brass sleeve holdout–a device for cheating at cards–which sold for $9,000a Snap Wyatt sideshow banner advertising a headless girl, a record-setting stage-worn magician’s tuxedo; a genuine 19th century gambler’s case that later sold for $6,765; a scarce 19th century poster of a tattooed man that fetched $8,610; a 1908 poster for the magician Chung Ling Soo that sold for $9,225; a Golden Girls letterman jacket that belonged to actress Rue McClanahan; and a 1912 Houdini poster that set the world record for any magic poster at auction.

 

Gabe rightly points out that the peerless Jim Steinmeyer wrote the definitive book on the Pepper’s Ghost special effect: The Science Behind the Ghost, which you can purchase from Steinmeyer’s website.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.