Lot 7
  • 7

Brahe, Tycho

30,000 - 50,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Brahe, Tycho
  • Epistolarum astronomicarum libri. Uraniborg: (ex officina typographica Authoris), 1596
  • Paper
4to (230 x 168mm.), small woodcut vignette on title-page, woodcut initials and diagrams (including illustrations of Tycho's observatory on Hven), woodcut printer's device above colophon, old vellum boards (reusing manuscript leaves from a fifteenth-century German lectionary containing Latin text from the books of Malachi and Luke) with later blue paper spine covering and manuscript label, title-page slightly chipped at head, front flyleaf torn at foot, paper flaws in Bb1 (at lower corner without loss of text) and Cc3 (with loss of a couple of letters), woodcut on p.260 shaved at foredge, lacking two pairs of ties


Jesuits of Freiburg im Breisgau, inscription at head of title-page dated 1640; given in memory of Basil Perger, professor of astronomy in Ochsenhausen, inscription at end signed by Father Nicolaus Remmele (1773-1811) and dated 10 October 1804 in Ochsenhausen (Baden-Württemberg)


BL STC Scandinavian B977; Heralds of Science 4; Houzeau & Lancaster 7824; Nielsen 430; Adam Mosley, "Astronomical books and courtly communication", in Books and the Sciences in History (Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp.114-131

Catalogue Note

First edition, first issue; the text was subsequently reissued in Nuremberg in 1601 and Frankfurt in 1610 with new title-pages and, in the latter case, some reset preliminary leaves. Although Nielsen lists about 40 copies in libraries, this first issue is rare on the market and we have only been able to trace five copies at auction over the last forty years or so: a copy sold in our New York rooms in 1977 (in a contemporary armorial binding), a copy sold at Swann Galleries in New York in 1977, the Honeyman copy (sold in these rooms in 1978), the Broxbourne copy (sold in these rooms in 1978 and subsequently at Christie's New York in 1999) and a copy sold at Tenner's in Heidelberg in 1982.

This is the first (and only) volume of Tycho's correspondence on astronomical matters, with Landgrave Wilhelm IV of Hesse-Kassel and his astronomer Christoph Rothmann between 1585 and 1595, published at Tycho's own press on the island of Hven, which enabled Tycho to print works to his own exacting standards and in timely fashion despite the remoteness of his location on Hven; he even had a paper mill constructed on the island. It was the first of a projected series of volumes of his correspondence, as Tycho corresponded with over eighty individuals; this was one of the main forms of scientific exchange in early modern Europe. Landgrave Wilhelm was a keen astronomer who desired to produce a new catalogue of the stars, and the correspondence discusses results from the observatories in Kassel and Hven; at one point Tycho exhorts Rothmann to abandon his adherence to Copernican heliocentrism. The letters also contain descriptions of the comet of 1585 and of the observatory on Hven. The year after the publication of this volume, Tycho left Hven for good, taking his press with him to Copenhagen and Wandsbeck; he finally reached the court of Rudolf II in Prague in 1599.

Only a few copies of this work were distributed before Tycho's death in 1601, some in handsome presentation bindings with Tycho's portrait stamped on the cover (for example the copy in the Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel). The early ownership of this copy by a Jesuit institution is not surprising as the Jesuit order showed a keen interest in astronomy; Gingerich's census of copies of Copernicus's De Revolutionibus contains numerous Jesuit provenances from this time. Most of the books belonging to the Jesuits in Freiburg are now in the University Library there.