Lot 918
  • 918

Newton, Isaac

400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • Newton, Isaac
  • Opticks: or, a Treatise of the Reflexions, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light. Also Two treatises of the Species and Magnitude of Curvilinear Figures. London: Printed for Sam. Smith and Benj. Walford, Printers to the Royal Society, at the Prince’s Arms in St. Paul’s Church-yard, 1704
  • Paper, Ink
4to (9 5/8 x 7 3/8 in.; 245 x 186 mm). Title-page printed in red and black, nineteen folding engraved plates, woodcut diagrams and letterpress tables in the text; hinges cracked separating title-page from pi2, cluster of tiny wormholes sometimes merging as short trail running at very top margin of quires A-S, a bit of marginal dampstaining in second half, one plate number cropped. Contemporary Cambridge paneled calf, spine gilt in six compartments with red morocco label, plain endpapers, red-sprinkled edges; joints and corners rubbed with a bit of repair.


Edmund Halley (the gift of the author; T. Osborne, 20 May 1742, lot 1451). acquisition: Purchased from H. D. Lyon, 1991


Babson 132; Dibner 148; Gray 174; Grolier/Horblit 79b; Norman 1588; PMM 172; Wallis 174

Catalogue Note

Presentation copy, given by Newton to the astronomer Edmund Halley, his Royal Society colleague, supporter, and publisher; inscribed by Halley on the title-page, "Luceo. Ex dono doctissimi Authoris." The significance of the Latin word "Luceo" (that is, "I shine"; "I dawn, become light") is uncertain, but the word also appears on the title-page of Halley's copy of the first edition of Principia, which is annotated by both Newton and Halley. This copy was sold at Sotheby's London, 29 November 1971, lot 78, and is now part of the Grace K. Babson Collection of Newtoniana, currently on loan to the Huntington Library.

First edition, first issue, of Newton’s fundamental experiments on the color spectrum. This classic work also explains such optical phenomena as the rainbow, "Newton’s rings," and the double refraction of the Icelandic spar. Newton opens his study with the claim, "My Design in this Book is not to explain the Properties of Light by Hypotheses, but to propose and prove them by Reason and Experiments." Because of Newton’s reliance on scientific method, Opticks remained for over a century “a work of great authority; 'supreme' in Andrade’s works 'as a record of experiment and scientific deduction from experiment'" (Printing and the Mind of Man).

Opticks was expanded from Newton's first publication (which was also the first major scientific discovery to be published in a scientific journal): "New Theory about Light and Colours," a paper that appeared in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1672. Opticks was by far the most popular of Newton's works during his lifetime; he supervised five editions himself (three in English and two in Latin), and two French editions were published before his death in 1727.

The two "Treatises of the Species and Magnitude of Curvilinear Figures" included at the end of the text are Newton’s first published mathematical papers and were intended to assert his priority over Leibniz in the discovery of the calculus. 

This copy is the first issue, with the title printed in red and black within a border and with the imprint, but without the author's name; with page 120 in the second part misnumbered 112; and with the two treatises on calculus at the end of the work.