Lot 12
  • 12

Apianus, Petrus

500,000 - 700,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Astronomicum Caesareum. Ingolstadt: at the author’s press, May 1540
  • paper
Folio (463 x 315mm.), 59 leaves, title within woodcut border, woodcut arms of the dedicatees Charles V and his brother Ferdinand of Spain on verso, 53 eleven-line and 39 six-line historiated woodcut initials by Hans Brosamer, 36 FULL-PAGE WOODCUT ASTRONOMICAL FIGURES, OF WHICH 21 HAVE A TOTAL OF 83 VOLVELLES, (with 44 silk threads and 12 seed pearls, these probably later), full-page woodcut arms of the author by Michael Ostendorfer on fol. O6, COLOURED THROUGHOUT BY A CONTEMPORARY HAND, small letterpress cancel slip on recto of fol. K1 correcting the text, CONTEMPORARY GERMAN CALF, tooled in blind with three rolls, one of half-length biblical figures, another (dated 1550) with classical heads in medallions, the third with conventional foliage, also a small tool of a French type impressed in silver, possibly a local binding, some slight marginal dampstaining, neatly rebacked


E.P. Goldschmidt (1887-1954), sale in these rooms 24 November 1947, lot 95, Maggs, £250, for; Major John Roland Abbey (1894-1969), initialled and dated acquisition note on rear paste-down, his sale in these rooms, 21 June 1965, lot 34, £1,200, Voisey


Adams A1277; Gingerich, "A Survey of Apian’s Astronomicum Caesareum", in Karl Röttel (ed.), Peter Apian (Buxheim, 1995); Gingerich, Rara Astronomica 14; Gingerich, "Apianus’s Astronomicum Caesareum" (Journal for the History of Astronomy 2 (1971): 168-177); Stillwell, The Awakening Interest in Science during the First Century of Printing 19; Kunitzsch, P. "Peter Apian and 'Azophi'; Arabic Constellations in Renaissance Astronomy." (Journal for the History of Astronomy 18 (1987): 117-24); Woodward, D. Cartography in the European Renaissance, part 2, p. 1201 (The History of Cartography, III, 2007)


Condition is described in the main body of the catalogue, where appropriate.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

THE MAGNIFICENT J.R. ABBEY COPY OF “THE MOST SPECTACULAR CONTRIBUTION OF THE BOOK MAKER’S ART TO SIXTEENTH-CENTURY SCIENCE” (Gingerich). COPIES AT AUCTION IN CONTEMPORARY BINDINGS ARE OF THE UTMOST RARITY; the last comparable example at auction was the Horblit-Patiño copy, sold in our New York rooms, 21 April 1998. The present copy has a similar distinguished provenance, having formerly been in the library of Major John Roland Abbey (1894–1969), the most prolific English bibliophile of his day, whose collection was famed for its fine condition and quality of binding.

This Astronomicum Caesareum, dedicated to Emperor Charles V and King Ferdinand, has been described as "a miracle of printing in folio format: most of the astronomical schemes and instruments have up to six movable parts. Apian received three thousand gold florins from the dedicatees [and] personal appointment as court mathematician" (Woodward). This work contains a broad analysis of Ptolemaic astronomy and 'is notable for Apianus’ pioneering observations of comets (he describes the appearances and characteristics of five comets, including Halley's) and his statement that comets point their tails away from the sun' (DSB). The text also describes the use of solar eclipses to measure longitude; the author’s inventions of the meteorscope (for solving problems in spherical trigonometry) and the torquetum (a predecessor of the equatorial telescope); and a variety of astrological concerns. Most of Apianus’ observations and theories are illustrated by his inclusion of intricate volvelles, which he believed to be of greater use in providing information on the position and movement of celestial bodies, rather than mathematical formulae.

APIANUS IS ALSO NOTED FOR INTRODUCING ARABIC STAR NAMES INTO HIS MAPS. In the present work Apianus includes a revision of his 1536 star chart, with the addition of two more Arabic star names (Angentenar in Eridanus, and Yed in Ophiuchus), and two Latin star names which do not appear the 1536 edition. Apianus knew the work of Islamic astronomer Abu 'l-Husain al-Sufi (A.D. 903-986). "Al-Sufi, in his Book on the constellations (written around A.D. 964), gave a detailed account of the 48 classical constellations (which the Arabs knew through translations of Greek astronomical works and through pictorial  representations on globes from other sources), complemented by records of star names of indigenous Arabic origin which he took pains to identify astronomically with the respective Ptolemaic stars. It was from this section on the indigenous Arabic star names in al-Sufi's book that Apian extracted a number of names and mentioned them in his own writings, most of them in the chapter in constellations in his Astronomicum Caesareum of 1540" (Kunitzsch).

The collation of the work is understandably complex. Gingerich calls for an ideal copy to have 83 volvelles, as here.