500 Years of Computing in Ten Books

Launch Slideshow

From Galileo to Charles Babbage to Alan Turing, the fascinating library collection of Erwin Tomash documents the literary journey from early works on astronomy and arithmetic to writings on the very first rudimentary computer models and modern theories of computation. Click through for highlights that span 500 years.

The Erwin Tomash Library on the History of Computing
London | 18-19 September 2018

500 Years of Computing in Ten Books

  • Giovanni Bianchini
    Tabulae astronomiae et canones, manuscript circa 1460s.
    Estimate £30,000-50,000
    The only recorded copy remaining in private hands; this is the earliest edition of one of the most important fifteenth-century works on astronomy. The edition includes an apparently unique and unpublished text by the Venetian astronomer and mathematician Marco Sanuto. Bianchini’s astronomical tables are the largest produced in the West before modern times and because of their substantial size and complexity they were rare. Of the copies that exist, no two of the manuscripts or printed editions are alike "as a living text, each copy was personal for some astronomer and differs from copies in the possession of other astronomers" (Chabás and Goldstein, 2009, p. 23).
  • Filippo Calandri
    Aritmetica, Florence, 1492.
    Estimate: £30,000-40,000
    The first edition of the first illustrated Italian book on arithmetic. This book contains the first appearance in print of long division and of the word “zero”. The woodcuts in the text comprise not just decorative borders but also a portrait of Pythagoras in his study, hand signals for various numbers, and engaging representations of various mathematical problems.
  • Galilei, Galileo
    Le operazioni del compasso geometrico, et militare, Padua, 1606.
    Estimate: £60,000-80,000
    First edition of Galileo’s first published work. This is a second issue with the date 10 July 1606 at the end of Galileo's dedication to Cosimo II de' Medici. Galileo had begun manufacturing his mathematical instrument in the 1590s with a manuscript manual for its use. In 1606 the compasso had undergone several modifications and the manual was transitioned to print. The reason for this transition was guided not only by reasons of economy but also Galileo’s decision to assert his rights as inventor of the instrument.
  • Baldassare Capra
    Usus et fabrica circini cuiusdam proportionis, Padua, 1607.
    Estimate: £30,000-40,000
    The rare first edition of Capra’s Latin rendering of Galileo’s Le Operazioni del compasso geometrico et militare ( see previous slide, lot 197), in which Capra accuses Galileo of having copied his instrument from a pre-existing model, and otherwise belittles him. Outraged, Galileo appealed to the University authorities, demanding the immediate seizure and destruction of Capra’s book (see lot 198). After investigation, the rectors agreed. Of the total edition of 483 copies, 453 were impounded.
  • Galilei, Galileo
    Difesa, presentation copy, inscribed by Galileo to Girolama Capello, Riformatore of Padua University, Venice, 1607.
    Estimate: £300,000-400,000
    Galileo wrote Difesa to attack rival Capra’s claim that his invention of the compasso was plagiarized. Although Galileo discusses the instrument’s applications and how it is made, the majority of the text is a presentation of his grievances against Capra. Only 40 copies of Difesa are known, of which only about ten have been seen on the market for the past 100 years. Only 8 copies are known to contain a dedicatory inscription in Galileo’s hand.
  • John Napier
    Mirifici logarithmorum canonis description, Edinburgh, 1614.
    Estimate: £30,000-40,000
    "This is one of the most influential mathematical books ever published. It introduced the world to the concept of logarithms and their use. By simplifying arduous calculation, that is, by reducing multiplication and division to addition and subtraction, logarithms became the fundamental principle behind most of the methods of, and aides to, computation prior to the invention of the electronic computer.” (Tomash & Williams). The invention of logarithms was the greatest achievement of the Scottish polymath John Napier of Merchiston.
  • Charles Babbage
    A Letter to Sir Humpry Davy, announcing his project of “The Difference Engine”, London, 1822.
    Estimate: £5,000-7,000
    Babbage’s very rare pamphlet announcing his project of “The Difference Engine”. Babbage decided to devote his efforts to the production of the Engine to overcome “"intolerable labour and fatiguing monotony of a continued repetition of similar arithmetical calculations" (p.1). His machine hypothesised calculating ability far more advanced than any others previously conceived. Within 10 years, a section of the engine was successfully assembled and worked impeccably.
  • Luigi Menabrea—Ada Lovelace
    Sketch of the Analytical Engine Invented By Charles Babbage, with notes by the translator Ada Lovelace, London, 1843.
    Estimate: £6,000–8,000
    The best contemporary description of Babbage’s analytical engine with the first computer programs added by Ada Lovelace. Originally a report by Menabrea of a series of lectures given by Babbage when he was in Turin. The mathematician and computer pioneer Ada Lovelace, translated it into English and, at Babbage’s suggestion, added a large number of notes. As a result, the translation is three times as long as the original. Two of the seven explanatory notes added by Lovelace are essentially programs for Babbage’s Analytical Machine. This inclusion has given rise to the claim that Lovelace was the first computer programmer.
  • Alan Mathison Turing
    “On Computable numbers, with an application to the entscheidungsproblem.”, [In] Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society, 1937.
    Estimate: £8,000-10,000
    The foundation of the modern theory of computation and the most important twentieth-century paper in computer science. This is the first appearance of Turing's seminal paper introducing the concept of a universal problem-solving machine. Turing had originally conceived of his paper as a response to the last of the great German mathematician David Hilbert's three major questions concerning mathematics - is it complete as a system? Is it consistent?, and is it decidable? By 1930, when Turing was entering Cambridge, the young Czech philosopher Kurt Gödel had answered the first two questions in the negative, but the third, the decision-problem (Entscheidungsproblem) remained unanswered.
  • John Von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern
    Theory of Games and Economic Behaviour, Princeton, 1944.
    Estimate: £1,000-1,500
    First edition of the ground-breaking work on the Theory of Games and Social Economic Behaviour. Game theory subsequently revolutionised economics and scientific inquiry into a whole host of phenomena, and was most famously embraced by the American think tank the RAND Corporation, charged with formulating military strategy for the atomic age. It led to the momentous discovery by RAND scientists in 1950 of the so-called "prisoner's dilemma", a mind-bending game in which two or more people may betray the common good for individual gain.

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