De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, libri VI. Nicolaus COPERNICUS.
De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, libri VI.
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De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, libri VI.

The most important scientific publication of the sixteenth century and a landmark in human thought

De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, libri VI.

Nürnberg: Johann Petreius, 1543.

1st Edition. Hardcover. 4to - over 9¾ - 12" tall. Very Good. Item #003298

4to (248 x 174 mm). [6], 196 leaves. 148 woodcut text diagrams, including 6 repeats (Gingerich count), tables of calculations and ornamental woodcut initials. Bound without errata leaf which is found in only a few copies*. Signatures: π6 a-z4 A-Z4 Aa-Cc4. Leaf 52 misfoliated 49. Mid-19th century straight-grained black morocco, boards and spine with rich gilt decoration, spine with additional gilt lettering, all edges gilt (minor rubbing of extremities, corners a trifle scuffed, gilt decoration partially rubbed), endpapers of the time of binding. Title repaired at foot and gutter not affecting any letters. The entire copy has been carefully washed at the time of binding. Seven individual and conjoint leaves in the first half of the book (i.e., f.11, 21/24, 45, 61/64, and 77) show stronger signs of cleaning and pressing and we must suspect that they have been supplied at the time of binding. These leaves are slightly thinner and some faded letters retraced in ink. For the most part however, the paper is sound and strong and displays the usual age-toning of comparable (unwashed) copies. A few leaves have paper repairs of tears (f.11, 94, 121, 151) and f.157 a clean tear at the upper inner margin. It is certain that all leaves are original, showing the typical watermark pattern. Moreover, the copy was examined leaf by leaf at the Bavarian State Library (BSB) and compared against the two BSB library copies known to be original. Optical inspection of the paper watermarks as well as x-ray fluorescence spectroscopic analysis of printer's ink and paper stock confirms the originality of all text leaves. The book is accompanied by an independent expertise accordingly. Our copy is not listed in Owen Gingerich's census and it is not one of the six copies known to be stolen or missing. Provenance: Marchionis de Monteynard (bookplate to first flyleaf and another unidentified armorial bookplate to front-pastedown). Despite the cleaning and restoration work still a very good copy with ample margins. ----

FIRST EDITION of the most important scientific publication of the sixteenth century and a landmark in human thought. De revolutionibus was the first work to propose a comprehensive heliocentric theory of the cosmos, according to which the sun stood still and the earth revolved around it. It thereby inaugurated one of the greatest ever paradigm shifts in the history of human thought.
"It challenged the authority of antiquity and set the course for the modem world by its effective destruction of the anthropocentric view of the universe. We owe this book, which was more or less completed as early as 1530, to Georg Joachim Rheticus of Wittenberg, who persuaded Copernicus to allow him to publish it; for until 1540 the author himself had permitted only preliminary statements to circulate in manuscript. He died on the eve of its publication. Nicolaus Copernicus studied at Cracow, Bologna and Padua. Returning to his native Poland he eventually became Canon of the cathedral at Frauenberg, where he lived quietly until his death. He was a physician -- having studied medicine at Padua -- diplomat, economist, Doctor of Canon Law, and artist -- a. self-portrait survives. Renaissance mathematicians, following Ptolemy ([PMM]18*), believed that the moon, sun and five planets were carried by complex systems of epicycles and deferents about the central earth, the fixed pivot of the whole system. In Copernicus's day it was well known that conventional astronomy did not work accurately, nor did further study of Ptolemy seem to put the matter right. Copernicus, stimulated by the free entertainment of various new ideas among the ancients, determined to abandon the fixity of the earth, and all the complexities in the treatment of the motions of the celestial bodies that follow from such a conception. With the sun placed at the centre, and the earth daily spinning on its axis and circling the sun in common with other planets, the whole system of the heavens became clear, simple, and harmonious. The revolutionary nature of his theory is evident in his famous diagram illustrating the concentric orbits of the planets. Moreover, the new system worked mathematically as well as the Ptolemaic though not, indeed, much better. Like Ptolemy, Copernicus believed that the heavenly motions must be perfect, uniform and circular; he still employed epicycles. It was Tycho Brahe who finally destroyed the heavenly spheres, and Kepler ([PMM]112) who destroyed the myth of the circle. In the first book of the De Revolutionibus Copernicus explains how the daily rising and setting of the heavenly bodies is a consequence of the daily diurnal rotation of the earth on its polar axis. The course taken by the sun through the zodiacal constellations and the phenomena of the seasons are shown to be due to the annual revolution of the earth about the sun. Book 2 contains the mathematics of astronomy and a star catalogue based on Ptolemy; Books 3-6 treat of the particular motions of the earth, moon and planets. The relative distances between the earth and the planets are now determined. Copernicus (who dedicated his book to Pope Paul III) expected to be ridiculed by the unthinking for supposing that the earth moved; but he did not anticipate that it would attract religious prejudice. The early neglect of De Revolutionibus was due to its difficulty and strangeness; later the fundamentalist issue became critical and it was condemned by the Church in 1616. The Church had no objection to the Copemican system as a mere calculating device, in the manner disarmingly proposed in the anonymous preface inserted in the first edition, without Copernicus's knowledge, by the Lutheran minister Andreas Osiander; it was the reality of the earth's motion that was at stake. Within a century the Copernican view was generally accepted by the leaders of science; Galileo ([PMM]128) and Gilbert ([PMM]107) were strong supporters as well as Mästlin and Kepler. Newton ([PMM]161) finally established its truth and his views were further developed by the eighteenth-century mathematicians to find their final summing up in the Traite de Mecanique Celeste of Laplace ([PMM]252). When it was stated in modem times that the planets were originally ejected from the sun by centrifugal forces a new significance was given to the heliocentric theory, but it must be said that with the arrival of Einstein's theory of relativity ([PMM]408) any statement about the absolute motion or rest of bodies has become somewhat irrelevant. But beyond these influences on astronomical science, it is obvious that the publication of this book at that particular moment in history powerfully helped to re-direct the whole outlook and thinking of mankind." (PMM 70).
*Most surviving copies do not have the errata. They can appear on a separate leaf, or on the verso of the main or additional title. More often, though, they are absent, as here; of the 279 copies of the work in Gingerich's census all but 86 are without the errata.
Literature: PMM, Printing and the Mind of Man 70; Norman, Library of Science & Medicine 516; Dibner, Heralds of Science 3; Horblit, One Hundred Books Famous in Science 18b; Sparrow, Milestones of Science 40; Zinner 1819 & p. 42; Evans, Epochal Achievements in the History of Science 15; Gingerich, An Annotated Census of Copernicus' De Revolutionibus, 2002; Gingerich, Rara Astronomica, 16; Swerdlow & Neugebauer, Mathematical Astronomy in Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus, 1984; Baranowski, Bibliografia Kopemikowska, 1509-1955, Warsaw, 1958; VD 16 K 2099; IA 144.356; STC 221; Adams C 2602; Houzeau/Lancaster I, 2503.

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