Hundreds of Copies of Newton’s Principia Found in New Census

by | Nov 15, 2020 | Daily Space, Physics, Space History | 0 comments

Hundreds of Copies of Newton’s Principia Found in New Census
IMAGE: Isaac Newton’s own writing can be seen here in a copy of the 17th-century masterpiece, Principia, located at The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. Newton would correct errors in the text and make editorial additions, some of which were included in later editions of the Principia. CREDIT: Babson College’s Grace K. Babson Collection of the Works of Sir Isaac Newton/The Huntington Library, San Marino, California

The groundbreaking science book Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, or Newton’s Principia, was first published in 1687. A team at Caltech recently completed a new census of copies of that first edition, and in very good news, they more than doubled the number cataloged in the previous census, done in 1953. That brings the total number of surviving first editions to 386, and they estimate that another 200 or so are still out there, uncatalogued in private collections.

Even more interesting: [B]y analyzing ownership marks and notes scribbled in the margins of some of the books, in addition to related letters and other documents, the researchers found evidence that the Principia, once thought to be reserved for only a select group of expert mathematicians, was more widely read and comprehended than previously thought.

A portion of the newly cataloged copies was found in eastern Europe, which would have been behind the Iron Curtain when the last census was done. First edition copies sell for anywhere from $300,000 to $3,000,000, and they were originally published thanks to funding from fellow scientist Edmond Halley, of Halley’s Comet fame. You can get your own modern version of Principia at local and online bookstores for far less, though.

More Information

Caltech press release 

A Preliminary Census of Copies of the First Edition of Newton’s Principia (1687),” Mordechai Feingold & Andrej Svorencík, 2020 Sep. 2, Annals of Science


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Got Podcast?

A community podcast.

URL * RSS * iTunes

Astronomy Cast LogoSeason 15 starts Sept 4

URL * RSS * iTunes * YouTube

Daily Space Logolive: only on
Mon-Thr, 1pm EDT / 10am PDT

URL * RSS * iTunes * YouTube