SIR ISAAC NEWTON'S COPY, WITH DIRECT BEARING ON HIS RESEARCHES. GREAVES, JOHN. 1602-1652.  Pyramidographia: or a Description of the Pyramids in Aegypt. London: George Badger, 1646.

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Lot 2009
SIR ISAAC NEWTON'S COPY, WITH DIRECT BEARING ON HIS RESEARCHES.
GREAVES, JOHN. 1602-1652.
Pyramidographia: or a Description of the Pyramids in Aegypt. London: George Badger, 1646.

US$ 50,000 - 70,000
£ 36,000 - 51,000
Amended
SIR ISAAC NEWTON'S COPY, WITH DIRECT BEARING ON HIS RESEARCHES.
GREAVES, JOHN. 1602-1652. Pyramidographia: or a Description of the Pyramids in Aegypt. London: George Badger, 1646.
2 works in one volume. 8vo (163 x 107 mm). Frontispiece portrait, two folding engraved plates, engraved illustrations in text. Contemporary calf, worn, hinges started, margins shaved, barely affecting text in places. [BOUND WITH:] A discourse of the Romane foot, and denarius: from whence, as from two principles, the measures and weights, used by the ancients, may be deduced. M[iles] F[lesher] for William Lee, 1647. Woodcut intials, engraved illustrations, engraved folding plate by W. Marshall. First edition, first issue (with "LXXXIV pounds" on p.14).
Provenance: Isaac Newton (1642-1727, see Harrison); John Huggins; Charles Huggins (bookplate); James Musgrave (bookplate, and pressmark E4-40)

AN IMPORTANT BOOK ON MEASUREMENT FROM THE LIBRARY OF ISAAC NEWTON - USED BY NEWTON IN HIS INVESTIGATIONS OF GRAVITY. Contemporary to his work on his Principia in the 1680s, Isaac Newton engaged in a parallel research into the metrology of the ancient world. One of Newton's central concerns was to determine the exact length of the ancient cubit in English feet. The ancient Greeks reputedly knew the true circumference of the earth with greater accuracy than the scientists of Newton's age, and many scholars now argue that Newton sought the value of the cubit in part for the sake of determining the size of the earth, an important measurement required by his theory of gravity.

In Newton's earliest investigations of force, as detailed in his early manuscripts now known as the Waste Book (MS Add 4004) and the Vellum Manuscript (MS Add. 3958), he was working with measurements from Galileo's Dialogo (in Salusbury's translation), which in many instances were given in cubits and their derivatives. By the 1670s-1680s Newton's interest in metrology had broadened beyond its singular relevance for physics, and he was more deeply looking into the reality of a universal standard of measure. Newton was at that time also actively involved in studying the architecture of King Solomon's Temple—a monument which Newton esteemed was built with a divine wisdom—and his desire to find the numerical key to God's Temple intensified Newton's quest into the cubit's origin and value. Newton's metrological researches also stood him in good stead later in life when he became the master of the Royal Mint: armed with his deep metrological learning, Newton not only standardized the weight and density of England's coinage, he also successfully recommended the adoption of the gold standard. Newton summarized the results of his metrological research in a treatise called "De magnitude cubiti sacri," a work begun in the 1670s and first published posthumously (in 1737) in an English translation entitled: "A dissertation on the Sacred Cubit of the Jews and the Cubits of the several Nations; in which, from the Dimensions of the greatest Egyptian Pyramid, as taken by Mr. John Greaves, the antient Cubit of Memphis is determined." In this treatise Newton shares the values for Royal cubit, Memphis cubit, and Egyptian cubit, and proceeds to calculate the Jewish sacred cubit, essential for understanding the structure of Solomon's Temple, all based on the measurements and argument provided by Greaves in his Pyramidiographia. Newton mentions Greaves 15 times in his dissertation and he cites both books contained within the present volume.
Newton deemed Greaves to be the authority on both metrology and the Great Pyramid. A scientist and a scholar after Newton's own heart, Greaves taught astronomy at Oxford and was consummately versed in all the ancient and modern writings on astronomy, metrology and earth measurement. Greaves himself deemed the Great Pyramid to be "the Holy of Holies of metrology"—the "zero point" of metrology where the primordial measures of antiquity were most to be found in their purity—and Newton unreservedly adopted Greaves' argument and measurements. Reasonably assuming that many of the architectural lengths of the Great Pyramid are based on the same unit of length, Newton used Greaves' measurements to brilliantly "reverse engineer" the Great Pyramid and derive a value for the cubit used in its planning and construction. Indebted as Newton was to Greaves, it is entirely fitting that Newton's treatise on the cubit was first published as an appendix to The Miscellaneous Works of John Greaves.
Pyramidographia was the first scientific study and measurement of the Great Pyramid. Based on Greaves' travels to Egypt c. 1640, Pyramidographia is a balanced archaeological study which meticulously surveys "both the works of previous authors, ancient and modern, Eastern and Western, and the monuments in situe. Using up-to-date antiquarian methods he had imported from Rome, Greaves identified the pyramids' builders, established the chronology and history of their construction and use, and described their physical attributes" (Shalev, "Measurer of All Things: John Greaves...," Journal of the History of Ideas 63, 2002). One of the folding plates in the book in fact illustrates the first accurate elevation section of the Great Pyramid.
Pyramidographia and A Discourse of the Romane Foot, here bound together, are Greaves' two principal books, and the present copy a particularly interesting example in a contemporary binding, with several early marginal notations and emendations. Books from Newton's library are very rare in private hands—and books which bear directly on his scientific work exceptionally so. Owned and used by Isaac Newton in service to his theory of gravity, this is a monumental copy of Pyramidographia—of outstanding scientific and historic importance.
REFERENCES:
Harrison The Library of Isaac Newton 697 & 698.
Herivel The Background to Newton's Principia (Oxford, 1965).
Morrison Isaac Newton's Temple of Solomon and his Reconstruction of Sacred Architecture (Birkhauser, 2011).
Shalev, Zev, "Measurer of All Things: John Greaves (1602-1652), the Great Pyramid, and Early Modern Metrology," Journal of the History of Ideas, 2002.

Saleroom notices

  • The mention of a frontispiece portrait is incorrect: the work was not issued with one.
Contacts
SIR ISAAC NEWTON'S COPY, WITH DIRECT BEARING ON HIS RESEARCHES. GREAVES, JOHN. 1602-1652.  Pyramidographia: or a Description of the Pyramids in Aegypt. London: George Badger, 1646.
SIR ISAAC NEWTON'S COPY, WITH DIRECT BEARING ON HIS RESEARCHES. GREAVES, JOHN. 1602-1652.  Pyramidographia: or a Description of the Pyramids in Aegypt. London: George Badger, 1646.
SIR ISAAC NEWTON'S COPY, WITH DIRECT BEARING ON HIS RESEARCHES. GREAVES, JOHN. 1602-1652.  Pyramidographia: or a Description of the Pyramids in Aegypt. London: George Badger, 1646.
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