Ueber sehr schnelle electrische schwingungen. Offprint from Annalen der Physik, Bd. 31 (1887). With six other offprints documenting Hertz’s seminal work which demonstrated the existence of electromagnetic waves, which thereby provided the experimental proof of Maxwell’s theory and formed the foundation for wireless communication.

Leipzig; Berlin: Johann Ambrosius Barth; George Reimer for the Königlich Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1887-1892.

First edition, extremely rare offprint, of the first of Hertz’s papers on electromagnetic waves, accompanied by offprints of six further papers on the same subject, including ‘Ueber elektrodynamische Wellen im Luftraume und deren Reflexion’, in which Hertz first demonstrated the existence of electromagnetic waves propagating in air (‘Hertzian waves’). “In his Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism (1873) [Maxwell] gave no theory of oscillatory circuits or of the connection between currents and electromagnetic waves. The possibility of producing electromagnetic waves in air was inherent in his theory, but it was by no means obvious and was nowhere spelled out. Hertz’s proof of such waves was in part owing to his theoretical penetration into Maxwell’s thought” (DSB). “Experimental proof by Hertz of the Faraday-Maxwell hypothesis that electrical waves can be projected through space was begun in 1887, eight years after Maxwell’s death. The two main requirements were (a) a method of producing the waves, supposing that they existed, and (b) a method of detecting them once they were produced. Hertz found the first problem easy to solve. He used the oscillatory discharge of a condenser. Detection was much more difficult, because there then existed no means of detecting currents alternating at the high speed of these waves. Hertz in fact used an effect as old as the discovery of electricity itself – the electric spark. By inducing the waves to produce an electrical spark at a distance, with no apparent connection between the oscillator and the spark gap, and by moving the sparking apparatus so that the length of the spark varied, Hertz proved beyond question the passage of electric waves through space… The experiments were reported periodically from 1887 onward in Annalen der Physik und Chemie” (PMM).

“This discovery [of electromagnetic waves] and its demonstration led directly to radio communication, television and radar” (Dibner). “In the early 1890's the young inventor Guglielmo Marconi read of Hertz’s electric wave experiments in an Italian electrical journal and began considering the possibility of communication by wireless waves. Hertz’s work initiated a technological development as momentous as it physical counterpart” (DSB). We can find no other copies of any of the papers [1]-[8] in auction records. The Smithsonian holds a copy of each of the offprints [1]-[7]; OCLC adds two other copies of [1], one in York (though not listed in their library catalogue), and one in Japan (not verified); two other copies of [2], one in Bern and one in Japan (not verified); and three other copies of [5], one in Bern and two in Yale.

The offered papers are as follows:

  1. Uber sehr schnelle electrische schwingungen [On very rapid electrical oscillations]. Offprint from Annalen der Physik, Bd. 31 (1887), pp. 421-448 and one folding plate. Contemporary wrappers, upper wrapper renewed with matching paper with manuscript title label, lower wrapper with publisher’s imprint.
  1. Uber Inductionserscheinungen, hervorgerufen durch die elektrischen Vorgänge in Isolatoren [On electromagnetic effects produced by electrical disturbances in insulators]. Offprint from Sitzungsberichte der Königlich Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, 10 November, 1887, pp. 1-12. Original printed wrappers (creased vertically and horizontally for posting and with postmark and remains of stamp on rear cover).
  1. Ueber die Einwirkung einer geradlinigen electrischen Schwingung auf eine benachbarte Strombahn [The action of a rectilinear electric oscillation on a neighbouring circuit]. Offprint from Annalen der Physik, Bd. 34 (1888), pp. 155-170 and one folding plate. Original printed wrappers.
  1. Ueber elektrodynamische Wellen im Luftraume und deren Reflexion [On electrodynamic waves in air and their reflection]. Offprint from Annalen der Physik, Bd. 34 (1888), pp. 609-623. Original printed wrappers.
  1. Uber Strahlen elektrischer Kraft [On rays of electric force]. Offprint from Sitzungsberichte der Königlich Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, 13 December, 1887, pp. 1-11. Original printed wrappers (creased vertically and horizontally for posting).
  1. Die Krafte electrischer Schwingungen behandelt nach der Maxwell’schen Theorie [The forces of electric oscillations treated according to Maxwell’s theory]. Offprint from Annalen der Physik, Bd. 36 (1888), pp. 1-22. Original printed wrappers.
  1. Uber die Fortleitung electrischer Wellen durch Drähte [On the propagation of electric waves by means of wires]. Offprint from Annalen der Physik, Bd. 37 (1889), pp. 395-408 and one folding plate. Original printed wrappers, upper wrapper with English inscription by Hertz.

Hertz’s work on electric waves began with Helmholtz’s proposal in 1879 of a prize problem connected with the behaviour of unclosed circuits in Maxwell’s theory. “Central to Maxwell’s theory was the assumption that changes in dielectric polarization yield electromagnetic effects in precisely the same manner as conduction current do. Helmholtz wanted an experimental test of the existence of these effects or, conversely, of the electromagnetic production of dielectric polarization. Although at the time Hertz declined to try the Berlin Academy problem because the oscillations of Leyden jars and open induction coils which he was familiar with did not seem capable of producing observable effects, he kept the problem constantly in mind; and in 1886 shortly after arriving in Karlsruhe, he found that the Riess or Knochenhauer induction coils he was using in lecture demonstrations he was using in lecture demonstrations were precisely the means he needed for undertaking Helmholtz’ test of Maxwell’s theory …

“He produced electric waves with an unclosed circuit connected to an induction coil, and he detected them with a simple unclosed loop of wire. He regarded his detection device as his most original stroke, since no amount of theory could have predicted that it would work. Across the darkened Karlsruhe lecture hall he could see faint sparks in the air gap of the detector. By moving it to different parts of the hall he measured the length of the electric waves; with this value and the calculated frequency of the oscillator he calculated the velocity of the waves. For Hertz his determination at the end of 1887 of the velocity – equal to the enormous velocity of light – was the most exciting moment in the entire sequence of experiments. He and others saw its significance as the first demonstration of the finite propagation of a supposed action at a distance …

“Hertz followed up his determination of the finite velocity of electric waves by performing a series of more qualitative experiments in 1888 on the analogy between electric and light waves. Passing electric waves through huge prisms of hard pitch, he showed that they refract exactly as light waves do. He polarized electric waves by directing them through a grating of parallel wires, and he diffracted them by interrupting them with a screen with a hole in it. He reflected them from the walls of the room, obtaining interference between the original and the reflected waves. He focused them with huge concave mirrors, casting electric shadows with conducting obstacles. The experiments with mirrors especially attracted attention, as they were the most direct disproof of action at a distance in electrodynamics. They and the experiments on the finite velocity of propagation brought about a rapid conversion of European physicists from the viewpoint of instantaneous action at a distance in electrodynamics to Maxwell’s view that electromagnetic processes take place in dielectrics and that an electromagnetic ether subsumes the functions of the older luminiferous ether” (DSB).

In the important first paper of his study [1], Hertz describes the ingenious apparatus he had devised to produce, detect, and measure the electromagnetic waves, the key to all his later discoveries. He “observed for the first time ‘wire waves’, that is, regular alternating currents with a very high frequency in conductive wires. These were the only waves he had yet detected. He described them to his master Hermann von Helmholtz in Berlin” ‘In the meantime I have succeeded in several further experiments. By means of the oscillations I used in my previous work, I am now able to produce standing waves with many nodes in straight stretched wires…’ Today we know these ‘further experiments’ in great detail from Hertz’s Laboratory Notes. On Saturday November 5th, Hertz sent for publication in Akademieberichte his paper [2] proving the existence of ‘polarization currents’ in insulators (our ‘displacement currents’), by detecting their electrodynamic actions” (Baird et al., p. 73).

In [3], Hertz investigated the effects of electric waves on conductors by transmitting a wave inside a two-wire coaxial transmission line. “Early in 1888 he reported in the Annalen [in this paper] an indication of a ‘finite velocity of propagation of electric distance actions’, which gave him renewed confidence in his work” (Jungnickel & McCormmach, p. 87).

It is in the crucial paper [4] that Hertz first demonstrates the existence of electromagnetic waves in air (rather than in wires). “In March 1888, Hertz was able to demonstrate the wave nature of something new, his recently conjectured ‘air waves’, or what we call ‘Hertzian waves’. At this point he wrote Helmholtz as follows: ‘Electrodynamical waves in air are reflected from solid conducting walls; at normal incidence the reflected waves interfere with the incident and give rise to standing waves in the air …’ But of what do these air waves consist. What oscillates” This was so new for Hertz that the first times he described it he did nor even dare to use the same verb, ‘to oscillate’, used for wire waves … What it is that fluctuates Hertz called successively (in paper [4]): ‘inductive action’, ‘electrodynamic action’ and ‘electric force’. We note that these air waves are transverse; this is clearly shown in the figure of paper [4]: the direction in which the electric force fluctuates or oscillates is perpendicular to the direction of the wave propagation … From these two letters top Helmholtz, we can see Hertz’s conceptual shift, from the wire waves of November 1887 to the air waves of March 1888” (Baird et al., pp. 74-75).

In [5] Hertz shows that electric waves, like light waves, not only can be reflected but also exhibit the properties of interference and polarization. “In the paper ‘On electric radiation,’ which Hertz regarded as a ‘natural end’ of this series of researches, he reported that his experiments had removed ‘any doubt as to the identity of light, radiant heat, and electromagnetic wave motion’: electric rays are light rays of long wavelength” (Jungnickel & McCormmach, p. 88).

Paper [6] contains an important theoretical contribution by Hertz, his introduction of the retarded potential. This allowed him to derive Maxwell’s equations independently in a manner quite distinct from Maxwell’s. This paper also contains some beautiful diagrams illustrating the electric field outside his dipole antenna, and clearly illustrating how some of the energy escapes into space as an electric wave. “In one of the later papers, ‘The forces of electric oscillations, treated according to Maxwell’s theories,’ Hertz concluded that Maxwell’s theory explains all the facts he had investigated and is superior to all of the other theories … His theoretical orientation was now firmly Maxwell’s, for he viewed the production of electric waves as owing not only to the source but also to the condition of the surrounding space, the seat of the electromagnetic energy. By means of great parabolic mirrors, lenses, gratings and prisms, he showed that the electric force exhibits all of the main properties of light waves” (ibid., pp. 87-88).

The last paper [7] describes Hertz’s further investigations into the propagation of electric waves through wires. To his surprise, he found the velocity of propagation to be different from the speed in air, contrary to the predictions of theory. Hertz called on others to repeat the experiments and verify or refute his results. In Dublin, George Francis Fitzgerald and associates repeated and elaborated Hertz's experimental discoveries. For wire transmission, their results were in good agreement with those of Hertz. On the other hand Édouard Sarasin and Lucien de la Rive of Geneva obtained the results required by theory.

Born in Hamburg, Heinrich Hertz (1857-94) came from a prosperous and cultured family. After serving in the military for a year (1876--77), Hertz spent a year at the University of Munich, where he decided to embark upon an academic career. In 1880 Hertz received a Ph.D. at the University of Berlin working under Helmholtz. He then taught at the University of Kiel and in 1885 was appointed professor of physics at the University of Bonn. His untimely death from blood poisoning, which occurred after several years of poor health, cut short a brilliant career. Hertz died before Guglielmo Marconi made the use of radio waves a practical means of communication. In his honour the unit of frequency is now called the hertz.

Hertz’s papers on electromagnetism were published in book form as Untersuchungen ueber die Ausbreitung der elektrischen Kraft (Leipzig: Barth, 1892). The offprints offered here are Nos. 2, 6, 5, 8, 11, 9 and 10, respectively, in that collection.

Dibner 71; Honeyman 1668 (for the collected edition); Sparrow, Milestones, p. 47; PMM 377. Baird, Hughes & Nordmann, Heinrich Hertz: Classical Physicist, Modern Philosopher, 2013. Jungnickel & McCormmach, Intellectual Mastery of Nature. Theoretical Physics from Ohm to Einstein, Vol. 2, 1986.



8vo (216 x 140 mm) & 4to (258 x 179 mm), original printed wrappers, front wrapper on no. 1 renewed, minor chipping and dust-soiling, several items creased and some with remains of stamps and postmarks. Presentation inscription in English on front wrapper of no. 7. See below for individual descriptions.

Item #4863

Price: $38,500.00