Institutio astronomica, juxta hypotheses tam veterum quam recentiorum: cui accesserunt Galilei Galilei Nuntius Sidereus, et Johannis Kepleri Dioptrice.

London: Jacob Flesher for William Morden, 1653.

First edition of this collection, comprising the first printing in England of each of these texts; this is the second edition of Gassendi (first, Paris 1647), the first modern textbook of astronomy; the third of Galileo (after Venice and Frankfurt, 1610), which contains some of the most important iscoveries in scientific literature, including the discovery of four moons of Jupiter; and the second of Kepler (first, Augsburg 1611), which explained the theory of refraction by lenses and the principle of the inverting telescope.


First edition of this collection, comprising the first printing in England of each of these texts; this is the second edition of Gassendi (first, Paris 1647), the third of Galileo (after Venice and Frankfurt, 1610), and the second of Kepler (first, Augsburg 1611). “Galileo’s ‘Starry Messenger’ contains some of the most important discoveries in scientific literature. Learning in the summer of 1609 that a device for making distant objects seem close and magnified had been brought to Venice from Holland, Galileo soon constructed a spy-glass of his own which he demonstrated to the notables of the Venetian Republic, thus earning a large increase in his salary as professor of mathematics at Padua. Within a few months he had a good telescope, magnifying to 30 diameters, and was in full flood of astronomical observation. Through his telescope Galileo saw the moon as a spherical, solid, mountainous body very like the earth – quite different from the crystalline sphere of conventional philosophy. He saw numberless stars hidden from the naked eye in the constellations and the Milky Way. Above all, he discovered four new ‘planets’, the satellites of Jupiter that he called (in honor of his patrons at Florence) the Medicean stars. Thus Galileo initiated modern observational astronomy and announced himself as a Copernican” (PMM 113). In Dioptrice, which Kepler completed within six months after he had received Galileo’s Sidereus nuncius, he explained the theory of refraction by lenses, enlarged his system of geometrical and instrumental optics, and expounded the principle of the inverting telescope. “Kepler obtained a telescope in 1610, a gift from Ernst, Archbishop of Cologne, and in his Dioptrice (1611), Kepler discussed its theory. In this work he enlarged upon his ideas on refraction and wrote about the anatomy of the eye. He described, for the first time, the defect of spherical aberration and stated that it could be overcome by giving optical surfaces hyperboloidal forms” (King, The History of the Telescope, pp. 44-45). In the long Preface, Kepler comments on Galileo’s recent discoveries made with the telescope and their importance in supporting the theories of Copernicus. “The preface declares, ‘I offer you, friendly reader, a mathematical book, that is, a book that is not so easy to understand,’ but his severely mathematical approach only serves to place the Dioptrice all the more firmly in the mainstream of seventeenth-century science” (DSB). Gassendi’s Institutio Astronomica has been called the first modern textbook of astronomy; it introduced the cosmological systems of Ptolemy, Brahe and Copernicus. “It was printed in a single volume accompanied by Galileo’s Sidereus nuncius, which supported Copernicus’ system, and by Kepler’s Dioptrice, which supported Galileo’s observations. As Gassendi tells his readers, the presence of the Dioptrice in such a collection was meant to give mathematical authority to the new instrument by demonstrating ‘the method to build [it]’. Besides providing evidence of the Dioptrice’s authoritative status, Gassendi’s popular volume alone ensured that Kepler’s little treatise was widely known” (Van Helden et al., The Origins of the Telescope, pp. 287-288). Although this work appears not infrequently on the market, copies in unrestored contemporary bindings are rare.

Provenance: Jesse Ramsden (his ink signature to title) (1735-1800), one of the pre-eminent mathematical instrument makers of the 18th century. “In 1775 he discovered what was later known as the ‘Ramsden disk,’ i.e. the exit pupil of a telescope. Vague ideas of the exit pupil were certainly current after the introduction of the Kepler eyepiece, but Ramsden was the first to explain it correctly” (Wilson, Reflecting Telescope Optics (2007), p. 15). Ramsden was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1786, and won its Copley Medal in 1795. A crater on the moon is named in his honour. Ramsden no doubt found the present volume a most useful compendium of information on astronomy and optics.

“A Dutch lens-grinder, Hans Lipperhey, had applied in October 1608 to Count Maurice of Nassau for a patent on a device to make distant objects appear closer. Sarpi, whose extensive correspondence (maintained for theological and political reasons) kept him currently informed, learned of this device within a month. Somewhat skeptical, he applied for further information to Jacques Badovere (Giacomo Badoer), a former pupil of Galileo’s then at Paris. In due course the report was confirmed. Galileo heard discussions of the news during a visit to Venice in July 1609, learned from Sarpi that the device was real, and probably heard of the simultaneous arrival at Padua of a foreigner who had brought one to Italy. He hastened back to Padua, found that the foreigner had left for Venice, and at once attempted to construct such a device himself. In this he quickly succeeded, sent word of it to Sarpi, and applied himself to the improvement of the instrument. Sarpi, who had meanwhile been selected by the Venetian government to assess the value of the device offered for sale to them by the stranger, discouraged its purchase. Late in August, Galileo arrived at Venice with a nine-power telescope, three times as effective as the other. The practical value of this instrument to a maritime power obtained for him a life-time appointment to the university, with an unprecedented salary for the chair of mathematics. The official document he received, however, did not conform to his understanding of the terms he had accepted. As a result, he pressed his application for a post at the Tuscan court, begun a year or two earlier.

“Galileo’s swift improvement of the telescope continued until, at the end of 1609, he had one of about thirty power. This was the practicable limit for a telescope of the Galilean type, with plano-convex objective and plano-concave eyepiece. He turned this new instrument to the skies early in January 1610, with startling results. Not only was the moon revealed to be mountainous and the Milky Way to be a congeries of separate stars, contrary to Aristotelian principles, but a host of new fixed stars and four satellites of Jupiter were promptly discovered. Working with great haste but impressive accuracy, Galileo recited these discoveries in the Sidereus nuncius, published at Venice early in March 1610.

“His sudden fame assisted Galileo in his negotiations at Florence. Moreover, the new discoveries made him reluctant to continue teaching the old astronomy. In the summer of 1610, he resigned the chair at Padua and returned to Florence as mathematician and philosopher to the grand duke of Tuscany, and chief mathematician of the University of Pisa, without obligation to teach.

“Galileo’s book created excitement throughout Europe and a second edition was published in the same year at Frankfurt. Kepler endorsed it in two small books, the Dissertatio cum Nuncio Sidereo, published before he had personally observed the new phenomena, and the Narratio de observatis a se quatuor Jovis satellitibus, published a few months later. Other writers attacked the claimed discoveries as a fraud. Galileo did not enter the controversy but applied himself to further observations. He discovered, later in 1610, the oval appearance of Saturn and the phases of Venus. His telescope was inadequate to resolve Saturn’s rings, which he took to be satellites very close to the planet. The phases of Venus removed a serious objection to the Copernican system, and he saw in the satellites of Jupiter a miniature planetary system in which, as in the Copernican astronomy, it could no longer be held that all moving heavenly bodies revolved exclusively about the earth” (DSB).

“With immense energy, in that late summer of 1610, Kepler set to work to lay the foundations of the theory of telescopic lenses, and by September he was able to present the manuscript [i.e., Dioptrice] to his patron the Elector Ernst of Cologne … Starting from a very rough approximation to the correct law of refraction, and incongruously developing the consequences of this approximation by rigorous geometrical-type reasoning, Kepler begins with the simplest cases of refraction and builds up his theory for more and more complex situations until in the end he is even able to suggest improvements in the design of telescopes.

“In his preface Kepler discusses the use of optics in astronomy, basing his remarks first on Jean de la Pène’s preface to his edition of Euclid’s Optics and Catoptrics (Paris, 1557) and next on Galileo’s early discoveries which had so enhanced the value of optics to astronomers. Here, in characteristic style, he conveys something of the excitement of the times. Equally interesting, the delay in publication enabled him to add an account of his own difficulties in extracting from Galileo news of his subsequent discoveries” (Hoskin, introduction to the facsimile reprint of Dioptrice, 1962).

Kepler “begins with the law of refraction which, indeed, he was here as little able to express exactly as in his earlier work about optics. Since in the work under consideration, however, only small angles of incidence are dealt with, he managed well by assuming the proportionality between the angle of incidence and that of refraction. He himself determined the ratio by measurements. By investigating the path of a ray in a glass cube and three-sided prism he discovered total reflection. Next in his exposition comes the treatment of the double-convex converging lens. He sets to work with great thoroughness. There appear the ideas well known to us of the real and virtual, the upright and inverted image, the distance of the image and the object, the magnification or reduction of the image. From the path of the ray for a simple lens he proceeds to two and three lens systems. In problem eighty-six in which he shows “how with the help of two convex lenses visible objects can be made larger and distinct but inverted”; he develops the principle on which the so-called astronomical telescope is based, the discovery of which is thus tied up with his name for all time. Further on follows the research into the double concave diverging lens and the Galilean telescope in which a converging lens is used as objective and a diverging lens as eyepiece. By the suitable combination of a converging lens with a diverging lens in place of a simple object lens he discovers the principle of today's so-called telescopic lens by which an inverted real image of an object can be produced, an image which is in fact larger than that formed by a converging lens alone. Even this scanty account of the main content shows the epoch-making significance of the work. It is not an over-statement to call Kepler the father of modern optics because of it” (Caspar, Kepler, pp. 198-199).

Gassendi’s Institutio astronomica is based upon his lectures as Professeur Royal at the College Royal in Paris. In this work Gassendi takes his most uncompromising stance in favour of Copernicanism. There are considerable portions of the text devoted to Galileo. He “explained the condemnation of Galileo by considerations relating to Galileo himself, but presenting no objections to Copernicus’s theories. It is further worth noting that Gassendi followed Galileo in the error of regarding the phenomenon of tides as a proof of the motion of the earth” (DSB). The first edition of 1647 is very rare.

The plates in the present work are copies of those in the Frankfurt, 1610, pirate edition of Sidereus nuncius – but the plates are almost always lacking from that edition (the last copy with the plates realised $122,500 at auction in 2009). The Frankfurt edition inaugurated the tradition of white-on-black woodcut illustration which makes such an effective medium for the depiction of stars as points of light on a black sky – the stars in the first edition were depicted as black against a blank page. The Frankfurt woodcuts were the source for the illustrations in most of the later editions of the Sidereus nuncius, and in many moon handbooks up to the present day.

Distribution of this book was divided between the Cambridge bookseller William Morden (fl. 1652-79), as here, and Cornelius Bee (fl. 1636-72) in Little Britain (London); copies with both imprints are found. A second, and apparently independent, variation is that some copies have a comma at the end of the third line of the general title, as here, while others have a colon. No priority between these variants has been established. The collection was reprinted in 1675 (London), 1682 (Amsterdam) and 1683 (London).

Carli-Favaro 52; Cinti 301; Riccardi i, 508; Sotheran I, 1448; Wing G291A (the last two with the comma in line three of title). McConnell, Jesse Ramsden (1735-1800): London’s Leading Scientific Instrument Maker, 2007.

8vo (180 x 116), pp. [16], 199, [1], 173, [3], with 4 leaves of plates printed white on black depicting Pleiades, Orion's belt, Praesepe, and the Orion nebula, 5 full-page and 37 text woodcut illustrations and diagrams, general title in red and black; all three works have separate title page, the last two works with separate continuous pagination and register. Contemporary blind-stamped calf, spine in compartments (spine ends little chipped, joints splitting, but holding firm, a little rubbed). An excellent copy, untouched in its original binding.

Item #5015

Price: $20,000.00