Mankind's ground-breaking ideas go up for sale

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The Independent Culture

RARE FIRST editions of work tracing 1,000 years of scientific discovery, from Greek philosophical writings to John Logie Baird's letters, are to be sold at auction.

RARE FIRST editions of work tracing 1,000 years of scientific discovery, from Greek philosophical writings to John Logie Baird's letters, are to be sold at auction.

It is hoped that the 89 lots, which have taken more than a year to gather, will fetch at least £2m. Margaret Ford, of Christie's book department, said: "These books represent the discoveries of mankind through the ages. We tried to find the best examples to represent the highlights of the last 1,000 years and they were mainly scientific books."

On sale are items including a handwritten note by Isaac Newton, in which he says he is convinced gravity exists but cannot yet prove it (estimated price, £120,000); a first edition of Darwin's Origin of the Species (£30,000); and Albert Einstein's first paper on the subject of relativity(£10,000).

The sale, which will take place on Wednesday, was initiated when a private collector from Germany approached the auction house about selling a rare first edition by Nicolaus Copernicus, which is expected to fetch up to £500,000. De Revolutionibus, now regarded as the most important scientific publication of the 16th century, for the first time placed the sun at the centre of the universe and described the earth's rotation around it.Copernicus was breaking with virtually all contemporary astronomical, metaphysical and theological theories of the time, which generally put God at the centre of the universe.

"That book was the starting point. We did advertise, which we don't do often, but word of mouth went round the collectors and they started bringing them to us," said Ms Ford.

Christie's hopes a collection of letters between John Logie Baird, the inventor of the television, and his first financial backer, will stay in the country.

Letters by Mr Baird arerare. He often worked alone, fearing his work might be copied by one of the large wireless companies. He disliked letter-writing and any correspondence he had kept was destroyed in the fire at Crystal Palace where Baird's company had its offices.

This collection of letters, which is valued at £90,000, provides a unique chronological record of his earliest work in the development of television.

In 1925, Mr Baird won the race for television inventionby his reproduction of a recognisable image with instantaneous movement and gradations of light and shade. Ms Ford said: "It is wonderful to trace these documents chronologically, to see how they build on each other and how each one provides the foundation for the next scientific discovery."

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