One of the World's First Modern Physics Textbooks Just Sold For Over $790,000

Image: Pierre Barge & Associates Auctions
Image: Pierre Barge & Associates Auctions

Remember how you spent half your time at college complaining about how expensive textbooks were? It could’ve been much worse. A few weeks ago, a copy of Galileo’s Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Relating to Two New Sciences sold at auction for just over $790,600. Thankfully, the text is no longer required reading.


Published in 1638 as astronomer Galileo Galilei’s last work, the tome is one of the first modern physics textbooks that references scientific and mathematical ideas we still use today, including Copernicus’ notion that the Earth and other solar system planets revolve around the Sun. This elaborately-bound copy of Discorsi e dimostrazioni matematiche, intorno due nuove scienze attenenti alla mecanica & i movimenti locali (its original Italian name) was originally given to a French ambassador named Count François de Noailles. (The book is also dedicated to de Noailles, given his assistance in helping it get published.)

Several years earlier, in 1632, Galileo was called upon by Pope Urban VIII to publish a text that addressed Copernicus’ controversial notion that the planets revolved around the Sun, and not the Earth. Instead of debunking Copernicus, Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems featured three characters discussing the merits of his ideas, including an older, slow-witted supporter of Aristotle named Simplicio, who clearly represented the church’s beliefs. The book’s mockery of the church’s Sun-centric stance soon resulted in an inquisition, and an eventual publication ban for any of Galileo’s future works.

To get around this, Galileo passed Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Relating to Two New Sciences to Count François de Noailles who took it to Leiden, in South Holland, to be published. This particular copy, one of the first editions, was taken to Morroco later that same year, where it was sumptuously bound by the talented 17th century bookbinder Le Gascon, before being given to Count François de Noailles for his own personal collection.

The textbook appears to still be in fantastic condition given it’s almost 400 years old, which only goes to show that no one bothered to crack open their textbooks four centuries ago either. At least this one kept its resale value.

[Pierre Barge & Associates Auctions via New Atlas]



What really sucks is the fact that they’re only going to give you $38 for it if you sell it back at the end of the semester.