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A Marvelous Catalogue of Books for the Collector

Science, Medicine, Natural History

Peter Harrington's, London, early 2014

("Catalogue", not "catalog", in deference to the fact that it was published in London.)

Not a lot of serious "information" in this... but I wanted to rave a bit about a catalogue from a London book dealer. I hope my enthusiasm will be infectious... or at least amuse you.

I hope it will inspire you to go to the site, browse the catalogue, concentrate on the books in your own areas of interest. The great thing about doing that is that you get all the superb illustrations which are there, and not here.

Once I finish introducing this web page, the rest of it looks at some of the material in the catalogue, in broad categories. Apologies for getting carried away with the first category.... but there were quite a few of these special "special books!

I've been collecting books "as an investment" for a number of years now. A better vehicle than the stock market? Probably not. But you can't enjoy a holding of 100 shares of IBM the way you can enjoy a significant book. And the book will at least hold some of its value for you. It depreciates less rapidly than a Ferrari, anyway.

In March 2014, a new catalogue (Number 98) appeared at the top of the "Recent Catalogues" page at, the website of the London bookseller.

You might enjoy a little browse though it, if you have any interest at all in books or in science.

I think you might be amazed at the things which Harrington's assembled for the catalogue, and interested in the descriptions they have put together. You don't need to be a book collector to enjoy it, I don't think. But an interest in scientific fields (broadly speaking) probably is necessary.

There are some "legendary" books in the catalogue... with prices to match. But there are also more mundane (and accessible) things.

A price may surprise you... but be aware that Harrington's rarely bothers with things that are less than "first class" examples of the book in question. While not every book is a signed-by-the-author first edition, some of them are over 500 years old, and they are usually exceptional examples of the book concerned, relative to what is out there in the marketplace.

So... what is in the catalogue...

I have tried to be selective! There are 242 books listed, and none of them "duds".

But first a disclaimer! I've probably overlooked some of the "major" books. This is just a fairly haphazard sampling, reflecting my own interests.

Originally, this page started with a section about the most remarkable books in the catalogue. In hindsight, I recognized that there are a lot of books in that section, and that your interest might flag before you got to the more successfully selective sections, so I moved "the greats" down to the end. You can jump to them from here if you wish. Jump down to "the great books"

You know these names...

Without boring you with exhaustive detail, there are books, usually first editions, sometimes signed, by the likes of....

Audubon, Carson, Hubble, Leakey, Mandlebrodt, Popper, Thoreau.

The nuclear age

There is a selection of books relating to the history and legacy of the work that led to the atom bomb... and a collection of photographs of Hiroshima after the bomb was dropped. Also a copy (£3,000) of the earliest obtainable edition of the Smyth Report, "the official history of the Manhattan Project". This edition distributed to no more than 1,000 select individuals, just days after Nagasaki. Interesting provenance.

Books and scientific papers by: Becquerel, Thomson, Bragg, Bohr, Oppenheimer, Planck, Roentgen, Rutherford. Lots of material by or about Einstein, some inscribed by him. And later physicists and physics, too... Feynman, Hawking, Plank. Schrodiger: The essays in which he introduced his cat to the world.

Misc areas...

Important books of early exploration... Darwin's voyage, White's "Journey to New South Wales".

Astronomy, cosmology, mathematics.


Hodgkin- 1832 description of abnormal glands. A rare book. Orton on Cholera (1831), Bellew on Cholera (1885), early works on "public health", including how to keep armies and seafarers healthy. Ehrlich- announcement of the first "magic bullet" drug, something lethal to a specific pathogen: arsphenamine (Salvarsan)... "magic bullet" for syphilis. Fleming on penicillin.

Quite a few books on psychology... especially the early days. Includes Freud, Skinner, Pavlov (his dogs). The book in which the term "psychotherapy" appears in a title for first time.

Fun, quirky things...

Sundry things I'd categorize as a bit fun, quirky... but I don't mean to belittle the books by that categorization, I assure you! My quirky is someone else's passion, of course... and vice versa?

In this category: A book claiming to have a shortcut for doing navigation calculations. As it remains rare, and didn't get reprinted many times, maybe the method wasn't sound? A book about the London plague, with cures... from the era (by Kemp). A book by Short, 1656, Of Drinking Water (bad idea, he says- beer, wine better (as it was, in those days of unclean water)), and Warm Drinks (tea, coffee- becoming fashionable... and healthful, if the water brought to full boil along the way... perhaps the basis of the now- irrelevant tradition that "proper" tea can't be made unless the water has boiled hard?) A book speculating... in 1640... on life beyond planet Earth, and proposing a journey to the moon. (Wilkins). Standard late Victorian work on poisoning (Browne). Inscribed copy of book by first chemist to synthesize LSD, and a copy of his definitive book on hallucinogens (1973). Holder- Elements of Speech (1669). Itard- De l'education d'un homme sauvage (1801). (Story of attempt to treat Victor, the wild boy of Aveyron. Inspiration of film L'Enfant Sauvage)... Etc!

Evolution, Genetics, etc.

Numerous books by or about Darwin. Bateson- Mendel's Principles of Heredity.

THE paper in which Watson and Crick announce their insight into the structure and functioning of DNA. A paper by Linus Pauling, from just before the DNA breakthrough, in which he so nearly puts his finger on the great secret, and in which he successfully anticipates many important things that the understanding of DNA made plain.

Other papers on genetics, and more recent advances like transgenic, i.e. "GM" organisms.

Computing and the Internet

Lastly, the books in the catalogue are not all "old". There's a generous bunch from the history of computing and the internet, with some as recent as 1997: Zeilinger's "Experimental Quantum Teleportation". (This may prove important in years to come, turning science fiction (Star Trek Transporter/ Ender's Game Ansible) into tomorrow's fact, using the arcane world of quantum entanglement.)

The catalogue includes Turing's paper in which he proposes his famous test. (Link will open the relevant Wikipedia page in a new window or tab. Such links will henceforth be denoted "(-WP-)".) The "Turing test" is to decide whether a machine is showing "intelligence". "An essential concept in the philosophy of artificial intelligence", to quote Wikipedia.

Baran/ Rand: "On Distributed Communications"- "Just" the spec for the ARPAnet.... the system that matured into the internet.


Cerf and Kahn: "A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication".. the paper in which they describe TCP (-WP-)... a core element of the internet. (The etymology of TCP is interesting. They use the term not quite as we use it today, but we've merely moved it's job from what Cerf and Kahn used it for (transport control program, to something related, which is more generally exactly what their paper was about, transport (or "transmission") control protocol.

A book by Venn (as in "Venn diagram"), "Logic of Chance".. his copy. Ownership inscription.

Great works, and Early Science, Medicine, etc....

Remember what I said earlier: There are some more modest books in the catalogue... but in this final section: some things that many museums would love to have...

Hooke's Micrographia (Link will open the relevant Wikipedia page in a new window or tab. Such links will henceforth be denoted "(-WP-)"). 1665 £65,000. (To roughly convert £ to $ (GB and US, respectively) multiply by 1.5) One of the first books to describe what can be seen through microscopes.... with discussions of other matters as well. Hooke trained as an artist, before turning to science, and the illustrations are legendary. The diagram of cork cells found in every school biology book ever to have such a diagram comes from Micrographia.

Several books relating to, or translations of, Newton's Principia (-WP-). Early 1700s. Said by some... and the claim is cited in the Wikipedia article... to be "one of the most important works in the history of science".

Newton on Optics (-WP-). Early 1728. £56,600. In which he explains that white light is a mixture of the various colors.

Agricola: "De re metallica (-WP-). 1556. £45,000. "First systematic treatise on mining and metallurgy"

The Frisius edition of Apianus's Cosmographia (-WP-). 1574. £12,500

"The Twoo Books", Francis Bacon (-WP-). 1605. £7,500. Bacon a fascinating character from a fascinating time. In these book, he covers many things.. among them the daring, for the time, idea that religion need not be the be all and end all of man's efforts.

Euclid (-WP-)... in two forms. One from 1572. £9,500

Gilbert on magnetism (-WP-)... 1600. £30,000.

Guericke's "Experimenta... Magdeburgica de vacuo spatio..." (-WP-)... 1672. £37,500. Not perhaps a name that sparks instant recognition for you... He was the man that "discovered" the vacuum... remember the illustration of the teams of horse trying to separate the spheres held together by the air's pressure? "One of the most remarkable books in the history of physics and technology".

Christiaan Huygens on the properties of light (-WP-)... 1690. £22,500. Early thoughts on whether light is a wave or particle phenomenon.

Samuel Moreland (-WP-)... 1673. £20,000. First book in English on a mechanical calculating machine.

Molyneux on optics (-WP-)... 1692. £15,000. Early thoughts on whether light is a wave or particle phenomenon.

Agostino Ramelli's gorgeous book looking at scores of machines. (-WP-)... 1588. £20,000. "... a fundamental book on the history both of technology and of book design."... "... one of the most elegantly produced of all technological treatises".

Galvani's "De Viribus Electricitatis..." (-WP-)... 1792. £9,500... Remember the discovery that if muscles of a dead frog were stimulated with electricity, they would twitch? This is the book where that was announced.

Whew! That is some of the "great" books, and some of the earliest.... but the catalogue is not comprised solely of museum level works. If you jumped over the first part of this page, do please consider going back now, reading the rest?

In conclusion...

So. Pretty impressive for just one catalogue, don't you think? This page really doesn't do it justice. Go along to the "Recent Catalogues" page at have a look at the .pdf, with the images of pages from the books? So much more rewarding reading than this page!

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