October 25, 2021

The Queens County Citizen

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Rare Isaac Newton book in three Canadian libraries

Rare Isaac Newton book in three Canadian libraries

Copies of the first edition of the book, which experts say has the foundations of modern science, can be found in three university libraries across Canada


Hina Alam
The Canadian Press

Professor Mordechai Fingold of the California Institute of Technology and Andrzej Sworensk of the University of Mannheim in Germany are searching for copies Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy In private collections by Isaac Newton.

A census published in 1953 indicated that 189 copies of this first edition were scattered worldwide, but the new estimate was 386.

The University of Toronto, McGill University and Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia each have a copy of the 510-page book covered in leather.

A copy of McGill University was given to him in 1911 by the famous physician William Osler, whose collection contains 8,000 titles.

Lauren Williams, liaison librarian at the McGillis Blocker-Wood Natural History Collection, believes that Newton’s books are small, so they are not large fixed objects. “They are lightweight and easy to transport.”

In the catalogs, the book is described as being 20 to 25 centimeters octave shaped.

According to OmTo me Williams, even capturing a book can say a lot about its owner. The rich use the gold leaf, a poor man opts for simple binding. Isaac Newton chose the simplest binding, which says a lot about his approach to functional and practical books, she adds.

Karen Smith, Dalhousie’s librarian of special collections, donated a copy of the university in 1934 to William Inglis Morse, who spent most of his adult life traveling and collecting books.

She adds that Mr. Morse believes books should be “inherited through the ages.”

Alexandra Carter, librarian of science and medicine, said the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Library bought a copy in 1971 for less than $ 5,000 from a bookseller.

“Detective work”

Professors Feingold and Svorensic published an article in September describing the “attempt to find all the remaining copies” of the first edition of Newton’s book, published in 1687.

Many readers at the time thought the book was “too complicated” and no one would read it, Fein‌gold said. By looking for the former owners of the first issues, the two researchers want to prove that not only did they read the book, but it was also understood.

“Not necessarily as Newton ed thought, but enough to take advantage of it,” he says.

Over the past 300 years, these copies have traveled to various parts of the world since they were purchased or acquired.

It is a very interesting detective task to really try to identify the different owners of the book. There are so many, so many stories to tell about these copies.

Professor Mordechai Fingold, California Institute of Technology

According to him, the book was well received by the owners because it was written by Isaac Newton. He said one copy sold for 3.7 million in 2016.

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Scanned copies of copies are widely available, but they do not have the “magic” quality of paper.

“When you flip through the pages, you feel like you’re trying to find the mind of an extraordinary person and understand their path,” Feing‌gold said.