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A preliminary census of copies of the first edition of Newton’s Principia (1687)

Feingold, Mordechai and Svorenčík, Andrej (2020) A preliminary census of copies of the first edition of Newton’s Principia (1687). Annals of Science, 77 (3). pp. 253-348. ISSN 0003-3790. doi:10.1080/00033790.2020.1808700.

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When Henry Macomber published his census of owners of the first edition of the Principia in 1953, he believed the edition to be small, ‘perhaps not more than 250 copies’, an estimate that still enjoys currency. Lower estimates of the size of the first edition of the Principia were based partly on assessments regarding an inhospitable market for highly technical mathematical books, and partly on the presumption that the vaunted incomprehensibility of the Principia would have militated against a sizeable edition. Our preliminary census more than doubles the number of identified copies, to 387—suggesting a much larger print run than commonly assumed – as well as encourages us to believe that there existed a wider, and competent, readership of the Principia from the start. The long-standing assumption regarding the recondite nature of Newton's science as presented in the Principia, together with claims concerning the scarcity of the book, brought many scholars to assume that Newton's masterpiece exerted little influence before the 1730s. The new empirical evidence presented in our census enables a reassessment of the early diffusion of the Principia in Europe which, in turn, would necessitate a major refinement of our understanding of the contribution of Newtonianism to Enlightenment science.

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Additional Information:© 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Received 21 Jul 2020, Accepted 05 Aug 2020, Published online: 02 Sep 2020. We wish to express our deep gratitude to the many librarians and archivists who generously responded to our inquiries. We are also grateful for information received from Volker Remmert, Tim Lorke (both University of Wuppertal), private owners, and book dealers. No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author(s).
Subject Keywords:Isaac Newton, Principia, Edmond Halley, census, Newtonian science
Issue or Number:3
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20200908-074205216
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Official Citation:Mordechai Feingold & Andrej Svorenčík (2020) A preliminary census of copies of the first edition of Newton’s Principia (1687), Annals of Science, 77:3, 253-348, DOI: 10.1080/00033790.2020.1808700.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:105262
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:08 Sep 2020 16:57
Last Modified:16 Nov 2021 18:41

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