Hundreds of copies of Newton’s ‘Principia’ found in new census

Hundreds of copies of Newton's 'Principia' found in new census

A Caltech historian and his former student have found copies of Isaac Newton’s groundbreaking science book Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica , more colloquially known as Principia .

The new census more than doubles the number of known copies of the famous first edition, published in 1687.

200 additional copies

In the Principia , Newton introduced the laws of motion and universal gravitation, unifying the terrestrial and celestial worlds under a single law. The main person behind the publication of the book was Edmond Halley , a well-known English scientist who made several discoveries about our solar system, including the periodicity of what would later become known as Halley’s Comet.


According to historians, copies of the first edition of the Principia today sell for between $ 300,000 and $ 3,000,000 through auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s, as well as on the black market. An estimated 600 copies were printed in 1687, and possibly up to 750 copies of the first edition of the book .

The last such census, published in 1953, had identified 187 copies , while the new Caltech survey has found 386 copies. Up to 200 additional previously unidentified copies in 27 countries, including 35 copies in Central Europe.

They even found lost or stolen copies of the masterpiece; for example, a copy found with a bookseller in Italy was found to have been stolen from a library in Germany half a century earlier .

Furthermore, by analyzing the proprietary marks and notes scrawled in the margins of some of the books, in addition to the letters and other related documents, the researchers found evidence that the Principia, once thought to be reserved only for a select group of expert mathematicians, they were more read and understood than previously thought .