On March 9, the Books and Manuscripts auction at Bonhams New York will offer a rare autograph manuscript by Ludwig Van Beethoven, along with a number of historically significant lots including a prism belonging to Benjamin Franklin, the Bible used at the first swearing-in of President Ulysses S. Grant, an atlas by famed cartographer Ptolemy, and an Isaac Newton manuscript on the creation of the fabled philosopher’s stone.
“This is a sale packed with incredibly significant works by some of the most important figures in music, science, and history. From Newton’s experiments in alchemy to music illustrating Beethoven’s genius, these works are truly one-of-a-kind and the rarest of the rare,” said Ian Ehling, Director of Books and Manuscripts.
One of the sale’s highlights is a Beethoven sketch-leaf from part of his Scottish Song, Sunset, Op 108, written for voice, violin, violoncello, and piano, and set to Walter Scott’s poem, The Sun upon the Weirdlaw Hill (estimate: $80,000-120,000). Between 1809-1820, Beethoven composed Scottish, Irish and Welsh folk songs, commissioned by Scottish publisher George Thomson. Although this relatively simple air was written with amateur performers in mind, the extensive editing, refining, and perfecting of the present sketch-leaf shows Beethoven’s working process, providing a fascinating insight into a genius at work.
Interestingly, this sketch-leaf was originally presented as a token of friendship from Beethoven biographer Alexander Wheelock Thayer to Auguste Grimm, daughter of Wilhelm Grimm of the Brothers Grimm. Thayer was appointed US Consul in Trieste by President Abraham Lincoln, and is the author of what is still considered the most authoritative biography on Beethoven. The document marking Thayer’s appointment and signed by President Lincoln is also in this sale (estimate $4,000-6,000).
Three lots by German composer Richard Wagner will also go under the hammer, including a handwritten announcement by Wagner for the inaugural Bayreuth Festival Theater in 1876 (estimate: $40,000-60,000), advertising his four-part epic music drama Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). The Ring, which roughly follows Norse mythology, was performed for the first time at the festival. Along with the announcement, heavily altered and corrected autograph manuscripts from the Prelude to Act III of Siegfried (estimate: US$150,000-200,000), and part of the libretto for Götterdämmerung or Twilight of the Gods (estimate: $90,000-120,000) will be up for auction.
In conjunction with his ground-breaking contributions to mathematics and science, Isaac Newton also explored the experimental possibilities of alchemy, or “chymistry.” The present 8-page manuscript in Newton’s hand is complete and gives detailed instructions on the scientific process to create the Philosopher’s Stone, a substance that could turn lesser materials into gold. Estimated at $200,000-300,000 this manuscript represents one of only a small number of Newton’s manuscripts that are in private hands, and is one of the longest and most substantial.
Two lots once belonging to Albert Einstein are also featured in the sale: a violin (estimate: $100,000-150,000) gifted to the theoretical physicist soon after he arrived to the U.S. in 1933 as a resident scholar at the Princeton Institute for Advance Study, and a letter to his son (estimate: $100,000-150,000) in which Einstein acknowledges for the first time his indirect but significant role in the creation of the atomic bomb.
Additional highlights in the 33-lot sale include the only presidential inauguration Bible in private hands, used by President Ulysses S. Grant during his first inauguration in 1869 (estimate: $80,000-120,000); an extremely rare 1478 edition of Ptolemy’s atlas, noted for being the edition Christopher Columbus used prior to his voyage (estimate: $600,000-800,000); and a glass prism belonging to Benjamin Franklin (estimate $20,000-30,000) used in his optics experiments which led to his invention of the bifocal lens. The prism was later gifted to Joseph Pope, designer of the famed orrery in the Philosophy Chamber at Harvard University.
The Books and Manuscripts sale will preview at Bonhams New York from March 6-8, with the auction to be held March 9 at 10:00 a.m. EST.