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‘THE FOUNDATION OF ALL PLANETARY CALCULATIONS
FOR OVER A CENTURY’ – SPARROW

KEPLER, Johannes. Tabulae Rudolphinae, quibus Astronomicae Scientiae, Temporum longinquitate collapsae Resauratio continetur…. Ulm, J. Saur, 1627.

Folio [34.1 x 23.1 cm], (8) ff., 120 pp., 4 leaves consisting of numbers 121-25 and 3 pages of the Sportula, 155 (i.e. 119) pp. Finely engraved allegorical frontispiece, numerous woodcut diagrams in the text. Bound in contemporary colored vellum [dark red] , rubbed; spine neatly repaired at head & tail, edges with some wear. Light finger soiling to the frontispiece and first few leaves, a few small marginal tears (third p.l., pp. 5, 79, 91; p. 99 of the tables), very minor marginal worm track pp. 35-50, pale marginal damp marks from p. 87 of tables, final leaf re-margined at bottom edge and chipped at extremities, occasional inconsequential marginal staining here and there, the usual browning on the leaves of the Sportula, a few contemporary annotations. Generally a very good copy with an excellent example of the handsome frontispiece.

$60,000

First edition of this classic in the history of science, a nice large genuine example of the last of Kepler’s works to appear in his lifetime, and in the judgment of Prof. Owen Gingerich, “the chief vehicle for the recognition of his astronomical accomplishments.” — DSB, p. 304: It contains the first astronomical tables to be based on Kepler’s three laws of planetary motion and is the first of Kepler’s books to employ logarithms.

“The printed volume of the Tabulae Rudolphinae contains 120 folio pages of text in the form of precepts and 119 pages of tables. Besides the planetary, solar, and lunar tables and the associated tables of logarithms it includes Tycho Brahe’s catalog of 1000 fixed stars, a chronological synopsis, and a list of geographical positions …This work stands alone among Kepler’s books in having an engraved frontispiece – filled with intricate baroque symbolism” (DSB, VII, p. 305). This exceptionally fine allegory shows the great astronomers (including Kepler) gathered in the temple of Urania. Designed by Kepler himself and executed by the Nuremberg engraver Georg Celer, this is one of the masterpieces of baroque book illustration, duly included in Philip Hofer’s canon.

The completion of Tycho Brahe’s planetary tables, left unfinished at the astronomer’s death in 1601, fell to Kepler as a matter of personal piety as well as one of his duties as imperial mathematician. It was a long time in coming, as Kepler somewhat churlishly explains in the preface, not only because of such externals as war and the difficulty of collecting his salary (!), but also because of his unexpected and highly productive initiation into logarithms. In combination with the heliocentric perspective of Copernicus, the logarithm enabled Kepler to eclipse all previous calculations of planetary orbits, which erred as much as 5 degrees. “This improvement constituted a strong endorsement of the Copernican system and insured the tables’ dominance in the field of astronomy throughout the 17th century.” — Norman 1208.

The work exists in a number of issues which are of considerable interest for the light they shed on the publication and initial reception of a work destined to become a scientific classic. A year after the initial issue in 1627, sales were so poor that Kepler added a 4-leaf supplement called the “Sportula,” explaining how to adapt the tables for astrological calculations. These were supplemented yet again in or after 1630 by an appendix by Kepler’s son-in-law and, later on, copies were issued with a very large world map. Individual copies of the work, therefore, vary. Of those recorded, very few contain the world map. The copy offered here contains the “Sportula”, but not the map or appendix.


* Caspar no. 79, 3rd Fassung; Gingerich, “Johannes Kepler and the Rudolphine Tables” in The Great Copernicus Chase (1992), pp. 123-31; Sparrow, Milestones of Science, 116.

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