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A Scientific Masterpiece

A proposition on the motion of very small bodies is the subject of the woodcut diagram in these pages from the 1687 first edition of Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophiae naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy).


A fundamental work on the laws of motion and gravitation, the Principia has been called the greatest work of exact science ever published. Only between 250 and 400 copies of the first edition were printed by England's premier scientific organization of the day, the Royal Society. The Folger's copy is thought to be one of the rarer "first issues" within that group.


Even that small number of books was printed only through the generosity of the British astronomer Edmund Halley, a man of modest means who underwrote the cost of printing and saw the book through publication. It was also Halley who suggested the use of woodcut diagrams, which could be set on the same page as the text, rather than inconvenient separate plates.


Sir Isaac Newton.  Principia Mathematica.  London, 1687.

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Infinite Variety
To find similar stories about other items from the Folger collection, look for Infinite Variety: Exploring the Folger Shakespeare Library.

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