Sotheby’s New York Presents GEEK WEEK - GADGETS & INNOVATIONS


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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Sotheby’s New York Presents GEEK WEEK

Featuring an Auction Dedicated to:


Highlights Include:

The Nobel Prize, Papers and Books of Beloved Physicist Richard P. Feynman

The Only Bible Signed and Inscribed by Albert Einstein
Estimate $200/300,000

A Fully Operational Three-Roter Enigma I Cipher Machine
Estimate $180/200,000

Auction 30 November - Exhibition Opens 25 November

Sotheby’s is thrilled to present Geek Week: an inaugural presentation of sales and events during which we will offer over 400 lots dedicated to space exploration and the history of science and technology. Exhibitions will open to the public in New York City on Sunday, 25 November.

In the year of the centenary of his birth, our second annual History of Science & Technology auction will be headlined by the Nobel Prize, papers and books of the brilliant, inspiring, and much-beloved

theoretical physicist Richard P. Feynman. Spanning the full length of his career – from his early days at Los Alamos and Cornell through his final days at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and covering topics such as the atom bomb, QED, Nanotechnology and Computing – the remarkable and enlightening collection of papers are the only known archive of Feynman manuscripts to exist outside of the archive at Caltech, where he taught for nearly 4 decades. The sale also features books & manuscripts, scientific & technological instruments, original artwork, and other artifacts spanning from the 16th–21st centuries, in categories ranging from physics, mathematics, and cryptography, to medicine, biology, computing, and astronomy. Below is a look at highlights from across the auction.

Spanning Richard Feynman’s career, the collection of property from Feynman’s family will be offered across 43 lots with estimates ranging from $1,500 to $1.2 million. Highlights include:

One of the largest grouping of manuscripts on offer from the archive demonstrates his lifelong interest in solid state physics – the study of solids using the tools & techniques of quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, electromagnetism, metallurgy, and crystallography (estimate $100/150,000). In the present manuscripts, Feynman considers various aspects of this field of study, including the Shockley experiment, cyclotron resonance, electrical conductivity, lattice defects, semi-conductors, impurities, solar cells, lasers, rectifiers & transistors, free electron gas, tunnel diodes, forces on electrons, and more.

While some of the papers appear to span from his early days as a professor at Cornell, the majority are likely lecture notes for courses he taught at Caltech in the mid-1960s. This present manuscripts are best considered as the inspired legacy of his 1950’s commitment to this subfield, which is most closely allied to electrical engineering aspects girding the advent of the modern computers, but also provides a kind of parallel track to Feynman’s sustained commitment to coding.

In 1962, at the age of 44, Feynman took up drawing, taking weekly classes at the home of artist/scientist Tom Van Sant. He developed into a talented artist over the years, sometimes working with live models in his home, but frequently simply sketching the people or objects around him while working out physics problems. A densely written notepad illustrates this habit, containing notes on

several physics topics – including a Feynman prime number problem, the 2-D Ising Model and Density Matrices – interleaved with some of his original sketches from circa 1972-1981 (estimate $100/150,000). The present sketches depict a horse fitted with an English saddle, showing the lower half of the rider, a sleeping baby, a portrait of a young woman or girl, a man’s face, studies of hands, legs, knees, a small standing figure, and a pig.

It was well known that Feynman frequented Gianonni’s, a topless restaurant and bar in Pasadena, where he would work out whatever physics problems were occupying his mind at the moment, often grabbing a stack of the paper placemats to use as a canvas for his equations. Distracted perhaps by the setting, Feynman’s riff’s on the present scalloped-edged Giannoni placemat pertain mainly to his Operator Calculus, an elegant & powerful mathematical shorthand he had invented for QED (estimate $10/15,000).

Feynman spent a sabbatical year in Brazil as a lecturer at the Brazilian Center for Physics Research. While living there he not only taught himself Portuguese but learned to play the tambourine in a samba band (estimate $3/5,000). Feynman had taken a liking to samba music on his first visit to Brazil after hearing a samba band practicing in the street and naturally wanted to learn more about Brazilian music upon his return. In his autobiography, Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman!, Feynman recounts that he learned to play the tambourine by visiting a small group band practice at the apartment of a fellow American.

The auction will be led by Feynman’s 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics, including its associated presentation materials (estimate $800,000/1.2 million). Feynman shared the prize with fellow physicists Julian Schwinger and Shin’ichiro Tomonaga, “for their fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics, with deep-ploughing consequences for the physics of elementary particles.” The

three physicists independently developed different ingenious methods to reconcile the electromagnetic field theory of the 19th century with the quantum mechanics theory of the 20th. Feynman’s method involved his invention of the revolutionary ‘Feynman Diagram’ – innovative pictorial representations that provided a clear visual explanation of every possible interaction between electrons and photons.

Linking one of history’s greatest physicists with one of its most revered texts, the sale features a copy of The Holy Bible inscribed by Albert Einstein (estimate $200/300,000). The only bible signed and inscribed by Einstein to be offered at auction, the German inscription translates to “This book is an inexhaustible source of living wisdom and consolation. Read therein and think thereon.” This statement significantly alters our understanding of Einstein’s view of the Bible: in a private letter to author Eric Gutkind, he once dismissed the Bible as a book of “primitive legends” and referred to religion as “an incarnation of the most childish superstitions.” By contrast, the present volume evidences Einstein’s respect — and arguably even reverence — for the Bible. Rather than declaring the Bible to be a collection of childish and primitive legends, this statement presents it as a work of “inexhaustible” depth. The inscription present here offers a powerful counterpoint to the Gutkind letter, and opens new channels for thought and debate regarding Einstein’s views of the Bible and religion in general.

The first half of the History of Science & Technology auction features a private collection of magnificent 15th through 19th century books & scientific instruments, including early astronomical treatises and celestial atlases - many hand-colored - and spectacular planetary models, including armillary spheres, orreries, telluriums, and more. Leading the group is a very rare 1549 signed Armillary Sphere by made by Caspar Vopel, a professor of mathematics at the Montan Gymnasium in Cologne (estimate 5 $80/120,000). One of only ten recorded examples by Vopel – the earliest dating to 1541 – all but two (including the present example) are in museum collections.

Consisting of celestial maps showing the paths of comets and the figures of the constellations traversed, Stanislaus Lubieniecki’s encyclopedic treatise Theatrum cometicum, duabus partibus, gathered together the observations of dozens of his contemporaries including Bayer and Hevelius, covering all known comets up to the year 1665 (estimate $40/60,000). The present first edition includes the second part of the treatise, providing a chronology of 415 comet sightings from the flood (the first report is dated to 2312 BC) to 1665, with commentaries, drawn from a range of historical sources. 

Rarely encountered in anything near a complete state, only two complete copies of the first edition have been recorded at auction since 1975 by the American Books Prices Current (ABPC): the Honeyman and Dunham copies. A third copy, with 3 additional titles and 81 plates, but lacking one of the 2 portraits, was sold in 1989. Of the three copies held by the British Library, two are substantially defective.

A fully operational Three-Roter Enigma I Cipher Machine from 1944 – often called the “Heeres” Enigma – was used by the German Heer (Army), the Luftwaffe (Air Force), and later, by the Kriegsmarine (Navy) before the introduction of the “M4” 4-rotor machine (estimate $180/200,000). The serial number A01259 / bac / 44E of the present machine indicates that it was manufactured for Heimsoeth und Rinke in 1944 by Olympia Büromaschinenwerke AG.

NEW YORK, 19 November 2018

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