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Auction archive: Lot number 16

BABBAGE, Charles. A letter to Sir Humphry Davy, Bart... on the application of machinery to the purpose of calculating and printing mathematical tables . London: printed by R. and A. Taylor... published by J. Booth and Baldwin, Cradock and Joy, 1822.

Auction 23.02.2005
23 Feb 2005
Estimate
US$10,000 - US$15,000
Price realised:
US$38,400
Auction archive: Lot number 16

BABBAGE, Charles. A letter to Sir Humphry Davy, Bart... on the application of machinery to the purpose of calculating and printing mathematical tables . London: printed by R. and A. Taylor... published by J. Booth and Baldwin, Cradock and Joy, 1822.

Auction 23.02.2005
23 Feb 2005
Estimate
US$10,000 - US$15,000
Price realised:
US$38,400
Beschreibung:

BABBAGE, Charles. A letter to Sir Humphry Davy, Bart... on the application of machinery to the purpose of calculating and printing mathematical tables . London: printed by R. and A. Taylor... published by J. Booth and Baldwin, Cradock and Joy, 1822. 12 o. 12 pages. Late 20th-century half calf, marbled boards. Provenance : Inscribed "From the Author" in Babbage's hand on the title-leaf. FIRST EDITION, PRESENTATION COPY, and extremely rare. In the early 1820s Babbage, frustrated by "the intolerable labour and fatiguing monotony of a continued repetition of similar arithmetical calculations" (p. 1), came up with the plan of designing a machine capable of performing various mathematical functions. By 1822 Babbage had constructed a model of his Difference Engine Number One, a special-purpose calculating machine far more complex than any that had previously been conceived, designed to compute mathematical tables by the method of finite differences and to print the results. In the design of his machine Babbage was influenced by the division of labor employed in the celebrated manuscript tables of de Prony which Babbage had seen in 1819. The division of labor, both physical and mental, became central themes of Babbage's economic thought later developed in his Economy of Machinery and Manufactures . Babbage was convinced of the "great utility" of his machine, but knew that constructing a larger version would entail "very considerable expense," and would also leave him no time to pursue his studies in pure mathematics. On July 3, 1822, as a means of testing the waters, Babbage wrote an open letter to Sir Humphry Davy, president of the Royal Society, in which he presented a detailed description of his Difference Engine. This was his first public statement of his plans for his calculating engine, and his first publication on his project for developing calculating engines, on which he would devote most of his creative energy for the remainder of his life. A copy of this letter published as a pamphlet reached the Lords of the Treasury, who referred it back to the Royal Society on April 1, 1823, with a letter requesting the Society's opinion of Babbage's machine. One month later, on May 1, the Royal Society responded to the Treasury as follows: "That it appears to the Committee, that Mr. Babbage has displayed great talents and ingenuity in the construction of his machine for computation, which the Committee think fully adequate to the attainment of the objects proposed by the Inventor, and that they consider Mr. Babbage as highly deserving of public encouragement in the prosecution of his arduous undertaking" (Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons. Sessional Papers [1823], p. 6). This favorable report gained Babbage his first national funding of £1000 toward his construction of the Difference Engine. The project tested the limits of precision obtainable by machine tool makers at the time; it also ended up being far more costly than expected, claiming £17,000 of the government's money over the next decade before foundering in 1833, largely due to contractual disputes between Babbage and Joseph Clement, the engineer hired to construct Babbage's machine. By this time Babbage had begun to turn his attention to the Analytical Engine, a far more complex and powerful calculating machine whose design would occupy Babbage for most of the rest of his scientific career. Van Sinderen 1980, no. 18. When OOC was written, OCLC and RLIN cited six copies in North American and European libraries (NYPL, Johns Hopkins, University of Michigan, Cambridge University, National Library of Wales, Niedersachsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek.) From Gutenberg to the Internet 4.1; OOC 29.

Auction archive: Lot number 16
Auction:
Datum:
23 Feb 2005
Auction house:
Christie's
New York, Rockefeller Center
Beschreibung:

BABBAGE, Charles. A letter to Sir Humphry Davy, Bart... on the application of machinery to the purpose of calculating and printing mathematical tables . London: printed by R. and A. Taylor... published by J. Booth and Baldwin, Cradock and Joy, 1822. 12 o. 12 pages. Late 20th-century half calf, marbled boards. Provenance : Inscribed "From the Author" in Babbage's hand on the title-leaf. FIRST EDITION, PRESENTATION COPY, and extremely rare. In the early 1820s Babbage, frustrated by "the intolerable labour and fatiguing monotony of a continued repetition of similar arithmetical calculations" (p. 1), came up with the plan of designing a machine capable of performing various mathematical functions. By 1822 Babbage had constructed a model of his Difference Engine Number One, a special-purpose calculating machine far more complex than any that had previously been conceived, designed to compute mathematical tables by the method of finite differences and to print the results. In the design of his machine Babbage was influenced by the division of labor employed in the celebrated manuscript tables of de Prony which Babbage had seen in 1819. The division of labor, both physical and mental, became central themes of Babbage's economic thought later developed in his Economy of Machinery and Manufactures . Babbage was convinced of the "great utility" of his machine, but knew that constructing a larger version would entail "very considerable expense," and would also leave him no time to pursue his studies in pure mathematics. On July 3, 1822, as a means of testing the waters, Babbage wrote an open letter to Sir Humphry Davy, president of the Royal Society, in which he presented a detailed description of his Difference Engine. This was his first public statement of his plans for his calculating engine, and his first publication on his project for developing calculating engines, on which he would devote most of his creative energy for the remainder of his life. A copy of this letter published as a pamphlet reached the Lords of the Treasury, who referred it back to the Royal Society on April 1, 1823, with a letter requesting the Society's opinion of Babbage's machine. One month later, on May 1, the Royal Society responded to the Treasury as follows: "That it appears to the Committee, that Mr. Babbage has displayed great talents and ingenuity in the construction of his machine for computation, which the Committee think fully adequate to the attainment of the objects proposed by the Inventor, and that they consider Mr. Babbage as highly deserving of public encouragement in the prosecution of his arduous undertaking" (Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons. Sessional Papers [1823], p. 6). This favorable report gained Babbage his first national funding of £1000 toward his construction of the Difference Engine. The project tested the limits of precision obtainable by machine tool makers at the time; it also ended up being far more costly than expected, claiming £17,000 of the government's money over the next decade before foundering in 1833, largely due to contractual disputes between Babbage and Joseph Clement, the engineer hired to construct Babbage's machine. By this time Babbage had begun to turn his attention to the Analytical Engine, a far more complex and powerful calculating machine whose design would occupy Babbage for most of the rest of his scientific career. Van Sinderen 1980, no. 18. When OOC was written, OCLC and RLIN cited six copies in North American and European libraries (NYPL, Johns Hopkins, University of Michigan, Cambridge University, National Library of Wales, Niedersachsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek.) From Gutenberg to the Internet 4.1; OOC 29.

Auction archive: Lot number 16
Auction:
Datum:
23 Feb 2005
Auction house:
Christie's
New York, Rockefeller Center
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