Early Astronomy in the University of Michigan Collections

From Europe to Ann Arbor

Our copy must have joined the Lamoignon collection sometime after 1706, which is the date inscribed on the title page associating the book with Ludovicus Gon de Brugonne. It was certainly part of the Lamoignon library by 1770, when a catalog commissioned by Chrétien François listed our copy with the shelf mark “L K 440”, as shown on both this flyleaf and the spine of the volume. However, throughout the turmoils of the French Revolution the library was broken up. The largest part of the collection was offered for sale in Paris in 1791, with most of its holdings having been recorded in the first volume of Catalogue des Livres de la Bibliotheque de Feu M. de Lamoignon, Garde des Sceaux de France. Paris: Merigot, 1791: our copy is listed as #1856. The entire part of the library on sale was acquired by an English bookseller, Thomas Payne, who brought the books to London and sold them there. As shown by the inscription on the upper right corner of the flyleaf, “S.P. Rigaud, Sept. 30, 1809”, the book was subsequently acquired by Stephen Peter Rigaud, a graduate of Exeter College, Oxford. In 1827, Rigaud became Savilian Professor of Astronomy and Ratcliffe Observer at Oxford. After Rigaud’s death in 1839, the trustees of the Radcliffe Observatory acquired his scientific library, so that the first edition of the De Revolutionibus was added to the Observatory Library: see the Radcliffe stamp on the title page!

On May 7, 1935, Sotheby and Co. put up for sale at an auction in London “the valuable library removed from the Radcliffe Observatory, Oxford, and sold by order of the Radcliffe Trustees.” The successful bidder for the copy of the first edition of the De Revolutionibus, lot #77 at £165, was Tracy W. McGregor (1869-1936), best remembered as a humanitarian, philanthropist and Detroit civic leader, who created the McGregor Fund to administer his charitable activities. As an avid collector of rare books and manuscripts, he gathered an important library: his copy of the De Revolutionibus would be bequeathed to the University of Michigan Library in 1938, three years after his death. This gift was described as having been made “in special recognition of the services to astronomy by Professor Heber D. Curtis and as a mark of the esteem felt for him by Mr McGregor and the Trustees of the McGregor Fund.”

De Revolutionibus (1543)

Andreas Osiander


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