Image: A rare first edition of Nicolaus Copernicus' "De revolutionibus"
Lucas Jackson  /  Reuters
Thomas Lecky, department head of books and manuscripts at Christie's, holds a first edition of Nicolaus Copernicus' "De revolutionibus" showing the earth revolving around the sun during a preview of Tuesday's sale. The book sold for $2.2 million.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 6/18/2008 11:28:43 AM ET 2008-06-18T15:28:43

A copy of astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus' masterwork, printed in 1543, went for the out-of-this-world price of $2.2 million on Tuesday at a sale of more than 300 books of scientific significance, according to the Christie's auction house.

The rare first edition of "De revolutionibus orbium coelestium" (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) went for well more than the expected price of $1.2 million, Christie's reported after the sale. The book put forth Copernicus' theory that the sun, not the earth, was at the center of the universe.

In all, the total take from Tuesday's auction at Christie's New York came to more than $11 million — compared with a pre-sale estimate of $6 million. That tally includes the auction house's commission, known as the buyer's premium, Christie's said.

"The results far exceeded expectations," Thomas Lecky, department head of books and manuscripts at Christie's, told msnbc.com in an e-mail. "Overall, the sale doubled pre-sale estimates, and many things brought many multiples of their estimates."

The book collection was sold by Richard Green, a retired physician and amateur astronomer from Long Island. Among the six centuries of scientific treatises represented in the collection are rare works by Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Sir Isaac Newton and Johannes Kepler.

The sale also included a phone book for New Haven, Conn., that was issued in 1878, two years after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. Auctioneers had expected the phone book to fetch between $30,000 and $40,000, but the price skyrocketed to $170,500 in a bidding war among six collectors.

The 20-page, pamphlet-size book, published by the Connecticut District Telephone Co., contains the names and numbers of 391 New Haven-area subscribers. It also provides some helpful hints to callers: "Should you wish to speak to another subscriber you should commence the conversation by saying 'Hulloa!'"

Christie's initially billed the directory as the first multipage phone book in the country. A historian contested that claim, saying that earlier ones were printed in San Francisco and Chicago. Lecky said the bidding war occurred after additional research showed that the Chicago directory was a reproduction and that the San Francisco one, though earlier, was less comprehensive than New Haven's.

The sale offered Einstein's own set of reference copies, including key papers on the theories of special and general relativity, quantum theory and unified theory. A treatise by Galileo was sold for $506,500, and a 1545 map book from Spain that is said to contain the first printed representation of the Atlantic Ocean and the coasts of the Americas went for $578,500.

On the other end of the spectrum, a report from the British Information Services about flying bombs sold for a mere $63.

Christie's did not disclose the buyers' identities.

This report includes information from msnbc.com and The Associated Press.

© 2013 msnbc.com

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