News & Insights

Science and Mysticism: Books, Maps & Manuscripts Sale

2nd April 2024.


A fascinating album of eighty-one photographs taken on the legendary Challenger Expedition will be offered in the Books, Maps and Manuscript Sale on 10th April (estimate: £800-1,200 plus buyer’s premium). The Challenger Expedition of 1872-1876 was a landmark voyage that established the foundations of oceanography.

A joint venture between the Royal Society of London and the British Admiralty, a converted Royal Navy vessel set out from Sheerness to circumnavigate the globe, exploring the physical, chemical, and biological make-up of the deep sea and charting oceanic eco-systems. At the outset it was not known if there was any life in the deep sea, or whether the seabed was covered in primordial ooze. Comprising 250 sailors and six civilian scientists, led by Charles Wyville Thomson, the team covered nearly 69,000 nautical miles in three and a half years, dredging, trawling, and sounding at hundreds of locations around the world, taking samples and recording all their findings for the scientific record. In total, they found and described over 5,000 previously unrecorded species, and their work was later published in a 50-volumn text.

The album begins with a photograph of the team members before embarkation at Sheerness, and includes images of groups of officers, various ports of call around the world such as Madeira and Bermuda and a monument erected to a naval schoolmaster and a ‘Boy, First Class’ who had been killed in a dredging accident. The album is monogrammed 'JB', suggesting possible ownership to John Young Buchanan, chemist to the expedition. 


Contrasting with such a landmark of mainstream scientific enquiry is a collection of books from the Fred Gettings Library. Gettings was an author, who penned numerous books on the occult and across a vast range of arcane topics. Twenty lots from his private collection are on offer in the sale, with subjects including magic, prophecy, Hermetics and the occult. Most notably, however, are a collection of the writings of Nostradamus, which include good early French editions dating from the 16th and 17th centuries.  

Michel de Nostredame (1503-1566) was a French astrologer, apothecary, physician, and reputed seer, best knows for his book ‘Les Prophéties’. Born in Saint-Rémy in Provence to a Catholic family who had converted from Judaism a generation previously, Nostradamus wrote his first almanac in 1550. Following its success, he went on to produce further editions which included over 6,300 prophecies. In 1555 he published his most famous collection of writings, ‘Les Prophéties’, which comprised nearly 1000 poetic quatrains (four-line stanzas) predicting future events and for which he is best remembered today. His supporters – including the popular press over the centuries – have credited him with accurate predictions of wars, climate events and even the rise of Adolf Hitler. However, his critics cite his extremely vague predictions, which could easily apply to a myriad of different situations.


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