News & Insights

Science, Intrigue and a Papercraft Surprise!

25th February 2019.

Tennants Auctioneers’ Book Sale on 15th March sees the sale of two Scientific works that set the stage for important breakthroughs in the understanding of the physical world.

The first is an authorial gift copy of an extremely rare essay containing the first description of photosynthesis. Written by John Ingen-Housz FRS, An Essay on the Food of Plants and the Renovation of Soils was printed in 1796 in the Appendix to Outlines of the Fifteenth Chapter of the Proposed General Report From the Board of Agriculture on the Subject of Manures. This essay is one of the great "misplaced chapters" in the history of science. John Ingen-Housz was a brilliant 18th-century chemist, biologist and physiologist, but his most enduring contribution to science was in the discovery of the mechanism of photosynthesis. The origin of carbon in plants was not yet fully understood, the then-current theory being that it was taken from the soil by the roots. Ingen-Housz showed carbon dioxide in the air was responsible. There are two other known editions of this work, the first a German translation, is dismissed by Ingen-Housz biographer Dr Julius Wiesner as "considerably flawed", whilst Dr Bay's private reprint of 1933 omits all Ingen-Housz's marginal notes. Whilst there are some few copies of the work in institution libraries, only one has been traced at auction. Estimate: £800-1,000 plus buyer’s premium.

Secondly is a first edition of A New System of Chemical Philosophy, written by John Dalton and published in three volumes in the early 19th century. Dalton's major contribution to the study of science was an insistence on the significance of relative atomic weights. Dalton believed that all matter was composed of indestructible and indivisible atoms of various weights, each weight corresponding to one of the chemical elements, and that these atoms remained unchanged during chemical processes. This led to his creation of the first periodic table and created the first scientific theory of the atom, based on experimentation. Dalton's work was not without flaws, in part owing to the quality of this tools, but it shaped scientific thinking and laid the groundwork for Mendelev's table. Estimate: £3,000-4,000 plus buyer’s premium.

Also on offer in the sale is a fascinating insight into the abuses of the Porto Wine Trade in 1829 by a Commercial Investigator. The author of this intriguing work is unknown, but he was sent by a ‘Mr Lancaster’ to investigate fraud committed against him by the Porto wine trade. This journal is principally a record of the agent's findings, with digressions for sight-seeing and a letter home to his family. By this time the British monopoly, symbolised by the British Factory building, had been broken by the Portugese regulatory powers granted to the Douro Wine Company. The long and detailed breakdown of the operations of the farmers, Douro Wine Company and the English Factory covers the erratic approval process, the dubious storage mechanisms and the mixing of bad wine with good (the 1818 and 1825 vintages being especially poor) which led to the buyer not being sure about the vintage they were buying. The agent describes the splitting of the production into three: home consumption, lucrative export to Brazil, and the remaining third for the British market - all at different prices. There are several pages of probing questions and the answers he received and more on wine-growing districts and the controllers of the Company. The whole has an air of cloak and dagger - he writes about sending letters via a local agent who can get them without interception by the packet agent and about being advised not to go into the farming country because of the danger - but still has time to record the sights and experiences of travel. By the end, he is clearly seeking an exit, writing about his fatigue, before recounting a harrowing triple hanging he saw from his window. Estimate: £150-250 plus buyer’s premium.

A charming surprise is hidden at the end of a rather unassuming 19th century scrapbook. Mostly containing hand-written poetry, coloured drawings, sketches and the like – the last page contains a marvel of papercraft. A painted roundel of a cottage is in reality a metamorphic novelty – a concertina-cut pull up that reveals a paper cut-out of a mouse on a black and white floor. Estimate: £200-300 plus buyer’s premium.


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