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Newton’s Principia notes to go to auction

Handwritten notes showing one of history’s greatest scientific minds in action are going up for auction.

Pages containing Isaac Newton’s jotted revisions to his masterwork, the Principia, are expected to sell next month for up to 900,000 pounds ($A1.7 million), London auction house Christie’s said on Tuesday.

Published in 1687, Newton’s Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica or Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy set out the laws of gravitation and motion and is considered a scientific watershed.

A first edition of the book sold for $A4.8 million in 2016.

Christie’s head of books and manuscripts Thomas Venning says the Principia “reinvented our understanding of the universe”.

The page and a half of notes for a planned second edition includes comments and diagrams by Scottish mathematician and astronomer David Gregory.

The two met and corresponded while Newton worked on revising the Principia in the 1690s.

Venning said when he was working on the revisions, Newton was “fizzing with the energy of one of the greatest minds the world has ever seen”.

“And we can see that at work, the speed with which he’s writing, the ferment of ideas coming out from his pen,” he said.

Keith Moore, head librarian at the Royal Society – the scientists’ club where Newton was president in the 18th century – said Gregory kept up a written dialogue with Newton.

“He met Newton and that partnership, almost, between the two of them, resulted in refining Newton’s thinking.”

Newton eventually gave up on the revisions but ultimately produced a new edition in 1713.

The document will go under the hammer at Christie’s in London on July 8.

“What a collector in the autograph world is looking for is the greatest minds in history, talking about their greatest achievements,” Venning said.

“It’s very, very rare to have that combination and that’s what you have in this particular manuscript.”

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