Stolen Newton first edition gravitates back to Swedish home

A Swedish university has been reunited with a first edition copy of Isaac Newton's Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica some forty years after the book was stolen from from its collection.

An American collector, who bought the book for around 800,000 kronor ($95,000) at a Christies auction in New York in 2004, agreed to donate the book to Uppsala University after hearing about its criminal journey, Sveriges Radio reports.

“His compass was very well calibrated; it told him that its home was at the university library in Uppsala,” said former Uppsala University dean Bo Sundqvist of the American financier’s decision.

Newton’s landmark work was first brought to Sweden’s oldest university by astronomer Petrus Elvius shortly after its publication in 1687. It disappeared in mysterious circumstances from the university’s library in the late 1960s.

Some years later it reemerged at an auction in Austria. Once it was sold, the university could no longer assert its ownership.

But when the book resurfaced in 2004, the university immediately contacted the new buyer. Last week, with all the paperwork finally out of the way, a four-person delegation from Uppsala travelled to New York to return the book to its rightful home.

“This book is of special value to Uppsala. On the plane home I had it packed in a bag inside my hand luggage. I didn’t leave it out of my sight from Tuesday evening until we arrived here in Uppsala on Thursday morning,” Sundqvist told Sveriges Radio.

Thefts of Newton’s three-volume classic have become something of a regular occurrence in Sweden.

In 1999 a man was jailed for a year after stealing two copies of the book, one from a school on the island of Gotland an another from an engineering academy in Stockholm.