Thame Local History
The Auction of Sir Isaac Newton's Books

The story of how part of Sir Isaac Newton's library of books came to be auctioned off anonymously for bargain prices at Thame Park House in 1919 is told in the book 'Newton: The Man' by Lieutenant-Colonel R. de Villamil, Royal Engineers (retired) published by Gordon Knox in London in 1931. (There is a forword in this book by Albert Einstein.)

The contents of this book are reported on the website created by Andrew McNab.

The following events are as described on that website, specifically at

Sir Isaac Newton died in 1727, and his neighbour, John Huggins, who was warden of Fleet Prison, bought his extensive library of books for 300.

Charles Huggins, son of John Huggins, was Rector of Chinnor, and he received the books from his father.

William Huggins, brother of Charles, was at Magdalen College Oxford with a Dr. James Musgrave, a theologian, and when Charles died in 1750 William presented the benefice of Chinnor (the living to be had from being the Rector) to Dr James Musgrave.

Dr James Musgrave also bought the Newton collection for 400.

There was a baronetcy, and considerable wealth, in the Musgrave family. Although the theologian Dr James Musgrave was not in line for the baronetcy, his son became the eighth Baronet and inherited the family seat at Barnsley Park in Gloucestershire. James Musgrave had married the daughter of William Huggins, and died in 1778.

The tenth Baronet died childless in 1875. The family seat at Barnsley Park passed to Georgina, sister of the ninth and tenth baronets and grandaughter of Dr James Musgrave.

In 1836 Georgina Musgrave had married Aubrey Wenman Wykeham of Swalcliffe Park, who himself inherited Thame Park.

The Newton collection of books ended up at Barnsley Park in the possession of the Wykeham-Musgraves of Thame Park and Barnsley Park.

In 1919, the Wykeham-Musgraves could no longer support two family seats, and the land at Thame Park had already been rented out. An auction of the contents of Thame Park House was held, and part of the Newton collection of books, by no means the larger part, was brought from Barnsley Park to Thame Park to be auctioned off with the rest of the domestic contents.

Amazingly, as de Villamil reports, the fact that the books were from the original collection of Sir Isaac Newton was lost on the Wykeham-Musgraves. Dr James Musgrave's will of 1778 had not mentioned the Newton connection with the books.

The books were sold at bargain prices, with neither the sellers nor the buyers knowing their true historical significance.

In 1943 the Pilgrim Trust bought the remainder of the Newton collection from the Wykeham-Musgraves, thanks to the detective work of Lieutenant-Colonel de Villamil, and placed them in Trinity College Cambridge, where Sir Isaac Newton had originally collected some of them over 200 years before.

The portion of the collection sold at Thame had the book-plate 'Philosophemur' surcharged in pencil (de Villamil's words).

Apparently at least one has come to light in the Thame area, although there may be several books from the collection still tucked away somewhere, bought for next to nothing along perhaps with other odds and ends, in 1919.

Worth a look in the attic !

            Home   |   Contents   |   This Site   |   Contacts   |   Email
  Local History Research Group
  Thame, Oxfordshire, England