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Important Sci/Tech History Up For Auction In UK 97

mikey_man380 writes "Reuters reports that some original Edison light bulbs and extremely important scientific documents will be auctioned off in the UK. The box of original light bulbs used in court by Edison to defend his patent rights will be up for auction in the United Kingdom. Other important historical items to be included in the auction are Albert Einstein's first scientific essay, a first edition of Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" and an alchemical manuscript by Isaac Newton."
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Important Sci/Tech History Up For Auction In UK

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  • by xmas2003 ( 739875 ) * on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @10:42PM (#17140820) Homepage
    On a related note, if you happen to be interested in the history of Christmas Lights, check out this site. [] George Nelson has a very detailed history of Christmas Lights per his table of contents. []

    While my Controllable Christmas Lights for Celiac Disease [] are a bit high-tech & over-the-top, George's site is a nice trip back in time of the last 100+ years when even electricity itself was a novelty - one interesting tidbit - "The world's first practical light bulb was invented by Thomas Edison in 1879, and a mere three years later in 1882 an associate of his, one Edward Johnson, electrically lit a Christmas tree for the first time. The tree was in the parlor of Johnson's New York City home, located in the first section of that city to be wired for electricity. The display created quite a stir"
    • by im_dan ( 887241 )
      Are you responsible for this by any chance? Christmas Lights []
    • On a related note, if you happen to be interested in ugly Christmas lights, check out this site []. Both the parent's [] and my [] decorations are featured there.
    • by Baricom ( 763970 )
      Are they real this time?
    • How many of you are still using *candles* for tree decoration?

      In my (european) opinion, it's the only Right way to have lights on the tree. With kids in the house, the tree tends to be wired too, but the candles are used when the kids are in check (ie. during dinner, etc).
      • by GeckoX ( 259575 )
        Yeah, cause it's the kids being around that will cause the tree to suddenly burst into flame. Lol.

        Fire + Dead Coniferous Tree = Really Good Chance For A Fire

        That is a fact that has been proven repeatedly. As long as you realize that you're choosing to do something extremely dangerous for the sake of nostalgia or whatever, no problem. But if you actually harbor delusions about this fact...Please put some serious thought into this.
        • I get the feeling you're trolling, but I'm not offended.

          I think we can all agree that candlelight *is* different than Edison light (even on Slashdot...).

          And I certainly make NO argument that fire+kindling is not = bigger fire, I am quite aware of that fact. But then again, the candles do have appropriate candle holders, it's not like we just put them on the pile of presents. No sir, *that* would be a task for tree-shaking youngsters (should they get a chance to). Which is why I'd say that unsupervised kids+
          • by GeckoX ( 259575 )
            A candle has been shown to be able to ignite dry needles on a limb a foot away.

            Further, many fires are started when simply _lighting_ the candles.

            There is a very good reason for the term "Up like a christmas tree". If you've never seen a christmas tree burn, I suggest you google some vids.

            Candles in a christmas tree are dangerous, period. No trolling about it. It's a fact. You have kids so I feel obliged to do what I can to see that you understand this...this isn't just darwin material we're talking here...
            • To clarify, I don't have kids (they're guests for xmas eve); but anyway I, my parents, and their parents have survived (so far). It's not like we're not aware, we do put the candles in sane places *and* keep water around just in case. Plus, the candles and holders you can get in Europe (don't know about US) are self-extinguishing, so no danger in letting them burn down. And we always watch the tree until everything is out.

              Lastly, I wanted to thank you very much for your concern! (This being /. that may have
        • by triso ( 67491 )

          ...Fire + Dead Coniferous Tree = Really Good Chance For A Fire
          That is a fact that has been proven repeatedly....
          You might have something there. That could explain why our house has burned to the ground for the past four Christmases.

  • by kisanth88 ( 593283 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @10:46PM (#17140856)
    These things should be in a museum and on display for all people to see.

    All of the above are some of the foundations of the modern world.

    They are some of the building blocks for the technological revolution of the 20th century.

    It would be a shame for these to be in some private collection out of view of the world.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Kadin2048 ( 468275 )
      Yeah that was my first thought, too. I hope that whoever ends up buying them, will at least loan them out to a museum where they can be properly protected and exhibited.

      I can't blame the person who found the Edison lightbulbs in their attic for wanting to sell, though, considering what they're probably worth.
    • by Cadallin ( 863437 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @11:29PM (#17141178)
      Why? The Edison lightbulbs are just junk, the 1st edition "Origin of Species" is interesting only as a novelty for librarians. The alchemical manuscript by Newton is possibly interesting, but only if the text is not preserved elsewhere, and even if its not the text is really only of interest to Biographers. The text itself almost certainly is of no scientific worth.

      Better that they be in some private collection, so that at least then SOMEBODY could enjoy them. Very few people go to museums, University or Otherwise, and while many Museums and University Anthropology Departments house some fascinating treasures, nobody gets any enjoyment out of them. The sit around mouldering in drawers, boxes and crates. Most of the interesting stuff is never, ever put on display, and often nobody even knows it exists (Anthropologists being notoriously piss-poor at actually publishing anything).

      I'm not just pulling this out of my ass either. If you know anybody who works at a major University with a Significant Anthro dept. see if you can talk to them. I am personally aware that the University of TN has literally metric TONS of artifacts scattered in crates throughout the campus. What's in them? Who knows? They aren't even really of any archaeological value any more, having been completely removed from their context.

      • The manuscripts could be scanned at a high-resolution, and be available for all to see.

        Just because we're not 'biographers', doesn't mean we wouldn't be interested.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Cadallin ( 863437 )
          And what, precisely, would you do with it? Unless you are literate in the Latin used for technical literature in the 17th century (which all of Newton's official work is written in) It'd simply be a matter of, "Ayup, these scans contain images of one of Newton's treatises on Alchemy, isn't that awesome?"

          I don't even really disagree with you, I'm enough of a pack rat of information that I would want to have such scans, or even the original book, but it would merely be a curiosity, as I lack the experti

          • by GeckoX ( 259575 )
            Just because YOU can't do anything with it...

            Your arguments make zero sense at all. What's your point?
            • Could you do anything with a Latin work on Alchemy by Sir Isaac Newton? Even the other reply to my post, who claims to be doing graduate work on Newton (although in an unrelated field of newton's work) admits to being unable to read Latin. My point is that the number of people in the entire world capable of doing anything with it is vanishingly small. Let's suppose that scans of the work were available on-line (which I have nothing against), who is going to use them? A very tiny number of historical exp
              • you could enlarge it several times and make geek wrapping paper for Chrimbo. What better to wrap your son/daughter/artifically-created podform's new microscope or electronic set in than Newtonian Latin wrapping paper? I claim 10% of gross profits as my licensing fee for the idea (got to protect the IP....)
          • Some of us are studying just that. I just finished a graduate course on Newton - my paper will use sources in latin (unfortunately I don't read latin - but the math, which is what I will be writing on,I can follow). I need to learn the latin obviously though. Having sources online is a big help. I was thrilled to find that Bernoulli's, Huygen's and Leibniz's solution to a particular problem have all been scanned in. I am doing this degree while working full time and having a young son - so if I can get
      • by 0-9a-f ( 445046 ) <> on Thursday December 07, 2006 @01:27AM (#17142090) Homepage
        I've often felt that as the rift between Science and Religion appears to become more divisive, the closer the two become in most people's minds.

        There seems to be an awful lot of attention paid to the artefacts of science today - a nostalgic yearning to touch something of the vitality of the process of discovery. It's as though "science" and "discovery" are unattainable, except through contact with the objects of the past.

        There is likewise a lot of effort put into seeking out the artefacts of religion - whether through archeology, or by personal pilgrimage. Spiritual growth is quickly lost or forgotten in the desire to simply encounter an object of the past, as though the modern world provides no access to the joy of spirit.

        But what can we expect, when people "believe" the "miracles" of medical science, and at the same time "know" that science proves the power of prayer. Even scientific discussions in popular media can easily turn into acts of faith - obesity, global warming, cigarettes, and evolution are all fuelled by emotion instead of logic. For most people, science is religion and scientists are the High Priests.

        Auctions such as this only increase the desirability of owning a piece of the past. To what end? Well, it certainly serves little scientific purpose - as has already been pointed out.
        • I personally find looking at artifacts that were created by great minds and craftsmen of ages past as an affirmation of humanity.

          It makes me feel like we might actually be going somewhere - if these peices of history (and humanity) mean nothing - all the things we do in this life mean nothing.

          They are a testament to the human mind, craftsmanship, or faith (generally one of those three). It makes me feel better about the fact that I will die one day, because hopefully something of the age I lived in will be
        • There are other purposes besides scientific though. Is history a totally invalid field? How about art? I'm studying history of science - yet I have not intention of giving up my engineering career. The two are complementary and allow me to develop different aspects of my character and interests. Also by studying the history of science and technology I become more aware of the hidden agendas that are physically embodied in our everyday life and technology and I learn that such things do not HAVE to be t
        • by Bandman ( 86149 )
          The difference between a scientist and a high priest is that anyone, ANYONE can become a scientist. You don't have to have the word "scientist" on your business card to examine your surroundings, to apply scientific principles to information you receive, and to develop and test theories about your world.

          Science is a process, not a school subject, and anyone who applies it is a "scientist".

          Don't know what to believe about global warming? Look up the information for yourself.
      • by mlush ( 620447 )
        Better that they be in some private collection, so that at least then SOMEBODY could enjoy them.

        Or they could end up in a bank vault as part of an elaborate tax avoidance scheme

      • by GeckoX ( 259575 )
        I've been to the Edison and Ford Winter Estates Museum in Florida.

        It is like he went home from work last night, and could be returning any moment to continue his work.

        I'm appalled that you have this kind of viewpoint...the number of things in that museum that most people will never even know existed, let alone see...

        I will point out one single thing from the museum that sums it all up:

        It is lighted with the very light bulbs that Edison himself made, well over a hundred years ago...STILL BURNING TODAY!!!

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        first edition "origin of species" only interesting as a novelty for librarians? You are clearly unaware of the thousands of people who visit the British Library every year to view "novelties" such as this. Would you consider the gutenberg bible, magna carta, and DaVinci's notebook to also be "novelties?"
      • > The text itself almost certainly is of no scientific worth.

        Don't you find it curious at all that a man who evidently was more intelligent than any of us here found it worthy of his time to dabble with alchemy?

        We are mere philistines and fools in comparison to great minds such as Newton, barbaric and uncivilized. All we have in form of a candle to hold to them is some accumulated quantitive fact, which approaches zero when compared to how much we still have to learn.

        What if the formulas of alchemy are n
        • You're making an argument from authority, which is a logical fallacy. Newton was a genius in the Mathematics and Physics of his day (which he by and large created). He was not an authority on modern chemistry. Sure, I might be wrong, I'm willing to concede the faint possibility that there may be profound scientific insights in a Paper on Alchemy by Newton, BUT in the absence of any evidence supporting that claim, I'm willing to bet quite a large sum of money that there are no such scientific insights at
    • "It belongs in a museum!" "So do you!"
    • As Indiana Jones would say, "That belongs in a museum!"
    • Sheesh.
  • The sad thing is that Audrey Hepburn's dress has fetched more than any scientific memorabilia ever could. I'm a film buff, so can appreciate the significance of it, but still wish that the less glamorous sciences would bring on the same bidding frenzy.
  • by EaglemanBSA ( 950534 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @11:06PM (#17141034)
    The light bulb may be up for auction, but the original manufacturing plant, equipment and all, is still here in Cleveland - I'd know, I work there. Came across prints today dating back to 1895. =19&ll=41.508798,-81.655616&spn=0.001426,0.002511& t=h&om=1 [] Unfortunately, significant artifacts of this type get not only auctioned off, but junked and lost all together. It's a tragedy at times, really.
  • by JavaManJim ( 946878 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @11:40PM (#17141278)
    I worry about the occasional fire disaster overtaking museums and their irreplaceable contents. This happens more often than we think. For example the Library at Alexandria Egypt fire, the 1988 Leningrad Library Fire, the Duchess Anna Amalia library fire, and many many more.

    So imagine the 23 bulbs be divided up into several batches and distributed to have a couple on each continent. Taking the large view we should create two Smithsonian type museums with approximately duplicate contents.

    Biblical fragments (i.e papyri, uncial fragments, and minuscules) have been distributed thusly. There are more than 600 fragments that compose modern bibles and those fragments are all over the world.

    It never hurts to have backups. Even outside of IT.

    Jim Burke
    • by Kamineko ( 851857 ) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @12:05AM (#17141456)
      Three Bulbs for the Elven-kings under the sky,
      Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
      Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
      One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
      In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows no longer lie.
      One Bulb to rule them all, One Bulb to find them,
      One Bulb to bring them all and in the light bind them
      In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows no longer lie.
      • Joy, thou glorious bulb o' heaven,
        Daughter of Ediso-nian
        We approach electricity-drunk,
        Patently one, your light.
        Your technology in all ways unites
        What the Great Nub Cannon separates
        Klingon becomes the Federation's brothers
        Where thy healing magic alights.
        Whoever succeeds in the great attempt
        To beat down the Zerg
        Whoever has won a lengthy lawsuit
        Let him add +3 Polymorph!
        Yes, whoever calls even one line
        His own on the glassy dome!
        And who never has, let him steal
        Yellow sparks, away from the group.
    • by mspohr ( 589790 )
      I think Linus's statement applies here:

      "Only wimps use backup: _real_ men just upload their important stuff on FTP, and let the rest of the world mirror it ;)"

    • Heck, I'll go for that. Send one my way! John W. Howell, the Edison engineer who built those 23 bulbs in court, is my great grandfather. I've got his rolltop desk and Edison Medal -- and yes, one old light bulb. I'd love to see a photo of the 23 that they tried to auction -- wonder if I already have one from that batch (J. Howell actually made 30-40 for the trial) I doubt it. I think mine is of newer vintage.

      I was delighted to read the news of these bulbs being found. Making those 23 bulbs was probably John
  • The Missing Link. (Score:5, Informative)

    by ahoehn ( 301327 ) <andrew AT hoe DOT hn> on Thursday December 07, 2006 @12:12AM (#17141520) Homepage
    The entire catalog of the items being auctioned is here []. If I had an extra 4 to 6 thousand pounds I think I'd go for the particularly beautiful An Account of the Foxglove, and Some of its Medical Uses [].

    I've never really understood paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for pieces of art, but I could imagine buying things from this action had I the means.
    Maybe I'm more of a boorish nerd than I previously imagined.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by derubergeek ( 594673 )

      What do the mod guidelines [] state again? Oh yeah - mod down for crap like "Me Too!". Okay - I guess I'm destined to be modded down for this, but definitely "Me Too!".

      If you're every near Detroit, make a point of visiting Ford's Greenfield Village []. Henry Ford built a replica of Edison's Orange Park laboratory (as well as other things like the Wright Brother's Dayton, OH bicycle shop) and it's really awesome to wander the lab and imagine what it was like during its brief heyday. The movie "Edison: The Man" s

  • I always think that Joseph Swan got there just ahead of him, although it was a crowded field at the time.

    • by firebird ( 32164 )

      The article does not mention which patent suit this was. But if it was the Edison vs Swan
      litigation, I had the impression that this case ended up being settled rather than 'won',
      and that the settlement led to the merger of the two sides companies.
  • Joseph Swan invented the filament light bulb in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, in 1878; a year before Thomas Edison. Assuming he filed his patent application and shew his prototype -- 'cos in those days, you had to -- at Sunderland Town Hall within a reasonable time of the invention, the rights should have been his. Not Edison's.

    What's sick is that people are still using them for illumination today. If everyone switched to energy-saving fluorescent lamps, we could close down a power station. Filament bulb
    • by xoyoyo ( 949672 )
      Swan did patent the light bulb before Edison. Edison went into partnership with Swan in the UK to avoid a patent battle (which he would have lost). See: tm []

      What seems surprising now is that Swan did not exploit his priority in the US. I don't have the facts to hand (I'll actually go and find a book) but I suspect that he simply didn't have time to file a US patent. Which is much the same situation as the original Wheatstone/Morse telegraph patents.

      It's amazin
      • by scharkalvin ( 72228 ) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @08:49AM (#17144348) Homepage
        If you read the article you'd see that Swan's patent for his lamp differed from
        Edison's in one VERY important detail. His bulb used a LOW resistance carbon rod
        instead of Edison's HIGH resistance filament. This small detail made all the dirrerence
        in the world, Edison's lamp was a pratical device while his was a laboratory demo.
        Swan's lamp would NOT have been practical in commerical use for the same reason
        that carbon arc lamps were not useful indoors. They were short lived, high current

        This small difference between the two bulbs should have been enough for Edison to prevail
        in a patent court case, but Edison wisely decided to not waste money on the lawyers.
        • by xoyoyo ( 949672 )
          Given that his patent was invalidated by the US Patent Office in 1883, it was indeed a wise decision not to waste money on lawyers.
        • It doesn't matter that Edison's design was superior, the fact is that he is not the inventor of the filament light bulb though he often gets the credit for it. A more accurate description would be the inventor of the first practical filament light bulb.

          In contrast John Logie Baird is widely recognised as the inventor of television, even though his mechanical system was vastly inferior to the CRT design that became ubiquitous.

      • by ajs318 ( 655362 )
        The solution is to find a better way of rewarding innovators than the present system of granting inventors a temporary monopoly over their invention in exchange for ultimately sharing their ideas with the world.
    • by gordguide ( 307383 ) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @12:22PM (#17147144)
      The incandescent (1) light bulb was invented, apparently independently, all over the world at roughly the same time. Edison partnered with the holder of the UK patent (2), for example. Nor did Edison "invent" the light bulb; he bought the US patent from the inventors, two men from Toronto, Canada (3). Edison's company did, however, improve on all the light bulb prototypes, including the versions that existed in all the patent applications granted at the time, by making a filament that worked long enough to be useful (before Edison's improvements, a few hours), as well as other improvements that made manufacturing practical and prices low enough for the concept to begin being used in industry. Thomas Edison is given credit by popular and textbook history for much that he did not actually do. For example, most of the improvements were actually invented and patented by Edison's staff rather than the man himself (5). The only thing I find somewhat unfortunate is for some reason, all the great things Edison did are somehow not enough in the eyes of those who decided to make him a hero, and thus the embellishments. Personally, I find that he accomplished a great deal.

      In the end, Edison was the one who either accumulated all the relevant patents or entered in joint ventures (eg with Swan) that enabled the light bulb to actually come to market. Personally, I see this as more important than whom the actual inventor(s) might be. Too bad history books need to tell these stories in two-sentence summaries and educators need to lecture in "sound bites".

      (1) "incandescent" is an important part of the story; other forms of artificial light, including electric light (eg: arc lighting) (4) were well known and in some cases reasonably common for much of the 18th century. By reasonably common I mean that those who could afford them sometimes did; eg City of London and Gas Lighting. Significant patents were granted in Russia and I would not be surprised to learn of many more patents being granted elsewhere in Europe, possibly Australia and New Zeland, and who knows where else.

      (2) John Swan, 1878, as others have mentioned.

      (3) James Woodward, US Patent filed 1874, granted 1876. Woodward partnered with a Hotel owner, Matthew Evans, basically a source of funding, and the patent was granted to both of them. Between 1875, when Edison bought a half-share from Woodward (one quarter share of the patent) and 1885 Woodward, Evans, and all those whom they had partnered with, again as a source of funding, all sold their shares of the patent to Edison. This patent was invalidated in 1883 by the USPTO, citing Swan's prior art, despite Swan's actual patent coming after the Woodward & Swan patent. Oh, the joys of IP and Lawyers.

      (4) Invented by Humphrey Davey, UK, 1809. Other electric lighting: Platinum filament within evacuated tube ( a vacuum is critical to the incandescent light's operation); 1820, Warren De La Rue. 1835, James Bowman Lindsay demonstrated, but never patented, an incandescent electric light. 1850, Edward Shepard, incandescent lamp with charcoal filament; pointing the way to carbonized filaments. 1854, in what some call the first "true light bulb", referring to the bulb instead of other constructions, a German inventor named Henricq Globel (nice name; should we be calling them GlowBells?) with carbonized bamboo filament inside a glass bulb. The Englshman Swan's light bulb had a filament that burned for 13 hours; Edison then made a 40 hour filament in 1879. The main improvement here was an improved vacuum; totally evacuating the air from the bulb. By 1880, Edison bulbs, going back to the carbonized bamboo filament of Globel, were lasting 1200 hours.

      (5) Most of the Edison patents were granted to a black employee of Edison's, Mr. Lewis Latimer. (Naturally, just like today, when you perform "work for hire" the patents are the property of the employer). Latimer's patents include the various versions of Edison's carbon filaments, the screw socket, and much of Edison's manufacturing equipment such as the glass blowers, ovens, and chemical processes. Latimer also oversaw most of the early incandescent installations such as the public lighting systems in New York, Philadalphia, Montreal, London, etc.
  • Why buy just one lightbulb?!
    Buy two get the third one free! Yes! You heard that correct, get the third one free!

    Call now and get a first edition of Charles Darwins origin of species FREE!* Yes! FREE!**

    * First five callers get a free copy. ** Buyer must pay delivery charge for free item. Terms and conditions apply.
  • Does anyone have any links with some photos of these auction items?
  • The Yahoo news headline about the auction of the bulbs said "Original Edison lightbulbs to go under hammer" My first thought was, "Don't smash 'em! They may not work too well but they're a valuable piece of history!"
  • I think I'd go for the Feynman [] - Atomic Energy for Military Purposes. The Official Report on the Development of the Atomic Bomb Under the Auspices of the United States Government.

I've got a bad feeling about this.