Page turner

Published: February 2004

On December 4, 2003, Boston College Libraries formally celebrated the acquisition of the University’s two-millionth volume: a rare first-edition printing (Rome, 1613) of Galileo Galilei’s Istoria e Dimostrazione Intorno alle Macchie Solari e Loro Accidenti (History and Demonstration Concerning Sunspots and Their Properties). The book is a collection of scientific treatises written by Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) in the form of three letters in Italian to Mark Welser, counselor to the Holy Roman Emperor and a correspondent and patron of scholars in Augsburg, Germany. The letters describe Galileo’s observation of sunspots through a telescope that he himself invented.

In comments delivered at the celebration, J. Donald Monan, SJ, Professor of Law Daniel Coquillette commented, “Today this short book would earn Galileo not one, but three Nobel Prizes”—for proving that the earth revolves on its axis, that the earth revolves around the sun rather than vice versa, and for postulating the principle of inertia.

The volume was donated by Angelo and Wega Firenze of Belmont, Massachusetts, friends of the University, as part of a collection of books and papers belonging to Wega Firenze’s late father, Pasquale Sconzo. A mathematician and astronomer, Sconzo was chief scientist at the Federal Space Systems Division of IBM. At an estate sale in Italy in the late 1920s, he purchased cheaply a box of books containing the Galileo volume, without realizing, at the time, the rarity and value of the book. The book has been appraised at between $20,000 and $25,000.

While it took the University 124 years to acquire one million volumes, it took only 16 to reach the new milestone. Boston College’s holdings are among the top 100 in the country, and in the range of libraries at Georgetown and Boston University, each with roughly 2.3 million volumes. By comparison, the American universities with the top 10 largest holdings have 6 to 15 million volumes, with Harvard leading the pack.

Those wishing to peruse the book may do so by request at Boston College’s Burns Library—or by viewing the slideshow above.

This feature was posted on Sunday, February 15, 2004 and is filed under Slideshows.
Writer: Nicole Estvanik
Photos: Gary Wayne Gilbert
Producer: Noah Kuhn