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Tuesday, 8 February, 2000, 14:36 GMT
Police investigate Copernicus theft

Cop Interpol has been asked to investigate the theft


By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

A rare copy of one of the greatest science books ever published has been stolen.

The copy of De Revolutionibis Orbium Coelestium Libri VI [On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres], known simply as the "Revolutions", was taken from a library in St Petersburg, Russia.

Experts suspect that it was stolen to order for a collector and have appealed to the International Criminal Police Organisation, Interpol, for help.


Copernicus' ideas went against religious beliefs of the time Copernicus' ideas went against religious beliefs of the time
The rare 1543 first edition by astronomer Nicholas Copernicus is one of only 107 known copies in the world.

In the book, published in Germany in 1543, the Polish astronomer lays out his theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun and not the other way around. It was a shocking and fantastic suggestion at the time, and went against the philosophical and religious beliefs of medieval times.

Copernicus postponed publication of his theory for many years and it is said that he only saw the first copy of the book on his deathbed.

The copy stolen in St Petersburg was among 23 rare books from the 16th and 17th centuries taken from the library of the Academy of Sciences.

It was the impending sale of a copy of the book at an auction in the United States that prompted librarians to look for their copy. It was then that they discovered the theft.

Two years ago, copies of the same book, valued at $400,000, were stolen from libraries in Poland and Ukraine.

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