At Auction | Isaac Newton and the South Sea Company

Posted in Art Market by Editor on June 17, 2017

Press release, via Art Daily (16 June 2017) . . .

A document signed by Isaac Newton (1643–1727) sold for $53,805 according to Boston-based RR Auction. The one-page document is signed “Is. Newton” and dated 15 November 1721. The pay order was issued to “the Accountant General of the South Sea Company,” John Grigsby. The letter reads: “Sr, Pray pay to Dr Francis Fauquier the four per cent Dividend due at Midsummer last upon sixteen thousand two hundred & seventy-two pounds four shillings & nine pence South Sea stock in my name & his Receipt shall be your sufficient discharge. from Your humble Servant, Is. Newton.”

In the spring of 1720, the South Sea Company, created as a public-private partnership to stabilize and reduce the cost of national debt, witnessed an incredible boom in company stock. Newton, a stockholder and the current Master of the Royal Mint, wisely sold off his South Sea shares in late April after nearly doubling his initial investment of around £3,500. However, with prices still rising heading into the fall, Newton reentered with an even higher investment and was soon caught up in the first major ‘bubble’ in stock-market history, losing an estimated £20,000— equivalent to more than $3 million in today’s terms. Unlike many others, Newton survived the crash on the strength of his position at the Royal Mint, but the experience prompted the scientist to famously note that he “could calculate the motions of the heavenly bodies, but not the madness of the people.”

“It’s an extremely rare and attractively penned document with an association to one of Newton’s most questionable experiments,” said Bobby Livingston, Executive VP at RR Auction.

The winning bid came from a science and technology enthusiast from New England, who wishes to remain anonymous.



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