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Copernicus Book Shines At Auction

A first edition of the Nicolaus Copernicus book that puts forth the theory that the sun - not the earth - is at the center of the universe has fetched more than $2.2 million at an auction, nearly double the expected price.

The 1543 copy of Copernicus' "De revolutionibus orbium coelestium" (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) was among more than 300 books offered Tuesday at Christie's auction. It was expected to sell for up to $1.2 million.

Christie's called the volume "arguably the finest copy in private hands."

The collection also included a New Haven, Conn., telephone book issued in 1878, two years after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.

Auctioneers had expected the phone book to fetch between $30,000 and $40,000, but the price skyrocketed to $170,500 in a bidding war among six collectors.

The 20-page, pamphlet-size book, published by the Connecticut District Telephone Co., contains the names and numbers of 391 New Haven-area subscribers.

Christie's initially billed the directory as the first multipage phone book in the country, but a historian said earlier ones were printed in San Francisco and Chicago.

Auctioneer Tom Lecky said the bidding war occurred after additional research showed that the Chicago directory was a reproduction and the San Francisco one, though earlier, was less comprehensive than New Haven's.

The collection, which spans six centuries, also contained works by Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Sir Isaac Newton and Johannes Kepler.

The sale brought in a total of more than $11 million, which include the auction house's commission, known as the buyer's premium, Christie's said.

The buyers' identities have not been disclosed. The collection was sold by Richard Green, a retired physician and amateur astronomer from Long Island.