A High Point man co-owns one of the most significant Sir Isaac Newton documents in the world — but not for long, if he gets his wish.
Last March, Bill Chaney — a 74-year-old retiree living in High Point — and a friend of his from out of state paid just over $106,000 at auction for the rare, handwritten document, which is believed to be more than 300 years old. The four-page, approximately 2,260-word manuscript reflects some of Newton’s thoughts on the nature of God, viewed through the lens of the Gospel of John.
“It’s really wonderful — I just read it again this morning,” Chaney said one day this past week as he discussed the document. “Isaac Newton is considered one of the greatest minds of all time — he’s right up there with Albert Einstein — and he wrote this document talking about Jesus and God. It’s really something.”
Next month, though, Chaney and his friend, whose name he didn’t want to share, hope to resell the manuscript. And if they make as much of a profit as Chaney thinks they’ll make, he plans to give a share of his proceeds to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
“I consider Billy Graham the greatest man of the 20th century,” Chaney explained. “The man was so great at spreading the word — better than anybody else has ever been.”
Chaney, who moved to High Point about six years ago with his wife, Patrice, is a bit of a history collector. Among the treasures he owns is an authentic, framed letter handwritten by Robert E. Lee, whom he claims is a distant relative and about whom he wrote a biography (“Duty Most Sublime”) in 1996. He also owns a post-career baseball cap worn by New York Yankees legend Mickey Mantle and an autographed mitt used by Paddy Livingston, who played in the Major Leagues from 1901 to 1917.
“My wife is a saint for putting up with me for 56 years,” Chaney said with a chuckle.
In addition to the collectibles that he owns, Chaney also has purchased items that he turned around and sold, as he’s trying to do with the Newton document, but never anything as significant or as pricey as the manuscript, he said.
“They estimate this document at between $130,000 and $160,000, but I think there’s a good chance we could get more than that for it,” Chaney said. “You never know. All you need is two bidders.”
The auction in which the manuscript is being offered will take place Jan. 6 at 10:30 a.m., according to University Archives of Westport, Connecticut, which is handling the sale.
A description of the manuscript, provided by University Archives, states, “This is the most significant Newton manuscript on theology to be offered at auction during the past 50 years — a spectacular example of Newton’s penetrating genius at work. … With nearly all of Newton’s manuscripts now permanently in institutions, the present manuscript is one of the most important remaining in private hands.”
The document will include a certificate of authenticity from John Reznikoff, founder of University Archives and a renowned authenticator.
Chaney acknowledged the possibility that the document might not sell at all, if there are no interested buyers, but that doesn’t worry him.
“If that happens, we’ll just hold on to it for a couple more years, and the value will keep going up,” he said. “And then we’ll try again.”
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