World’s first computer geek Lady Ada Lovelace book in sale

Portrait of Lady Ada LovelaceShe is recognised as one of the world’s first computer geeks, a Victorian visionary and the only legitimate child of Lord Byron, now Lady Ada Lovelace’s seminal book, Sketch of the Analytical Engine is set to sell in The Cotswolds at auction house Moore Allen & Innocent.

One of only seven known copies of the book, now celebrating its 175th anniversary, it has an estimate of £3,000 to £5,000 in the sale on July 20.

About Ada Lovelace

While her father Lord Byron set out to make himself ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know’, Ada Lovelace took an entirely different path as a keen mathematician, striking up a friendship with ‘the father of the computer’ Charles Babbage.

At the time, Babbage was working on his automatic calculator, the Difference Engine, before starting work on his follow-up, the Analytical Engine.

World’s First Computer Programmer

Lovelace was the first person to recognise the potential of the Analytical Engine for applications beyond pure calculation, and published the first algorithm intended to be carried out by such a machine.

As a result, she is regarded as the first person to recognise the full potential of a ‘computing machine’ and the first ‘computer programmer’.

The Analytical Engine

After eight years of work, Charles Babbage unveiled his plans for the Analytical Engine at a seminar at the University of Turin in 1840. In attendance the was Italian military engineer and mathematician L.F. Menabrea, who went on to serve as the country’s Prime Minister.

Lady Ada Lovelace computer book on the Analytical MachineMenabrea reported the presentation the following year in an obscure Swiss publlication, and Babbage urged Lady Lovelace to translate the report into English.

She did so, but added her own explanatory notes, which were substantially longer than Menabrea’s original article and included what many consider to be the first computer program — an algorithm designed to be carried out by the machine.

The resulting work was published in 1843 as Sketch of the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage Esq by L.F. Menabrea of Turin, officer of the Military Engineers, with notes by the translator. At the time of publication, the identity of ‘the translator’ remained a secret. It was not until 1848 – four years before her untimely death at the age of 36 – that Lady Lovelace was credited.

The copy being auctioned in Cirencester is signed ‘Lady Lovelace‘ on the title page of the book, under the line ‘with notes by the translator’.

Additional handwritten notes on the flyleaf are attributed to physician and philanthropist Dr William King, a friend and advisor of Lady Lovelace.

A documentary about Lady Lovelace and her work – Calculating Ada: The Countess of Computing – is currently streaming on the BBC iPlayer.

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