Astrolabe Catalogue

MakerPeter Jordan
Inventory no.0
AcquisitionPresented by Lewis Evans in 1924

The most influential of all western accounts of the astrolabe was a book entitled Elucidatio Fabricae Ususque Astrolabii by Johann Stöffler (1452-1531), published at Oppenheim in 1512-13. Nearly all astrolabe textbooks for the next century copied it, and its description was the basis of many actual instruments. Yet no astrolabe immediately associated with Stöffler himself is known to survive.

This remarkable printed paper astrolabe is the nearest. It was issued in conjunction with the 1535 (posthumous) edition of the book, published at Mainz by Peter Jordan, business successor of the book’s original printer Jakob Köbel. The hour-glass design on the back of the astrolabe is Jordan’s trade sign, by way of signature. The three sheets (front, back, and rete) are bound into the Museum’s copy of the book. But they are not illustrations. They were meant to be cut out and mounted on card or wood to form a working instrument.

The paper astrolabe conforms to Stöffler’s description, including his latitude of 48° 40’ (Tübingen, where he was professor of mathematics). But in the book the rete – often the most characteristic feature of an astrolabe – is diagrammatically rather than actually illustrated; so this 1535 version is our only evidence of the rete design that might have characterized Stöffler’s astrolabes.

The contemporary colouring has no actual function, but certainly gives it visual impact. The original colours have been well preserved through being closed in the book. It might be said to be the only multi-coloured astrolabe known.

It has no inventory number because, as a library book, it is not counted within the Museum's collections database.

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