Astrolabe Catalogue

astrolabe, inventory number 48821 from Oxford, ca. 1690
thumbnail for astrolabe (front), inventory number 48821 from Oxford, ca. 1690
thumbnail for astrolabe (back), inventory number 48821 from Oxford, ca. 1690
thumbnail for astrolabe (rete front), inventory number 48821 from Oxford, ca. 1690
Dateca. 1690
MakerJohn Prujean
Inventory no.48821
AcquisitionPresented by Lewis Evans in 1924

A number of western instrument makers made paper instruments, which they engraved on copper plates to be printed on paper sheets (for example, inventory nos. 34268 and 44745). The sheets could be purchased and made up by the purchaser; or they might sometimes have been sold ready mounted. It simplified the maker’s work, and provided a cheaper alternative for a widening market of customers, especially students.

An English instrument maker who is represented chiefly by paper instruments is John Prujean (ca.1632-1706). After apprenticeship in London, he commenced business in Oxford in 1664, becoming a ‘privileged’ craftsman (one licensed by the university rather than by the municipal guilds). He made sundials and quadrants, and – in the place where some of the earliest English astrolabes had been made in the 14th century – he was perhaps the last person in England to make traditional astrolabes. Prujean’s astrolabe was designed by Thomas Edwards, who came to Oxford as a student in 1686.

Prujean’s fate reveals one reason why not all instrument makers saw cheap paper versions as an attractive proposition. In 1706 he died in severe poverty, ‘wanting bread’ (a local diarist recorded). Fashions, and the scientific cutting edge, had also moved on. Edmond Halley, in recognition of the service Prujean had so long provided to mathematical studies in Oxford, attempted (unsuccessfully) to obtain charitable relief for his widow.

In 1919, anticipating his intention to donate his collection of antique mathematical instruments to Oxford University, Lewis Evans pursuaded his fellow collector George H. Gabb to part with this Prujean astrolabe in exchange for £20 and several valuable microscopes. Evans’s collaborator in founding the Museum, R. T. Gunther, loved anything associated with Oxford’s scientific past, and chose to be photographed with Prujean’s astrolabe for the frontispiece of his 1932 book The Astrolabes of the World.

View all images for this astrolabe
View detailed provenance for this astrolabe


The mater and limb are of other construction. Scales on the limb: equal hours scale; degree scale. More information


Paper covered wood, completely blank. The back contains 0 scales. More information


The rete contains 16 stars. More information


MHS Home | Contact Us | ©2006 Museum of the History of Science