Jump to content

  •  

CNers have asked about a donation box for Cloudy Nights over the years, so here you go. Donation is not required by any means, so please enjoy your stay.

Photo

Collecting Historic Astronomy Books

This topic has been archived. This means that you cannot reply to this topic.
26 replies to this topic

#1 Gandalf

Gandalf

    Messenger

  • -----
  • topic starter
  • Posts: 423
  • Joined: 19 Aug 2005

Posted 07 December 2005 - 10:06 AM

Most astronomers end up with a shelf or two of books, and often you can work out their progress in the hobby by checking these out!

But how many people collect old astronomy books, and why?

Historic astronomy tomes are not quite the same as Classic Telescopes - clearly, the information contained therein is going to be out of date in many ways, and some of the theories expounded may seem ridiculous to the modern well-informed astronomy buff with the benefit of the latest research - and hindsight :smirk: Whereas most if not all classic telescopes are still very useable today and many could provide a creditable alternative to current offerings.

So why collect historic astronomy books? Too keep in touch with the past? To know something of the mind of the great astronomers, or even our amateur predecessors? For a love of books and fine bindings? Or to put the astronomical knowledge of today in perspective?

Personally I collect in a small way based on the research interests I have. I've handed over a lot of my earlier collection to the Sir Robert Ball reference library of the Society for the History of Astronomy, and at the moment I tend to focus on three main themes:

1. The Moon, its history, observation and exploration.
2. The work of astronomer and broadcaster Sir Patrick Moore.
3. The work of scientist and science fiction writer Sir Arthur C. Clarke.

Do you collect historic astronomy or space books? Who, what and why?

Or do you think such books are a waste of time and only keep the very latest texts for reference in your hobby?

Stuart

#2 microbes

microbes

    Apollo

  • *****
  • Posts: 1,217
  • Joined: 12 Dec 2004

Posted 07 December 2005 - 10:25 AM

Not sure what is "old" in this context, but I haunt used book stores for books on a variety of subjects, astronomy being one of the subjects. I have a number of books from back in the 1960's and 1970's, hardly "antique" or anything like that, but even they do have a certain amount of this:

clearly, the information contained therein is going to be out of date in many ways, and some of the theories expounded may seem ridiculous to the modern well-informed astronomy buff

I particularly notice how much astrophotography has advanced. Just by shooting thru the eye piece of a yardsale 4.5 inch newt with a mediorce digital camera I am able to get pictures of mars that are as good as what was considered to be the "best" back in the 1950's simply by using "stacking" software.

#3 LivingNDixie

LivingNDixie

    TSP Chowhound

  • *****
  • Posts: 19,307
  • Joined: 23 Apr 2003

Posted 07 December 2005 - 11:00 AM

I have a 1st edition of "We Seven" which is pretty neat. But I also have a very old Astronomy book that is falling apart from the late 1860's or so. It has been in the family for a long time.

#4 KennyJ

KennyJ

    The British Flash

  • *****
  • Posts: 38,704
  • Joined: 27 Apr 2003

Posted 07 December 2005 - 12:53 PM

< But how many people collect old astronomy books, and why?

Just a wild guess really .

My guess is 17,254 , of ENGLISH language books , and that they do so because they enjoy reading and / or collecting old astronomy books .

Am I close ? :-)

Kenny

#5 trainsktg

trainsktg

    Fly Me to the Moon

  • *****
  • Posts: 5,045
  • Joined: 23 Aug 2005

Posted 07 December 2005 - 01:23 PM

In should be noted that some books are not just sources of historical perspective or quaint obsolete information. Some still relevant examples from my collection are...

"Amateur Telescope Making"...some of my copies are Book 1 (4th Edition, 18th Printing, 1967), Book 2 (1st Edition, 13th Printing, 1965), and Book 3 (1st Edition, 5th Printing, 1967)...how many of today's books can teach you to make anything other than a spherical or parabaloidal mirror? (I also have earlier editions from the 30's. The info contained generally doesn't change from edition to edition, but is usually just expanded upon or added to).

"Mars" by Earl Slipher. Contains hundreds of tri-color-filtered photographic documentation of Mars approaches as early as 1901. Good for research.

"Field Book of the Skies" by Olcott and Mayall (4th Edition, 1954). Great still-accurate reference book for beginning through advanced visual observers.

I get quite a bit of use out of these old tomes.

Keith

#6 John Jarosz

John Jarosz

    Astro Gearhead

  • *****
  • Posts: 3,572
  • Joined: 25 Apr 2004

Posted 07 December 2005 - 01:41 PM

I have inadvertently collected an old atronomy book, although it wasn't old when I acquired it. It's old now, just like me. :grin:

This book: "The Telescope Handbook and Star Atlas:, by Neal Howard; 1967., although dated, still contains a lot of useful information. You really get the sense of how primitive things were in the 60's, especially eyepieces.

I think I received it as a HS graduation present. So, since it's almost 40 years old, I'd call it a "Historic" book. It's probably the last major book published prior to the moon landing in '69, but it does have many of the pics from the unmanned spacecraft sent to the moon before then.

It also has photos of most of the typical scopes of that era, and it has a great pic of Bierbelly's Vega Newt-Mak.

I'd say a lot of the Victorian stuff doesn't interest me that much, because their thinking on so many things would be overturned right after the turn of the century. Earlier stuff, AND 20th century books are pretty interesting to me. If I find something like that, I'd be sure to pick it up.

john

#7 Dan Luna

Dan Luna

    Viking 1

  • -----
  • Posts: 696
  • Joined: 07 Jul 2004

Posted 08 December 2005 - 12:32 PM

In contrast to what is, old books provide the imagination with the extra dimensions of what was and what might have been.

Posted Image

#8 trainsktg

trainsktg

    Fly Me to the Moon

  • *****
  • Posts: 5,045
  • Joined: 23 Aug 2005

Posted 08 December 2005 - 12:46 PM

Very cool!

Keith

#9 LivingNDixie

LivingNDixie

    TSP Chowhound

  • *****
  • Posts: 19,307
  • Joined: 23 Apr 2003

Posted 08 December 2005 - 01:58 PM

What book and/or year is that from?

#10 Dan Luna

Dan Luna

    Viking 1

  • -----
  • Posts: 696
  • Joined: 07 Jul 2004

Posted 09 December 2005 - 05:36 AM

It's the Frontispiece from "The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite", 1874 by James Nasmyth and James Carpenter. I just happened to have it uploaded to Image Shack already.

#11 WStewart

WStewart

    Viking 1

  • -----
  • Posts: 786
  • Joined: 02 Nov 2005

Posted 11 December 2005 - 12:15 AM

That's cool. Here's some artwork from one of the books in my rinky-dink collection of antique astronomy books, titled Recreations in Astronomy by Henry White Warren, D.D. (1879).

Attached Thumbnails

  • 724671-Picture 003 (Medium).jpg


#12 Dan Luna

Dan Luna

    Viking 1

  • -----
  • Posts: 696
  • Joined: 07 Jul 2004

Posted 12 December 2005 - 05:34 AM

That's a great artist's impression; I love the pointy mountains. :cool:

#13 John Jarosz

John Jarosz

    Astro Gearhead

  • *****
  • Posts: 3,572
  • Joined: 25 Apr 2004

Posted 12 December 2005 - 10:55 AM

I like the fact that you can't see into the craters. The shawdows of the pointy mointains are such that you should be able to see at least one side of the inside of the craters. I guess it looks more mysterious this way.

John

#14 microbes

microbes

    Apollo

  • *****
  • Posts: 1,217
  • Joined: 12 Dec 2004

Posted 07 March 2006 - 01:31 PM

I was at the fleamarket today and picked up these two old books for $5.00 each. Normally when I buy used books I only pay a dollar or two, but these struck my fancy and I think they are well worth 5 bucks each.

The first is "Starland" (revised edition) by Sir Robert Ball, published in 1899.

The Second is "A Beginner's Star-Book - An Easy Guide to the stars and to Astronomical Uses of the Opera Glass, the Field Glass and the Telescope" by Kelvin McKready, published in 1912.

I've only skimmed through them so far, but there is no mention of Pluto in either book. :lol:

1st book say that Saturn has only 9 moons and the 2nd book says it has 10 moons, and judging by examples in the books I would say that the average amateur telescope in those days was a 2 inch refractor, and that a 4 inch refractor on a GEM was the cat's meow back then. The second book even has a section on astrophotography, primitive as it was in 1912.

Much of the information is outdated, but I think for the price they make a fine addition to my slowly growing collection of astronomy books.

Posted Image

Posted Image

#15 microbes

microbes

    Apollo

  • *****
  • Posts: 1,217
  • Joined: 12 Dec 2004

Posted 07 March 2006 - 03:23 PM

After reading a little more in these books I find that M-31 is listed as a large spiral "nebula" with a width spanning 8 light years. Totally wrong on both the size (by a huge margin) and of it being a nebula instead of a galaxy. I'm sure I will find other material in these books that is equally as out of date, but very interesting none the less.

OffTheCouch's crater drawing from 1879 is simular to the one in the 1899 Starland:

Posted Image

And they were taking Lowell's "Canals on mars" fairly seriously in 1899 from what I have read in the past few hours, and talking of "flooding in the lower plains of mars" in the spring.

#16 trainsktg

trainsktg

    Fly Me to the Moon

  • *****
  • Posts: 5,045
  • Joined: 23 Aug 2005

Posted 07 March 2006 - 09:28 PM

Nomenclature and out-dated information aside, we are only priveleged in our vast scope of knowledge today by standing on the backs of the giants of yesteryear.

The pioneering work of Slipher in the use of colored filters with black and white photography to eek out amazing planetary detail. The engineering genius required to build 23". 26", 36" and 40" refractors with no computers, MTF testers, or CNC polishing machines aka Clark and Sons. Are there any modern refractor makers capable of duplicating these feats even with their modern equipment? Not many. How many of us could independently invent a Foucault Mirror Tester, realize the significance of specrum absorbtion lines or calculate the exact position of an unknown planet perturbing the orbit of Uranus?

Not me.

I collect and read old tomes like these to find those significant gems of valid information or history no longer covered in today's literature. It amazes me what was known back then, 'Andromeda Nebula' and the '8 Planets of the Solar System' aside.

There's more to this old literature than funny names and inaccurate calculations.

Keith

#17 erik

erik

    telescope surgeon

  • *****
  • Posts: 24,858
  • Joined: 30 Jan 2004

Posted 07 March 2006 - 10:13 PM

beautiful books, i'd say those were a steal!! :)

#18 microbes

microbes

    Apollo

  • *****
  • Posts: 1,217
  • Joined: 12 Dec 2004

Posted 07 March 2006 - 11:44 PM

There's more to this old literature than funny names and inaccurate calculations.


To be sure. In Ball's book there is a whole chapter about the discovery of Neptune and it's (unnamed at the time) moon, not something I could have done either. Even if they did get some of it wrong, it is amazing how much of it they had right in 1899.

And the other book has a lot of really great information and advise on how to get the most out of very modest scopes and binoculars, the largest percentage of which is just as valuable today as it was 100 years ago.

I guess I was being a little flip about a few glaring inacuracies, these 2 books are very impressive considering the age. And even the inacuracies are an importaint part of history.

They are both certainly keepers.

#19 trainsktg

trainsktg

    Fly Me to the Moon

  • *****
  • Posts: 5,045
  • Joined: 23 Aug 2005

Posted 08 March 2006 - 01:15 AM

Its too bad more out there don't share similar interests...course then again, we wouldn't be able to find these wonderful bargains as easily. Maybe I better keep more quiet about this! I just picked up a VG+ Norton's Star Atlas (1966) with included 'Messier Catalogue' insert for $3 at Goodwill. For now, I guess, the deals are still out there.

Keith

#20 JerryWise

JerryWise

    Cosmos

  • *****
  • Posts: 9,791
  • Joined: 26 Dec 2003

Posted 08 March 2006 - 08:41 AM

Really surprised to find this thread. Those old books are very interesting and it’s hard for me to resist them. Paying $5 to $20 is a not bad compared to other antique books I have. Like the rare "Defense of Charleston Harbor" for $300 and other works.

I read "Astronomy" by Sharpless and Philips copyright 1872 from cover to cover last night. Pluto wasn't even a thought but Vulcan was. It mentions work will eventually prove the existence of Vulcan between Mercury and the Sun. After reading this scholarly work I am comfortable this will occur. :grin:

I want to compare it to another one I've had for several years. Its "The WONDERS of the TELESCOPE or A DISPLAY of THE STARRY HEAVENS and of THE SYSTEM OF THE UNIVERSE: CALCULATED TO PROMOTE AND SIMPLIFY THE STUDY OF ASTRONOMY....WITH COPPER-PLATES". It goes further with the name by adding "London: printed (by Assignment) for William Darton, 58, Holborn Hill 1823".

One brief quote from this book illustrates the shoulders we stand on. It is about what the authors call the "Herschel Planet" (I think Uranus didn't become the default name until about 1827 or four years after the book was printed). The book holds with Herschel's opinion of inhabited planets. It says "Yet there is every reason to believe that even this planet is inhabited by some race of beings; the Herschel, as well as our on globe, is the abode of happiness to millions, who rejoice in the Creator's goodness; not, indeed, by means that we can comprehend, nor by laws that we can describe: but He who formed the world, and who has given to it six Moons, to enlighten it during the Sun's absence, can adapt the inhabitant to the habitation." Very interesting if a bit long in punctuation and an excellent window to the past.

As a nod to technology, the first book ("Astronomy", 1972), said the National Observatory in Washington every day carefully calculates the time of noon exactly. This information is then "telegraphed" to several important and interested locations.

I find none of their thoughts that are not now correct to be humorous. They were conclusions based on the best information they had at the time. My own well meaning thoughts sometimes become foolish in retrospect. When I was a small child in the 50s we lived on the final approach for the Columbia airport. I would lay in the yard looking at the stars (no fire ants then) and watch with excitement as the 8 O'clock Eastern Airlines Constellation flew over. As it roared low overhead you could feel the throb of those huge radial engines. Then one day a new plane flew over with a jet engine. I wondered as a child if I would ever fly on a jet plane. To this day I've never flown on a commercial piston propeller plane like the Constellations that were so prevalent at that time. Every one of my numerous flights have been on some variant of the jet engine.

#21 Dan Luna

Dan Luna

    Viking 1

  • -----
  • Posts: 696
  • Joined: 07 Jul 2004

Posted 09 March 2006 - 07:02 AM

I agree with Jerry that you can't laugh at these ideas. Some of the old astronomers, such as W.H. Pickering, come across as complete lunatics in certain more recent books that only give them a brief mention, but reading their own works shows the amount of effort they put in and the observations and reasoning that led them to form their hypotheses.

Sometimes the factual parts of these books can be very impressive, such as the great mathematical efforts that went into discovering Neptune and explaining the variations in the motion of the Moon, but what I really enjoy are the authors' well written and evocative descriptions of the universe as they conceived it in their imaginations. One good thing about being way off the mark is that the reader never knows what to expect next!

One of my favourites is Pickering's 1903 book The Moon which I have nearly finished scanning to add to a small online collection Here.

Another is G.P. Serviss' 1909 Curiosities of the Sky which someone else has transcribed Here. They didn't include the illustrations, but I could always scan them my copy if anyone wants to see them.

#22 trainsktg

trainsktg

    Fly Me to the Moon

  • *****
  • Posts: 5,045
  • Joined: 23 Aug 2005

Posted 09 March 2006 - 08:31 AM

Some of these books are a tough read, too. Serviss' "Astronomy with the Naked Eye" puts the challenge to anyone's knowledge of Greek and Roman mythology.

Keith

#23 JimP

JimP

    Gemini

  • *****
  • Posts: 3,097
  • Joined: 22 Apr 2003

Posted 09 March 2006 - 11:31 AM

Hello,
I have been collecting old (Some early 20th C.,primarily 19c and older) astronomy books since the late 70's. What drew me to them initailly were the drawings in them representing the views at the eyepiece of a telescope. All the "new" astronomy books seemed to have photos illustrating them but photos gave me no idea of the view through an eyepiece of my own telescope. I was also attracted to the colorful language used by the authors describiubg what they were seeing along with their thoughts,and, the fact that many were amateurs with their own private observatories, just like I wanted at the time! I also liked the beautiful covers and maps that were contained in many of these books. I came across other collectors. One, Stan, told me I would likely concentrate on one particular area after a while. He was right. While I will buy anything on Astronomy if it is something I particularly like and the price is right, I tend to concentrate on the Solar System, primarily the Moon. I greatly enjoy reading descriptions of areas on the moon by amateurs using scopes not unlike my own, areas that have not changed since they observed. I am looking at exactly the same region pretty much exactly as it appeared (libration effects understood) to them. That is fascinating to me. I could go on but you see what I mean.

All the best,

Jim Phillips

#24 BobinKy

BobinKy

    Gemini

  • *****
  • Posts: 3,089
  • Joined: 27 Apr 2007

Posted 10 July 2007 - 07:44 PM

Here is a thread from last year with some very good illustrations from old astronomy books.

Does anyone have any other illustrations from old astronomy books?

#25 Sherk

Sherk

    Beer connoisseur

  • *****
  • Posts: 5,379
  • Joined: 09 Feb 2004

Posted 30 July 2007 - 09:31 AM

Try this: http://gallica.bnf.fr/

Go to "recherche" and type "astronomie" (mind the spelling) in the "sujet" box; you'll find a lot of downloadable scans of old public domain astronomy books. Most of them are currently in french or latin.


CNers have asked about a donation box for Cloudy Nights over the years, so here you go. Donation is not required by any means, so please enjoy your stay.


Recent Topics






Cloudy Nights LLC
Cloudy Nights Sponsor: Astronomics