A Plan of the Solar System

Plate I. A Plan of the Solar System Exhibiting its Relative Magnitudes and Distances.
W.G. Evans, Engraver
black and white engraved and letter press printing on wove paper
Professionally conserved
professionally cleaned, good condition, some toning to paper
14.125 × 28 inches
Sale Status: 
For Sale

This 1835 black and white engraving, is Plate I. from Elija H. Burritt's Atlas, Designed To Illustrate the Geography of the Heavens. Elijah H. Burritt, A.M. was a Connecticut school teacher who decided that the then available school astronomy books were not adequate. He trained himself further in astronomy by traveling to Cambridge, Massachusetts to use the Harvard Telescope.  His illustrated celestial Atlas, Designed to Illustrate the Geography of the Heavens of 1835 and accompanied in the classroom by a published text book, the Class Book of Astronomy is in fact the second edition of his seminal 1833 work of the same title, and became the standard astronomy atlas and text book for students in the United States. The recommendations published on the back cover of the 1835 edition of Burritt's Atlas explain "This book is now used in the principal Seminaries of the United States" and is recommended by the Board of Examinations of Yale College." That a schoolmaster in a small Connecticut school established a national, educational standard for astronomy education in 1835 is remarkable as is the recognition that this level of academic study and competence in both the science and art of astronomy was expected.

Plate I is composed of several black and white charts that explain different aspects of the Solar System with emphasis on the relative size of the planet Earth in the Solar System. This plate is new to the 1835 edition. The largest and most graphic of these charts, titled "A Plan of the Solar System Exhibiting its Relative Magnitudes and Distances, shows the planets in our Solar System against a backdrop of the rays of the sun with the explanation that  these rays are a "Segment of the Suns Circumference upon a Diameter of 56 inches being Fourteen hundred thousand times larger than the Earth. As a teacher,  Burritt demonstrated to his students with this pictorial chart that Earth was not the largest planet, and that relative to the size of the planet at the center of the universe, Earth was miniscule.  Two charts illustrate the relative distance of each planet from the sun, and the Plan of the Solar System Exhibiting the relative Position of the Plants Orbits introduces other terms and concepts of astronomy.

All of the color engraved celestial charts present a view of the night sky from the vantage point of New England. In addition to a north and south polar views of the heavens, there are four separate views of the constellations in the New England night sky for each three-month season. For the student of astronomy, the double page, black and white engraved Plate I of the relative size of the planets in our solar system including the planet Herschel (Uranus) and the double page, color engraved Pl. VIII. "Celestial Planisphere or Map of the Heavens", noted in the table of contents of the 1835 New Edition as "Planisphere of the Whole Heavens on Mercator's Projection." provide context for the student, literally in the universe.

Each celestial chart has a Scale of Magnitude of the stars in order to indicate the brightness of the star in the night sky when viewed by a student of the heavens. Constellations and the planets are named according to Greek and Roman mythology. Certain of the constellations, such as "The American Goose" appear to be home grown. A then contemporary understanding of many of the constellation names also required a familiarity with Greek and Roman mythology.

The rare 1833 first edition, of the same title, in my private collection, has seven rather than eight color engraved plates. The first edition is engraved by Ilman & Pilbrow and printed by Illman & Co. These 1833 illustrations of the constellations are actually drawn by Elijah Burritt himself ("E.H. Burritt Delt.") in a simpler and somewhat naive and American folk art style. The 1835 Atlas edition illustrations shown here are overseen by Elijah Burritt and engraved by W.G. Evans in a formal style influenced by 18th and 19th c. European examples of celestial illustrations.

Each Burritt celestial chart may be purchased individually or as a set of two or more. Please consult www.spackantiquemaps.com for photographs of each celestial chart.

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Published Location Freeform: 
New York and Hartford, Conn.