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Set of six celestial charts that depict constellation figures of the night sky derived from Greek and Roman mythology. They reflect the combined interest in science, art and classical thought of the early Federal Republic, as assimilated into American education. They also exemplify a relatively new discipline that emerged at the time – popular astronomy. The atlas credits the plates as being engraved by W.G. Evans of New York “under the Direction of E.H. Burritt.”
The set of six prints offered are the most graphically appealing and uniform of the slightly larger atlas. They are comprised of four rectangular prints divided into quarters of the year (January, February March; then April May June, etc.), and showing the visible constellations in the northeast United States during those months. The other two prints, en suite, are round circumpolar celestial charts, one of the northern sky, and the other of the southern sky. In all the charts, the constellations are shown as figures according to classical mythology, with later named constellations formed as scientific instruments, figures, etc. The graphic imagery is rooted in 17th century celestial charts, robustly Baroque in style. Among the constellations, the signs of the zodiac are prominently variously pictured in the charts. Generally only the brighter stars and nebulae are depicted.
Elijah Hinsdale Burritt was born in New Britain, Connecticut, to a farm family. He first studied mathematics and astronomy while training as a blacksmith, and attended Williams College for two years. As a school teacher, he recognized a need for better textbooks, and wrote his first, Logarithmick Arithmetic, in 1818. He moved to Georgia, and while working as a teacher, newspaper editor and surveyor, published a short guide to finding stars. In 1829, he returned to New England where he continued to work as an educator, eventually becoming the first principal of Sanderson Academy in Ashfield, Massachusetts.
Burritt saw the need for a star guide that would be clear, accurate and easy for students (and amateur astronomers) to follow, and in 1833 published the first edition of a star atlas and accompanying textbook as Geography of the Heavens or, Familiar Instructions for Finding the Visible Stars and Constellations, Accompanied by a Celestial Atlas (the atlas was known as Atlas of the Heavens). The works were greeted with enthusiasm by teachers and the press for their affordability and lucid content, especially the third edition in 1835, which contained newly engraved maps. The maps for the 1835 edition were based on the work of British author Alexander Jamieson (which, in turn, was derivative of earlier English and European star charts). Burritt’s insight was that celestial globes were expensive and impractical for comparing with an actual night sky, and that finding stars was daunting for a beginner. His atlas emphasized the most visible stars in four maps corresponding to the skies at different seasons and two circumpolar maps. The renderings of the constellation figures were visually graphic and appealing. Burritt did not live to see the full extent of his success; in search of new opportunities he relocated to the newly independent nation of Texas in 1837, and died of yellow fever the following year. The atlas and book remained exceedingly popular with schools and the general public, and was published in various editions over the next 40 years or so.
Condition: We have various sets available from time to time. Each set we offer has been professionally restored (for marginal chips, tears, etc.), cleaned to remove staining and discoloration, deacidified and expertly re-colored by hand. Please contact us regarding currently available prints and specific condition information.
"39. Elijah Burritt: Atlas of the Heavens, New York, 1835." Out of This World. http://www.lhl.lib.mo.us/pubserv/hos/stars/bur.htm (16 June 2003).
Gagliardi, Frank. "Elijah Hinsdale Buritt." Elihu Burritt Archives, Central Connecticut State University. http://wilson.ccsu.edu/lib/archives/burritt/burr21.html (16 June 2003).Kidwell, Peggy Aldrich. “Elijah Burritt and the ‘Geography of the Heavens.’” Sky & Telescope. January 1985. pp. 26-28.