Johnstonís School Astronomical Atlas
Victorian Color-plate Astronomy and Celestial Atlas
seutter Celestial


Detail from atlas

Plate (above) with detail (below)

Detail from atlas
Detail from atlas Detail from atlas

Plate (above left) and detail (above right)

Alexander Keith Johnston (editor and illustrator) (1804-1871)
Robert Grant (1814-1892) (text)
Johnstonís School Astronomical Atlas
W. & A.K. Johnston, Edinburgh and London: 1877
Quarto, 21 2-page chromolithograph folding plates plus text

A Victorian astronomy atlas with 21 color plates accompanied by text. It is described on the title page as “a complete series of illustrations of the heavenly bodies …with an elementary survey of the heavens designed as an accompaniment to this atlas.” The chromolithographic plates are double page, generally with blue background, showing various basic principles of planetary motion, the seasons, eclipses, constellations, etc. The book is bound in red cloth boards, with gold and black embossed title and a cover design in the Aesthetic Movement taste.

This atlas was a collaboration between two distinguished figures in British natural history -- the geographer and publisher Alexander Keith Johnston and the astronomer and academician Robert Grant. Alexander Keith Johnston was a cartographer, publisher and geographer who with his brother William founded the geographical publishing house of W. & A.K. Johnston in 1826. Robert Grant was Regius Professor of Astronomy at the University of Glasgow and Director of the Observatory from 1859 to 1892. He became a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1850 and made his reputation in scientific circles with the publication of History of Physical Astronomy from the Earliest Ages to the Middle of the Nineteenth Century (1852). At the University of Glasgow he made improvements in the equipment at the Observatory and worked on research projects and publications.

W. & A.K. Johnston was a major geographical publishing house, co-founded by the brothers William (1802-1888) and Alexander Keith (1804-1871) Johnston began as apprentices to the Scottish globe maker and publisher James Kirkwood (fl. 1774-1824). After a fire at the Kirkwood's Edinburgh workshop, they set up their own workshop, publishing maps, atlases, gazetteers and globes. They were among the most important figures in the production of globes in the late 19th century and early 20th century, and produced the first physical globe, which won a number of medals at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Although a British manufacturer, they were highly influential in producing globes to be sold in America under the Johnston name, or under the name of American globe makers and school supply houses, a practice which continued well into the early 20th century. Their notable atlases included the National Atlas of General Geography (1843) and innovative thematic atlases such as the Physical Atlas (1846) and the Atlas of Natural Phenomena. They received a royal appointment, hence the cartouche of their globes is surmounted by the royal coat of arms. The firm continued operations under the Johnston name until the 1960s, when it was absorbed into another company.

Title page text: “School Atlas of Astronomy Comprising in Twenty-one Plates a Complete Series of Illustrations of the Heavenly Bodies by Alex. Keith Johnston LL.D. F.R.S.E. F.R.G.S. F.G.S. Geographer to the Queen; Author of “The Physical Atlas,” “The Royal Atlas,” Etc. New and Enlarged Edition with an Elementary Survey of the Heavens Designed as an Accompaniment to This Atlas by Robert Grant M.A. L.L.D. F.R.S. F.R.A.S. Professor of Astronomy and director of the Observatory in the University of Glasgow.”

Condition: Contents very good with the usual overall light toning and wear. Some occasional minor pale scattered foxing. Covers good, extremities and spine with scattered rubbing and fraying, slight separation of cloth at upper spine, but still sound.


“Alexander Keith Johnston.” Gazetteer for Scotland. 1995-2008. (15 September 2008).

“Biography of Robert Grant.” (15 September 2008).