Plates from Smith’s Illustrated Astronomy
Mid 19th Century Solar System Illustrations and Star Charts
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Asa Smith (artist and editor)
Geo. C. Rand & Avery, Boston, C.A. Alvord, et al. (printers)
Vincent L. Dill, New York (stereotyper)
Smith’s Illustrated Astronomy
Chase & Nichols, Boston: 1848
Daniel Burgess & Co., 60 John Street, New York: 1852
Samuel F. Nichols, Boston: 1860 & 1866
Hand-colored woodblock prints
11 x 9 inches each
$200 each

Each set is individually hand-colored, so colors may vary from those shown here.
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Smith’s Illustrated Astronomy was the most popular American pictorial astronomy guide of the 19th century, with numerous diagrams demonstrating or showing  principles of planetary motion and features, other astronomical phenomena, the moon, and the constellations.  Also included is a picture of the use of an orrery in an elementary classroom. The visual elements in Smith’s astronomical prints are characterized by large graphic blocks of white against black, repeating geometric forms, and linear elements, typically circles and ovals representing orbits.  Originally copyrighted in 1848, numerous editions followed. 

In his Preface, Smith, the Principal of Public School No. 12, located at 17th Street and Eighth Avenue in New York City, explained that the purpose of this series was “to present all distinguishing principles in physical Astronomy with as few words as possible; but with such ocular demonstrations, by way of diagrams and maps, as shall make the subject easily understood.”   He also noted that “[t]he Diagrams, which are larger and more full than those of any other work adapted to common schools, are many of them original in their design.”  Smith further stated that the creation of the series “occupied the whole of his spare time for nearly three years; the most laborious part of it being the drawing of the diagrams, &c. on wood, ready for the tool of the engraver which was done by the Author himself.”  In other words, Smith created and drew each print on a woodblock, and then a specialist wood engraver engraved the images into the wood for printing.

The full title is: “Smith’s Illustrated Astronomy, Designed for the Use of the Public or Common Schools in the United States.  Illustrated with Numerous Original Diagrams.  By Asa Smith, Former Principal of Public School No. 12, City of New York.”  According to the original Preface, James H. Partridge, Principal of Ward School No. 18 assisted in revising text and correcting proofs.  According to the title page of the 1866 edition, Smith’s Illustrated Astronomy was “revised and improved from notes and manuscripts of the new discoveries, which have been made to the present date [1860], furnished by Prof. Newcomb, of the Astronomical department at Cambridge, Mass.”

Chase & Nichols was a Boston publishing firm active from about the late 1840s through the mid 1860s, sometimes publishing as Chase, Nichols & Hill.  They produced textbooks, children’s literature and other books.  Daniel, Burgess & Co., was publisher  of Tower’s Series of School Books for elementary school books.

Condition: Each generally good with the usual overall toning and wear.  Some with minor edge chipping, short marginal tears, marginal stains, etc.

Titles of prints shown above: Saturn; The Seasons; Tides; Signs of the Zodiac; Eclipses of the Sun and Moon (2 different prints); Definitions; Mars, Asteroids & Jupiter; Phases of the Moon; Orbits of the Planets; [Orrery]; Terrestrial & Celestial Globes; Refraction, Parallax, Light & Heat; Moons Nodes, Eclipses, &c.; Mercury & Venus; Jupiter; Herschel or Uranus, & Leverrier or Neptune; Greatest Number of Eclipses in One Year; [Comets]; Aerolites, Meteors, &c.; Solar System; and Telescopic View of the Full Moon.