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Map, Astronomy, Diagram, Eclipse of the Sun, Asa Smith, Antique Watercolor, New York, 1839 (Sold)

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Asa Smith (artist and astronomer)
Eclipse of the Sun. 1846. April 25th.
New York: December 6, 1839
Pen and ink and watercolor on paper
Signed and inscribed lower margin
14.25 x 11.25 inches sheet size
17.5 x 14.5 inches, frame overall

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Original manuscript illustration of the predicted solar eclipse of April 25, 1846, with handwritten notations, dedicated December 6, 1839. This work is by Asa Smith, the author and artist for the diagrams in the popular 19th-century textbook, Smith’s Illustrated Astronomy, which was first published in 1848 and done in a similar artistic style to Eclipse of the Sun. A circular map of the eastern hemisphere of the earth is overlaid with red and purple circles representing the sun and moon, and with linear geometric diagrams. In the upper left margin is a key titled “Elements,” listing the angles and measurements presented in the diagram. Additional data is provided under the title in the top margin.

Product description continues below.


Under the heading “Explanations,” Smith writes:

”The dark shade on the Hemisphere represents the moon passing between the Sun and Earth. The red shade represents the sun eclipsed by the moon.This eclipse is here represented as it will appear at its greatest obscuration viewed through a smoked glass. To view this eclipse as it will appear in the Heavens hold it up with the back presented to your eye and look through it towards the place where the eclipse will appear. The moon will pass over the sun from the right hand toward the left.”

The dedication in the bottom margin reads: “Calculated & Drawn by Asa Smith Teacher in Public School No. 12 New York and by him presented to his former youthful school fellow and associate William E. Nichols as a token of his continued friendship and esteem.” It is plausible that William E. Nichols was associated with the Boston firm Chase & Nichols , which first published Smith’s Illustrated Astronomy in 1848, but this has not been verified.

Smith’s Illustrated Astronomy was the most widely published American pictorial astronomy book of the 19th century, with numerous diagrams demonstrating or showing principles of planetary motion and features, other astronomical phenomena, the moon, and the constellations. One of the prints from the published set includes nine diagrams of solar and lunar eclipses. 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 of Smith’s Illustrated Astronomy followed.

In his preface to Smith’s Illustrated Astronomy, Smith, who had become the principal at Public School No. 12, located at 17th Street and Eighth Avenue in New York City, explained that the purpose of his book 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.

This is a rare original astronomy chart by the most prolifically published 19th century artist and educator in common school astronomy.

Additional information


19th Century