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Globe, Astronomy, Armillary Sphere, Copernican, Internal Orrery, Pasteboard, French

Copernican Armillary Sphere with Internal Orrery
French: Early 20th Century
Pasteboard with ebonized wooden base
21 inches high; 12 inches diameter
Price on request

A French Copernican armillary sphere incorporating an orrery, of traditional form. The armillary is framed by equinoctial and solstitial colure rings and surrounded by a circular flat zodiac band at the equator with classical mythological illustrations of the signs of the zodiac corresponding to months of the year. In the center of the structure is a vertical brass rod supporting a wooden sphere with plain paper gores representing the sun, surrounded by an orrery comprised of the 10 rotating curved brass arms, each ending with a disc indicating a planet or asteroid. In addition, the orrery has a spherical (rather than disc form) brass Earth rotating on a separate apparatus. The entire armillary structure with internal orrery is surmounted by an ebonized turned finial, and raised on a  ebonized wood stand with a circular ring-turned central standard and turned round dish base.

Product description continues below.


Other than Earth, the planets — and four asteroids between Mars and Jupiter — are represented by circular discs set atop rotating curved brass arms. Each disc has a paper label on each side with title name and text in French. The discs, graduated by relative size to each other — though not in proportion to the actual planets and asteroids — are from inner to outer: Mercure [Mercury], Venus, Mars, Ceres, Pallas, Junon [Juno], Vesta, Jupiter, Uranus, and Taurus. Earth revolves on a separate mechanism between Venus and Mars. The disc arms and Earth apparatus revolve by turning them by hand to illustrate their movement in the solar system. They can also all be revolved at once by turning the top finial by hand.

This armillary orrery — apparently based on early to mid 19th century examples produced by the French globe makers — is apparently later issued with significant differences. Curiously, the armillary does not have a Saturn planet disc (as issued, not lacking), as typically present on earlier examples. In addition, it has an outer disc labeled “Taurus” (of unknown significance) rather than Neptune (discovered in 1846), which would be typical on mid-19th-century examples. Although the construction of the armillary is somewhat complex, it has other simplifications in construction and style as compared with earlier 19th-century examples by the French maker Delamarche. Accordingly, we consider this a decorative device — though still serving its original purpose as an astronomical teaching model —  probably early 20th century.

Armillary spheres are astronomical demonstration devices designed to show basic principles of the solar system. They are open in form, composed of a circle of celestial and astronomical rings. Indeed, the word “armillary” is derived from the Latin word armilla meaning circle or bracelet. Armillary spheres date back to ancient Greece and were commonly produced in England, France and Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries and continued to be manufactured in the 20th century. Nonetheless, even earlier examples were made, and in different countries. For example, Ptolemaic armillary spheres were produced in Islamist countries, reaching advanced levels as early as the 10th century.

An armillary sphere with the sun at the center is known as Copernican named after the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) who formulated a model of the solar system in which the planets, including earth, revolve around the sun. An armillary sphere with Earth at the center is known as Ptolemaic, named after the 2nd century A.D. Alexandrian astronomer Ptolemy who formulated the geocentric theory of the solar system. A Copernican armillary sphere generally illustrates the revolution of planets (and asteroids) within the solar system with a central sun sphere surrounded by either concentric planetary rings or an internal orrery with discs or spheroid planets. A Ptolemaic armillary sphere generally has an earth globe surrounded by circles representing the Tropics of Cancer and of Capricorn, polar circles, a meridian and a horizon band. Notwithstanding that Ptolemaic armillary spheres have a terrestrial globe in the center rather than the sun, they were created to show modern principles of astronomy,  including the ecliptic plane of the earth and how that relates to the apparent path of the sun and the visibility of various constellations in the zodiac throughout the year.

The offered device is a  Copernican armillary insofar as the instrument shows the sun at the center to the solar system, with the planets revolving around it. The discs representing the planetary orbits may be considered an internal orrery — an instrument that shows the proportional size and relative position of the planets, and timing of their revolution. Another related standard type of French Copernican pasteboard armillary sphere represents the planets as concentric rotating rings, rather than an internal orrery with revolving discs.

Condition: Armillary sphere generally fine with only light overall toning, wear, handling and slight warping.  Complete, as issued.


Allmayer-Beck, Peter E., ed. Modelle der Welt: Erd-und Himmelsgloben — Kulturerbe aus oesterreichischen Sammlungen. [Models Of The World: Terrestrial And Celestial Globes — Cultural Inheritance from Austrian Collections.] Vienna: Bibliophile Edition/Christian Brandstaetter Verlagsgesellschaft, 1997. p. 156.

Dahl, Edward H. and Gauvin, Jean-François. Sphaerae Mundi: Early Globes at the Stewart Museum. Canada: Septentrion and McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2000. p. 150.

Dekker, Elly, et al. Globes at Greenwich: A Catalogue of the Globes and Armillary Spheres in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. London: Oxford University Press and the National Maritime Museum, 1999. p. 352.

Dekker, Elly and van der Krogt, Peter. Globes from the Western World. London: Zwemmer, 1993. pp. 70, 74.

Tooley, R.V. Maps and Map-Makers. 4th Ed. New York: Bonanza Books, 1970. p. 44.

Khan, Samia. The Armillary Sphere: A Concentrate of Knowledge in Islamic Astronomy. Manchester, UK: FSTC Ltd., December 2007. pp. 2-13.

Additional information

Maker Location

Globe Type

Armillary, Orrery


Brass, Ebonized, Wood