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Astronomy, Planisphere, Mobile Simplifie, Charles Dien, Paris, Revolving Disk on Card, Antique, 1839


Charles Dien, Jr. (after) (1809-1870)
Planisphère Mobile Simplifié donnant immédiatement l’aspect du Ciel & Dressé par Ch. Dien
[Simplified Moveable Planisphere Immediately Showing the Appearance of the Sky and Prepared by Charles Dien]

Alphonse Giroux, Paris: 1839
Printed paper on cardboard, with a central turning disk
18.5 x 15 inches

Rectangular planisphere showing the constellations with stars in graduated sizes, connected by straight lines. A planisphere is a portable device designed to aid in the study of stars and constellations visible in the night sky at any given date and time, generally for a particular locale. This one consists of a front card with applied engraved paper title and dial –and having a cut out circular opening — bound at the edges with a red paper border to a blank back card to form a holder. It has an inner revolving disk comprised of a hemispheric celestial map mounted on card. The disk can be rotated by hand from either left or right side where it extends beyond slits. For use, it is rotated to match up the hour and minute of the day and compass points on the front — to the day and month printed on the inner celestial map — revealing the visible constellations within the cutout area. The disk is sometimes referred to by the antiquated word “volvelle,” used to describe rotating disks on various calculating devices.

Product description continues below.


The publisher’s name and address is on a paper label pasted at the top, and a brief text in French, pasted at the bottom, provides instructions for using the device and gives an example, translated into English below. It indicates that there had been a wire (or string) attached to the central rivet that held the dial in place that could be moved to help line up the inner and outer dials:

Example: One would like to obtain the appearance of the sky for the 15th of October, at 9 p.m.? — The wire is placed on the number IX of the East side of the horizon, and the 15th of October under the wire. By this arrangement one sees that the constellations of Cepheus, Pegasus, Aquarius and Piscis Austrinus are at the meridian; those of Taurus, Auriga and Draco appear in the East and therefore are rising, while Boötes, Serpens and Sagittarius are setting in the West.

The two engravings that comprise this planisphere are in the collection of the French national library, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, in uncut, unassembled form, which the library has dated 1839 and placed online (see References below).

Charles Dien, Jr. was a French astronomer and globe maker, who produced a popular series of celestial atlases and maps. His father, Charles Dien, Sr., had been an engraver and associate of the globe making firm of Félix Delamarche around 1819. From at least 1833 until the 1850s, the younger Charles Dien produced several globes under his own name, mostly celestial, and a few terrestrial globes as well. He also published several atlases of astronomical phenomena and in 1833 a description of the use of the celestial globe. Charles Jr. introduced an innovation in celestial maps with his Uranographia in 1831, a wall map without traditional pictorial illustrations of constellation figures. Instead he indicated the constellations with straight lines connecting the principal stars, which more closely approximated the actual appearance of the skies while providing more visual cues to assist in recognizing the patterns than maps of the stars alone. This method also made it easier to show newly discovered stars. Dien’s idea gained wide acceptance and is still used on star maps and planispheres for amateur astronomers today. Dien Jr. also collaborated with the French astronomer Nicolas Camille Flammarion (1842-1925) on Atlas Céleste, a comprehensive atlas of over 100,000 stars and nebulae, and editions were published from 1865 into the 20th century, well after Dien’s death.

Alphonse Giroux & Compagnie was a dealer and manufacturer of fancy goods and cabinetry in Paris. The firm was founded around 1799 by François-Simon Giroux at 7 rue du Coq-Saint-Honore in Paris, selling fancy goods and stationery. The company added cabinetry from 1834. Giroux’s descendants Alphonse-Gustave (1810-1886) and André (1801-1879) took over in 1838. Operating as Alphonse Giroux et Compagnie, in 1839 they began offering daguerreotype supplies for the new medium of photography and manufactured the first commercial camera. The company moved in 1857 to 43 boulevard des Capucines and was sold in 1867 to Duvinage Harinbouck.

Full publication information: Alph. Giroux & Cie. Rue du Coq S’t. Honoré, No. 7, à Paris.

Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning, wear, soiling, discoloration, abrasions, warping. Some chipping and losses to red border. Formerly with central rivet, and connecting string or wire, now lacking.


Dekker, Elly and van der Krogt, Peter. Globes from the Western World. London: Zwemmer, 1993. pp. 78,83 and 173.

“Globe Terrestre par Charles Dien, Paris, 1834.” Christie’s. 4 October 2006. (30 July 2013).

Kanas, Nick. Star Maps: History, Artistry, and Cartography. Berlin, Heidelberg, New York: Springer-Praxis Books, 2009 (2nd ed.). pp. 295-296. Online at Google Books: (30 July 2013).

“Maison Alphonse Giroux.” Musée d’Orsay. 2006. (30 July 2013).

“Planisphère Mobile Simplifié donnant immédiatement l’aspect du Ciel & Dressé par Ch. Dien.” Bibliothèque Nationale de France. (30 July 2013).

Additional information


19th Century