ANTIQUE ASTRONOMICAL BOOKS

Eddie Carpenter, Bristol Astronomical Society, on 1 December 2002

This talk was intended to be a guide for those needing to make a choice of Christmas present from the enormous number of books on astronomy in the shops at this time of the year. Somehow, that message did not get through. Had it done so, Mr Carpenter would not have taken up the challenge - his passion is antique astronomical books. In fact, he said that he was surprised to be asked to talk on this subject - he had never been asked to do so before and could not recall anybody ever offering such a talk!

Only three people attended this talk perhaps due to the co-incident talk by the local MEP on Europe taking place upstairs which attracted our more broadly interested BRLSI members. The intimate nature of the gathering enabled those three persons fortunate enough to be present to handle and examine in some detail the rare antique books on astronomy in the speaker's collection. Mr Carpenter described how each book featured in the history of astronomy. There were beautiful engravings of lunar features and intriguing star-atlases from the late 19th and late 18th century. The speaker's most prized book was really a collection of articles published early in the 20th century by giants of amateur astronomy such as Steavenson, Goodacre, Maunder and others.

When the writer was in his teens, he made a simple x30 telescope from a 2/- non-achromatic lens, a post tube and a magnifier. Propping it up in a window-frame, he observed the Moon. By measuring the diurnal drift time between the entry of the terminator into the field of view and that of the Jura Mountains (whose eastern peaks were just catching the rising sun) he calculated, from this time and the known distance of the Moon, the height of these mountains to be 15,000 feet. At the time he could find no confirmation and had almost forgotten this observation until tonight when he was able, for the first time, to learn, from Walter Goodacre's Lunar Atlas, that his measurement was correct! Perhaps at least one of those present should be grateful for the poor turnout for, without the leisure to pore over the books the speaker passed around, he would not have made such a discovery.

Mr Carpenter also auctioned some recent and less rare second-hand books, offering any profit made to the Herschel Group. The purchases raised £5 for the Group - which went towards the speaker's travelling expenses.

The speaker was very interested in the Institution's astronomical books, some of which were displayed in a nearby cabinet. He expressed particular interest in the author of a star atlas and the date of edition of John Herschel's A Treatise on Astronomy. Unfortunately we were unable to gain access but I am sure that the Institution would invite Mr Carpenter to study them at a later date.

Christmas this year could well be an expensive time for the families of those present!

Richard Phillips