John Flamsteed

John Flamsteed with his celestial charts from the famous
Atlas Coelestis

We are offering 30 double-page sized copper engraved maps with decorative colouring. They are from the rare Portuguese edition, based on the French one of 1795

John Flamsteed (19 August 1646 - 31 December 1719) was an English astronomer.

He was an autodidact in mathematics and astronomy. Already as a young boy he began watching the sky using self-constructed instruments, soon being able to predict eclipses and to calculate the positions of celestial bodies. By that, he shortly attracted the awareness of the Royal Society.

Flamsteed convinced King Charles II of the urgency to establish a new astronomical observatory to be able to make more exact astronomical observations possible which was necessary for navigational purposes. This was an important point as at that time the exact definition of the position of ships was not yet possible. The solution of that problem was important for the trade and extension of colonial Britain. Thus, the king decided to build the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, whose foundation stone was laid by Flamsteed in 1675. In 1676, Flamsteed was appointed the first head of the observatory and so the first British Astronomer Royal.

In February 1676 he became member of the Royal Society and in July he moved into the observatory. There he lived up to 1684 when he was appointed priest to the parish of Burstow, Surrey. He held that office, as well as that of Astronomer Royal, until his death in 1719.

Over 43 years, Flamsteed collected data of about 2800 stars that were visible over England, and he introduced a system of numbers for their systematic denotation which is still used today.

In 1712 Isaac Newton and Edmund Halley published parts of this star catalogue named Historia Coelestis Brittanica, without stating the real author. Flamsteed who was angry about his unauthorised publication of his discoveries managed to buy most of the published books. He finally burned them publicly in front of the Greenwich observatory. Flamsteed's authorised edition occurred only posthumously in 1725, under the title Stellarum Inerrantium Catalogus Britannicus.

Flamsteed's Atlas Coelestis

Planned as supplement to Flamsteed’s star catalogue, the famous Atlas Coelestis was published in 1729, containing 28 celestial charts. It is considered the up to then most extensive celestial atlas depicting more luminaries than the earlier works of Johannes Hevelius and Johann Bayer.

The Atlas Coelestis is the first extensive work using an equatorial coordinate system with the projection of the terrestrial equator on the sky as reference level. The position of the celestial bodies is given as right ascension (equivalent of terrestrial longitude) and declination (equivalent of latitude). The same system is applied in modern-day atlases.

The Flamsteed atlas was first published in Latin in 1729, followed by 8 further revised editions in several languages:

1776: J. Fortin published a small French “Second Edition” of Flamsteed’s atlas.

1782: Johann Elert Bode published an atlas in German, based on the French “Second Edition” of Flamsteed’s atlas.

1795: Joseph Jerome De Lalande and Pierre Francois Andre Mechain updated Fortin’s atlas of 1776 in their French “Third Edition” of Flamsteed’s atlas.

1799: Christian Goldbach published an atlas in German with white stars on a black background. It was virtually the same as the 1795 French “Third Edition” of Flamsteed’s atlas except for the reversed colours and the fact that Goldbach included two versions of each chart – one with constellation figures and one without.

1804: A Portuguese version of the 1795 French “Third Edition” was published.

1805: Bode updated and reissued his atlas of 1782 including many new constellations, stars and nebulae.

1819: Goldbach’s atlas of white stars on a black background was reissued.

1822: Alexander Jamieson published the last variation of Flamsteed’s atlas, one in English.

We are offering 30 double-page, coloured copper engraved celestial charts from the rare edition in Portuguese, printed 1804 in Lisbon. It has been revised by Jean Fortin and Jerome Lalande and is based on the French edition of 1795.