The British Library
An Exhibition Of British Solar Eclipse
Although nowadays we regard eclipses of the sun as natural albeit spectacular astronomical events, even as late as the eighteenth century they were thought to be the work of the devil. Eclipses have been predicted and diagrams drawn of them from at least the time of Aristotle and Claudius Ptolemy, but true eclipse maps, in the sense of geographical maps showing the paths of eclipses are a phenomenon of the eighteenth century onwards. Diagrams of solar eclipses occur in the Renaissance versions of Ptolemy's astronomical work the Almagest and, for example, Peter Apian's Cosmographicus first published in 1524. Accurate predictions, however, did not emerge until Edmond Halley (1656-1742) revolutionised astronomy and introduced the eclipse map and many other scientific thematic maps which influenced map-makers for the rest of the century and beyond.
|1||Letterpress broadside map predicting the annular eclipse of 18 February
1737 by John Haynes. Although this is rather crudely engraved it
is an unusual example of a very decorative eclipse map in colour.
|2||This complicated-looking geometrical diagram by Joseph Crosthwait shows
how the 1715 eclipse would appear in the London area. The geographical
type of eclipse map was much easier to understand and therefore more successful.
|3||A broadside by Thomas Taylor for the 1724 eclipse reflecting the fairly sophisticated nature of these separately sold sheets. 1t contains detailed information, written and visual, about how and why an eclipse occurs. The attractive view at top right shows people observing a total solar eclipse. Maps (unallocated).|
|4||The first ever eclipse map, by Edmond Halley, predicting the eclipse
of 1715. Halley also made history by predicting the timing to within
four minutes. The heavily shaded oval disc represents the umbra or
|5||Detail of a solar eclipse on John Speed's world map from A prospect
of the most famous parts of the world (1627). Although this is decorative
and illustrates the cause of solar eclipses, it is not particularly informative.
Maps *920. (48.). (Photocopy).
|6||Diagram of a solar eclipse from the Almagest by Claudius Ptolemy.
This was published in 15 3 7 but the information dates back to Ancient
Greece. Eclipses have been scientifically observed from Antiquity
particularly for their use in determining longitude.
Maps C.c.2.(3.). (Photocopy).
|7||Chart by William Rogers (1738) showing the appearances and times of
eclipses in London until 1760. Although no total solar eclipse is
shown, the 1748 eclipse was total over Scotland and there were annular
eclipses in 1737 and 1764 over Ireland and Scotland and south-cast England
|8||York mathematician George Smith invented this skewed projection to
depict the path round the globe of the 1737 eclipse. The map also
includes digit lines and double circles to indicate the appearance of the
sun at various locations.
|9||Laurie and Whittle. 'Multi-track' retrospective eclipse map showing
the tracks of the 1715, 1724, 1737, 1748 and 1764 eclipses, published in
1794. The 'Century of eclipses' was rounded o]T with maps such as
these., but the eclipse paths are very approximate.
|10||Map by Charles Desnos predicting the annular eclipse of 1764 over Europe.
This is a rare example of black and sepia colour printing in the 18th century,
achieved by using two separate copper plates. The map also features
digit lines and a decorative cartouche.
|11||Map predicting the 1737 annular eclipse by self-taught Durham astronomer
Thomas Wright. This map is very accurate and in the classic Halley
tradition, but with the addition of 52 double circles to indicate the amount
of obscuration of the sun in different locations.
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