Elucidatio Fabricae ususque Astrolabii

Oppenheim, Jacobus Kobel, 1513 (colophon 1512).


FIRST EDITION. ff. xii, lxxviii. Roman and Gothic letter. Title within fine woodcut architectural border, putti above, numerous woodcut diagrams, charts and illustrations, some full-page, those on A6v, C4v and D3r with extension slips (single extension slip of D3 loosely inserted), woodcut arms of George Simler to **6 verso, fine white on black woodcut initials in various sizes, charming criblé white on black printer’s device at recto of last, **6 verso with poem by Philipp Melanchthon, occasional early ink marginalia in and English hand, early English manuscript price mark (3s 4d) at head of title page. Light age yellowing, title page a little soiled, minor restorations to lower blank corners of first three and last two leaves, light, mostly marginal, water-staining, the occasional thumb mark or minor stain, fractionally trimmed at outer margin. A good copy in contemporary speckled calf, sympathetically re-backed, spine gilt ruled in compartments with fleurons gilt to centres, morocco label gilt. a.e.r.

First edition of this hugely important and beautifully illustrated work, the first book of original astronomy published in the C16th. The most comprehensive treatise on the astrolable of its time, it was handsomely printed at the first press in Oppenheim. ‘Stoeffler recognized that, in mapping, computation of the distance between two places whose latitude and longitude were known failed to take into account the convergence of the meridians’ (Stillwell). The poem by Melanchthon, who was Stoeffler’s student, is possibly his first appearance in print.

Johann Stoeffler (1452-1531) was a mathematician, astronomer and instrument-maker who was appointed to the chair of mathematics and astronomy at the University of Tuebingen. His Elucidatio fabricae ususque astrolabii was one of the most influential books published on the astrolabe, with editions extending from 1513 into the seventeenth century. He was the teacher of Philipp Melanchthon, Johannes Schöner, and Sebastian Münster and a key member of the generation who considered Regiomontanus the paragon of Renaissance astronomers. Stoeffler adopted a programme of astronomical observation and publication of tables, and promoted the importance of precision instruments and practical accounts of how they worked. “Stoeffler devotes Part one to the construction of the components of an astrolabe, including marking the lines on the latitude plates; setting out the rete (with the star positions in Latin and Arabic); applying the calendar scale, the shadow square and the unequal hours lines to the back; making the rule, alidade, axis and suspension shackle. Stoeffler also discusses an horary quadrant for equal hours, the use of the shadow square in surveying, and the astrological applications of the astrolabe. Such was the currency of his account that ‘Stoeffler’s astrolabe’ came to stand for fixed-latitude astrolabes, as distinct from the universal ones.” J. Bennett and D. Bertoloni Meli, Sphaera Mundi: Astronomy Books in the Whipple Museum 1478-1600.

The second part of the work gives detailed explanations the use of the astrolabe with equally remarkable woodcut illustrations. Stoeffler ends his work with a discussion of perspective and measurement. Jacob Koebel, the printer of this work, was a surveyor and practical mathematician in Oppenheim, near Mainz. He was also a prolific printer and publisher of his own works. After publishing this work by his friend, Johann Stoeffler, in 1513, Koebel went on to produce his own treatise on the astrolabe.

USTC 649878. BM STC Ger. 834.C16th Adams S1886. Houzeau & Lancaster 3256.  Stillwell Science, 892. Wellcome 6099.


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