Wondrous Devices: Astronomical Instruments and Teaching Tools of the Victorian Era

February 10–December 30, 2018

Precision-made instruments are an essential part of scientific inquiry and discovery. The astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts of the late nineteenth century created tools and teaching aids that were highly sophisticated, thereby bringing the wonders of scientific discovery to the public.

The objects on view in Wondrous Devices are representative of the expert and amateur advancements that occurred during the Victorian era. Among them you will find a widely-used astronomy textbook, published and illustrated by a New England school teacher; an astronomical balance, invented by a French watchmaker; and a spectroscope, created by an American family of telescope-makers. All are indicative of the cutting-edge work of nineteenth-century astronomy.

These astronomical instruments and teachings tools, many of which are on loan from the Hastings Historical Society and Tesseract Early Scientific Instruments Inc. of Hastings-on-Hudson, are notable not just for the quality of their construction, but also for their distinctly Victorian aesthetic, such as hand-engraved trademarks, floral decorative elements, and polished elements of brass—the preferred precision metal of the time.


Curated by Marc Taylor, Manager, Planetarium and Science Programs, Hudson River Museum.

Mattison, Hiram, and Elijah H. Burritt. Atlas designed to illustrate Burritt’s Geography of the heavens (detail). [New York: Sheldon, 1856] Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/77370907/.