London, C. Nourse, 1781,Folio (ca 560 x 400 mm), pp [iv] 9 , with engraved portrait, vignette on title, headpiece, initial, and tailpiece, and 25 double-page star maps (on 26 sheets) and 2 double-page planispheres; a fine copy, uncut and unpressed, in contemporary boards, paper spine perished but original manuscript label remaining.
Third issue (first 1729), with the title reprinted, original list of subscribers discarded, otherwise comprising the original sheets of text; the plates were reprinted with plate numbers added. This is the most celebrated, important, and influential star atlas of the eighteenth century, superior to all its predecessors. This is the first star atlas based upon telescopic determinations of star positions and magnitudes.
‘Appointed in 1675 to the newly created post of Astronomer Royal, Flamsteed took up residence at Greenwich and there compiled the first telescopic catalog of the positions and magnitudes of the northern stars. The resultant “Stellarum Inerrantium Catalogus Britannicus”, still unfinished at his death, along with his other observations, was edited and published in 1725… in the Historia Coelestis Britannicae. Accompanying the catalog Flamsteed prepared a set of celestial maps that, in his own words, were to be “the glory of the work, and, next the catalogue, the usefullest part of it”. These also were published posthumously by his loyal friends’ (Warner, The sky explored).
As early as 1692 Flamsteed had developed his own system of projection, known as the Sanson-Flamsteed sinusoidal projection, and had plotted the stars of ten constellations. The charts were prepared under his direction by Thomas Weston (who appears in the list of subscribers). Flamsteed argued with Newton over the order of publication of his star catalogue, observations, and the star maps. ‘Flamsteed, a great observer who understood the usefulness of the maps, “chiefly urged that the maps of the constellations should be first of all set upon: that, being carried on apart, they might be finished by the time the observations were printed off”. Newton, however, primarily interested in star positions for calculations, omitted all mention of the charts in his publication proposals and reports. In 1705 Flamsteed was writing that “Sir I. Newton would have the great catalog printed without the maps. I cannot consent to so sneaking a proposition”. Newton’s will prevailed. The Historia Coelestis of 1712 contained neither the observations nor the charts, but only the star catalogue, as amended by Halley. Although Flamsteed was able to destroy almost all copies of the spurious volume in 1714, a few copies remained at large’ (Ibid).
In 1715 Flamsteed began preparing the maps for publication. Abraham Sharp drew the coordinates and positioned the stars. Sir James Thornhill and other artists drew the figures, based upon Weston’s work, and various engravers transferred them to copper. Flamsteed himself died in 1719, and it took another ten years for the work to be published. About 110 copies were subscribed for, including one by Isaac Newton.
Thornhill’s elegant Rococo figures are described by Warner as constituting the last important celestial atlas style. The fine portrait is engraved by Vertue after Gibson. The title vignette and headpiece are by L.B. Catenaro, engraved by L. du Guernier. A few of the plates are signed by the engraver J. Mynde.
Evidently undistributed stock remained; the work was reissued in 1753, and again, as here, in 1781. The original list of subscribers was discarded, but the dedication to the by-that-time deceased George II was retained. Plate numbers were added to the plates.
Shirley C.FLAM-1a; Warner pp 80-82