Urania's Mirror; or, a view of the Heavens is a set of 32 astronomical star chart cards, first published in November 1824. They had illustrations based on Alexander Jamieson's A Celestial Atlas, but the addition of holes punched in them allowed them to be held up to a light to see a depiction of the constellation's stars. They were engraved by Sidney Hall, and were said to be designed by "a lady", but, in fact, were designed by the Reverend Richard Rouse Bloxam, the assistant master at Rugby School at the time. The cards were contained in a box depicting Urania, the muse of astronomy, which also contained a book entitled A Familiar Treatise on Astronomy... written to accompany the cards.
Urania's Mirror illustrates 79 constellations, some of which are now obsolete, and various subconstellations, such as Caput Medusæ (the head of Medusa, carried by Perseus). It was originally advertised as including "all the constellations visible in the British Empire", but, in fact, leaves out the southern constellations (which can be seen from Australia) and, by the second edition, the advertisements were changed to merely claim illustration of the constellations visible from "Great Britain". Some cards focus on a single constellation, others include several, with Card 32, centered around Hydra, illustrating twelve constellations (several of which are no longer recognised). Card 28 has six constellations, and no other card has more than four. Each card measures 8 inches by 5½ (about 20 by 14 cm). A book by Jehoshaphat Aspin entitled A Familiar Treatise on Astronomy (or, to give its full name, A Familiar Treatise on Astronomy, Explaining the General Phenomena of the Celestial Bodies; with Numerous Graphical Illustrations) was written to accompany the cards. Both the book and cards were originally published by Samuel Leigh, 18 Strand, London, although the publishing firm had moved to 421 Strand and changed its name to M. A. Leigh by the time of the fourth edition. The cards and books came within a box illustrated with a woman almost certainly intended to be Urania, muse of astronomy.
P.D. Hingley calls it "One of the most charming and visually attractive of the many aids to astronomical self-instruction produced in the early nineteenth century". On its main gimmick, the holes in the stars meant to show the constellation when held in front of a light, he notes that, as the size of the holes marked correspond to the magnitude of the stars, a quite realistic depiction of the constellation is provided. Ian Ridpath mostly concurs. He describes the gimmick as an "attractive feature", but notes that, due to the light at the time being provided primarily by candles, that many cards likely burned up due to carelessness when trying to hold them in front of the flame. He notes three other attempts to use the same gimmick—Franz Niklaus König's Atlas céleste (1826), Friedrich Braun's Himmels-Atlas in transparenten Karten (1850), and Otto Möllinger's Himmelsatlas (1851), but states that they lack Urania's Mirror's artistry.
Copying from A Celestial Atlas
The depictions of the constellations are redrawn from those in Alexander Jamieson's A Celestial Atlas, published about three years earlier, and include unique quirks of Jamieson's sky atlas, including the new constellation of Noctua the owl, and "Norma Nilotica" – a measuring device for the Nile floods – held by Aquarius the water bearer.
Mystery of the designer, and solution
Advertisements for Urania's Mirror, as well as the introduction to its companion book A Familiar Treatise on Astronomy, credit the design of the cards to "a lady", stated in the introduction of the book to be "young". This led to speculation for over a century, with prominent female astronomers such as Caroline Herschel and Mary Somerville being proposed, others simply crediting the engraver, Sidney Hall, alone, but none of these were seen as a particularly good fit. The solution was not discovered until 170 years later, in 1994, when, while archiving early election certificates used to propose people to be admitted to the Royal Astronomical Society, P. D. Hingley found one proposing the Reverend Richard Rouse Bloxam and naming him as "Author of Urania's Mirror". While he had several notable sons, he has no other known publications, his main distinction being to have served as assistant master at Rugby School for 38 years.
The reasons for the disguise are unknown. Hingley notes that many publications of the time attempted to suggest women had had a role in their creation, perhaps to make them sound less threatening to both genders. He notes that anonymity might have been necessary to protect Bloxam's position at Rugby, but notes Rugby was quite progressive, which makes this seem unlikely; and, finally, suggests modesty as a possibility. Ian Ridpath, noting the plagiarism of the art from A Celestial Atlas, suggests that this alone might be sufficient to cause the author to wish to remain anonymous.
First edition "Pisces", without stars in the surrounding constellations. "Plain".
A December 1824 advertisement, which states the cards were "just published", offers to sell the cards "plain" for £1/8s or "fully coloured" for £1/14s. This first edition did not include any stars surrounding the named constellations, leaving parts of the card blank. This was soon changed in a second edition, which added the stars around the depicted constellations back in. The accompanying book, A Familiar Treatise on Astronomy by Jehoshaphat Aspin went through at least four editions, with the last of these coming out in 1834. The second edition featured a marked expansion in the book's contents, growing from 121 pages in the first edition to 200 pages in the second. An American edition was published in 1832. In the modern day, reprints of the cards were produced in 1993, and Barnes & Noble reproduced the American edition (with accompanying book) in 2004.
Plate 3: Cassiopeia
Plate 4: Cepheus
Plate 6: Perseus and Caput Medusæ
Plate 7: Auriga
Plate 9: Ursa Major
Plate 17: Taurus
Plate 18: Gemini
Plate 19: Cancer
Plate 21: Virgo
Plate 22: Libra
Plate 23: Scorpio
Plate 25: Capricornus
Plate 27: Pisces
Plate 29: Orion
The constellations depicted, in the order they are listed on the cards, are:
- Ursa Minor
- Tarandus (obsolete, representing a reindeer, also called Rangifer)
- Custos Messium (obsolete, literally translated as the Harvest Keeper, but intended as a pun on the comet hunter Charles Messier.)
- Gloria Frederici (obsolete, also called Honores Friderici, meant to commemorate Frederick the Great)
- Telescopium Herschilii (obsolete, the Telescope of William Herschel)
- Ursa Major
- Canes Venatici
- Coma Berenices
- Quadrans Muralis (obsolete, created by Lalande to commemorate the wall-mounted quadrant he and his nephew used to measure star positions)
- Corona Borealis
- Taurus Poniatowski (obsolete, represented the bull on King Stanisław August Poniatowski's coat of arms. Also called Taurus Poniatovii.)
- Serpentarius (a former name for Ophiuchus)
- Scutum Sobiesky (Full name of the constellation Scutum, the Shield of King John III Sobieski.)
- Antinous (obsolete, Antinous was the lover of the Roman emperor Hadrian.)
- Vulpecula and Anser (a slightly Anglicised version of the full name of Vulpecula, this translates as, "the little fox and the goose".)
- Musca Borealis (obsolete, represented a fly, not to be confused with the modern southern constellation of Musca.)
- Leo Major (now known as Leo)
- Leo Minor
- Corona Australis
- Piscis Australis (a.k.a. Piscis Austrinus)
- Ballon Aerostatique (obsolete, honoured the Montgolfier brothers' balloon, also called Globus Aerostaticus)
- Psalterium Georgii (obsolete, the harp of King George III of the United Kingdom. Also called Harpa Georgii.)
- Fluvius Eridanus (former name of Eridanus)
- Officina Sculptoris (now known as Sculptor)
- Fornax Chemica (full name of Fornax)
- Machina Electrica (obsolete, represented an electrostatic generator)
- Canis Major
- Columba Noachi (full name of Columba)
- Cela Sculptoris (now known as Caelum)
- Canis Minor
- Atelier Typographique (obsolete, represented Gutenberg's printing shop)
- Noctua (obsolete, an owl replacing the equally obsolete Turdus Solitarius, the thrush)
- Sextans Uraniae (original name of Sextans),
- Felis (obsolete, represented a cat)
- Antlia Pneumatica (full name of Antlia)
- Argo Navis (obsolete, now divided into Carina, Vela, and Puppis)
- Pyxis Nautica (full name of Pyxis)
- "Advertisement". Monthly Critical Gazette (London: Sherwood, Jones, and Co.). December 1824. p. 578. See also File:Advertisement for Urania's Mirror.png.
- Ridpath, Ian. "Urania's Mirror". Ian Ridpath's Old Star Atlases. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
- Hingley, P. D. (1994). "Urania's Mirror — A 170-year old mystery solved?". Journal of the British Astronomical Association 104 (5): 238–40. Bibcode:1994JBAA..104..238H. p. 239
- Hingley, P. D. (1994). "Urania's Mirror — A 170-year old mystery solved?". Journal of the British Astronomical Association 104 (5): 238–40. Bibcode:1994JBAA..104..238H. p. 238
- Hingley, P. D. (1994). "Urania's Mirror — A 170-year old mystery solved?". Journal of the British Astronomical Association 104 (5): 238–40. Bibcode:1994JBAA..104..238H. p. 239 (illus.)
- Hingley, P. D. (1994). "Urania's Mirror — A 170-year old mystery solved?". Journal of the British Astronomical Association 104 (5): 238–40. Bibcode:1994JBAA..104..238H. p. 240
- "[Advertisement]". The Quarterly Literary Advertiser (Part of The Quarterly Literary Journal) (Duke-Street, Picadilly, London: John Sharpe,). October 1828: 17. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
- An obsolete plural form of the name of the constellation Triangulum
- Ridpath, Ian. "Rangifer". Star Tales. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
- Ridpath, Ian. "Custos Messium". Star Tales. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
- Ridpath, Ian. "Honores Friderici". Star Tales. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
- Ridpath, Ian. "Telescopium Herschilii". Star Tales. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
- Ridpath, Ian. "Quadrans Muralis". Star Tales. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
- Ridpath, Ian. "Taurus Poniatovii". Star Tales. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
- Ridpath, Ian. "Scutum". Star Tales. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
- Ridpath, Ian. "Antinous". Star Tales. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
- Ridpath, Ian. "Vulpecula". Star Tales. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
- Ridpath, Ian. "Musca Borealis". Star Tales. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
- Ridpath, Ian. "Globus Aerostaticus". Star Tales. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
- Ridpath, Ian. "Harpa Georgii". Star Tales. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
- Hill, John (1754). "Fluvius". London: T. Gardner. p. [unpaginated].
- Ridpath, Ian. "Machina Electrica". Star Tales. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
- Hill, John (1754). "Pigeon". London: T. Gardner. p. [unpaginated].
- Ridpath, Ian. "Officina Typographica". Star Tales. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
- Ridpath, Ian. "Turdus Solitarius". Star Tales. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
- Ridpath, Ian. "Sextans". Star Tales. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
- Ridpath, Ian. "Felis". Star Tales. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
- Ridpath, Ian. "Antlia". Star Tales. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
- Ridpath, Ian. "Argo Navis". Star Tales. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
- Ridpath, Ian. "Pyxis". Star Tales. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
- "Urania's Mirror". Treasures of the RAS. Royal Astronomical Society. Includes a video presentation of the cards.