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A rare sixteenth century paper astrolabe signed by the famous instrument maker Philippe Danfrie, and dated 1578

DANFRIE, Philippe
Philippe Danfrie,
Publication place
Publication date
diameter 216 mm; thickness 18mm
  • Description

    Engraving mounted on a solid oak board, suspension by brass ring, missing a few small areas of printed paper on the rete.

  • Notes

    Philippe Danfrie (c. 1532-1606) was born in Brittany and moved to Paris in his twenties, where he became a partner in a printing and bookselling business. He designed a new typeface in cursive script, which was given the name of "caractère de civilité". He later studied mathematics, became an "ingénieur", and was appointed Royal Diecutter for coins of the realm. Danfrie took a special interest in inexpensive alternatives to brass instruments. he is known for some 20 mathematical instruments, notably his astrolabes printed on paper, and for his invention of the graphomètre, on which he published in 1597.

    We are only aware of five other surviving Danfrie paper astrolabes: one dated 1578, incomplete (missing one of the seven plates [with brass rete]) sold at Christie's South Kensington in 1998; another dated 1578 belongs to the Service hydrographique de la Marine; one dated 1584 described by tesseract; another dated 1584 belongs to the Museum of the history of Science oxford; a further 1584 at the national Museum of American history, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

  • Bibliography

    Turner, A.J., Paper, Print and Mathematics: Philippe Danfrie and the making of mathematical instruments in late 16th century Paris, in Studies in the history of scientific instruments, 1989, pp. 22-42; Gunther, The Astrolabes of the world, 1932, pp. 358-359; Daumas, Les instruments scientifiques aux XVIIème & XVIIIème siècles, 1953, p.24.