Russell, John Selenographia, plus gores, plus engraved trade card
Lot 23
RUSSELL, JOHN. 1745-1806. A Globe representing the Visible Surface of the Moon, constructed from Triangles Measured with a Micrometer and accurately drawn & engraved from a long series of Telescopic Observations by J. Russell, R.A. London: John Russell, Newman Street, June 14, 1797.
Sold for US$ 242,500 inc. premium
Lot Details
RUSSELL, JOHN. 1745-1806.
A Globe representing the Visible Surface of the Moon, constructed from Triangles Measured with a Micrometer and accurately drawn & engraved from a long series of Telescopic Observations by J. Russell, R.A. London: John Russell, Newman Street, June 14, 1797.
Pasteboard globe fitted with Russell's patent apparatus for displaying lunar libration. Diameter 12 inches (300 mm). 500 mm high overall. The globe mounted within a brass hemisphere on a baluster column raised by a shallowly domed circular foot. The globe fitted with 10 (of 14) facsimile gores, but accompanied by the same 10 original stipple-engraved printed gores, comprising: gores 2-7 (the vast majority of the near side of the Moon), 10, 11 (the cartouche with title and patent details), 13 and 14 (calottes to be placed at diametrically opposite points in the equatorial plane); several of the absent gores would in fact be blank, covering the far side. Lacking the small terrestrial globe. TOGETHER WITH: "Back and Profile of the Selenographia, invented by John Russell," engraving, 190 x 230 mm, possibly the plate from Russell's A Description of the Selenographia (London: W. Faden, 1797), lightly toned, a vertical fold repaired on verso with gummed paper.

ONE OF THE BLACK TULIPS OF 18TH CENTURY ENGLISH SCIENTIFIC INSTRUMENTS, AND A STUNNING TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT. John Russell was the son of a book- and print-seller, but made his name as a portraitist working in pastel. He exhibited in 1769 at the first exhibition of the Royal Academy, and gained increasing fame and commercial success—charging about the same high prices as Sir Joshua Reynolds. In 1788 Russell was elected a Royal Academician, and shortly after he was appointed painter to the King and the Prince of Wales, and to the Duke of York. He was also responsible for the frontispiece to Robert Thornton's Temple of Flora (1797-1807).
Russell's interest in the Moon began in his youth, and he made a drawing of his observations through the telescope of his friend and neighbor the sculptor John Bacon (ODNB). Some time later, he wrote, "an accidental possession of a powerful Glass awakened my attention to this beautiful Object once more, and for several years I have lost few opportunities when the Atmosphere has exhibited the Object of my study and imitation" (letter to Dr Thomas Hornsby, Observer at the Radcliffe Observatory in Oxford, February 19, 1789, quoted by Philip, p 18).
Over the course of many years, Russell used a six-foot reflecting telescope by Herschel and a refracting telescope by Dollond, as well as a homemade micrometer, to delineate the Moon in all its phases. In around 1797, he issued a 3-page broadside entitled Proposals for Publishing by Subscription, a Globe of the Moon. Among those authorized to receive subscriptions were the London instrument maker George Adams. Russell considered a simple lunar globe to be inadequate for scientific purposes, since the Moon oscillates constantly, always showing a slightly different face. This lunar motion, called libration, also causes changes in the angle at which the Sun strikes the Moon's surface. What he called his Selenographia uniquely accounts for libration, the brass stand having graduated scales and a variety of possible rack and pinion adjustments, and the small Earth globe demonstrating parallax. Other parts of the mount-apparatus show the "boundary of light" from the Sun, so that the user can identify which topographic features will appear on the edge of the lunar disc.
There were few subscribers—the price was five guineas—and no more than eleven Selenographias are believed to survive (six of which are in institutions). Russell probably did not assemble the globes himself and as a result some examples vary in their form: there exist simple Moon globes on wood stands, without the mechanical selenographic apparatus; others have frameworks of mahogany rather than brass. The present example varies slightly from those in public collections: the main mechanism is not engraved with Russell's name as usual, and the outer curved bracket leading from the mechanism up to the north pole is rounded in section, not rectangular.
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  1. Cassandra Hatton
    Specialist - Space History
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