The Crawford Collection

About the Crawford Collection

In 1888 James Ludvic Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford, offered to the nation of Scotland the instruments from his personal observatory, and his superb collection of astronomical books, in order to dissuade the British Government from abandoning closing the Scottish Royal Observatory and discontinuing the post of Astronomer Royal for Scotland. His library, comprised of 15,000 rare books, pamphlets, and manuscripts, is still housed in the Royal Observatory Buildings on Blackford Hill, and represents one of Scotland’s most remarkable National treasures. Although privately amassed, the Crawford Collection ranks alongside the top four institutional collections in the history of astronomy in the world: those of the Paris Observatory, the Observatory at Uppsala University, the Royal Astronomical Society in London, and the Pulkova Observatory in St. Petersburg. A number of items in this extraordinary library are unique, or particularly rare. The library includes a 15th-century ‘girdle’ almanac with the phases of the moon and the days for the administration of medication; the earliest edition of Sacrobosco’s Sphaera Mundi (1478), the chief university textbook in astronomy throughout medieval Europe; a hand-coloured copy of Apianus’Astronomicum Caesareum (1540); the truly outstanding copy of Copernicus De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (1543) with copious manuscript annotations by Erasmus Reinhold, the leading astronomer in the generation after Copernicus; many rare books on early Arabic astrology; over 1000 tracts on comets; and important works by Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Galileo, and many others. It is an extraordinarily complete collection, unique for its history and coherence and yet still little known even among specialists in the history of astronomy and astrology.

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