Thursday, January 24, 2008

Neptune (Barely) Makes the Paper

A few years ago I stumbled into an antique print shop in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and found a series of instructional cards published by a James Reynolds in London. I have written about these before a time or two. The illustrator-engraver who produced these works--along with many many others for the Reynolds outfit--was named John Emslie. These things are a model of clarity and printerly richness.

This card provides a diagrammatic version of our solar system. It was published around 1860. I have found versions of this card in online collections of such works, but the headline typography is transitional in my version, and dates it a little earlier. (This looks like Bulmer, which predates the more condensed modern face that appears in the version shown on the British Science and Society site.)

That said, it can't be that much earlier, because Neptune, cited in data at the bottom of the card, was discovered in 1846.

Clearly this was a transitional project, because the cut does not betray knowledge of said discovery: the outermost planet shown in the diagram is Uranus (discoverd 1781). It wouldn't have been such a big thing to retypeset the tabular information (above). By contrast, the cut would have been a real undertaking.

The sun and the planets are shown in color through the application of discs or dots made from colored translucent papers. The dots are glued over holes in the heavy paper, producing a satisfying glow in the "sky" when held up to a light. Below, a glimpse of the real thing.

Images: John Emslie, diagram for Transparent Solar System, circa 1850-1860, Published by James Reynolds, London; A false color image of the Planet Neptune, NASA, circa 2000. ©2000-04 University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

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