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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1948
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Astro art943

Given that today is the winter solstice I thought to have a look at some artwork or imagery depicting the sun. I went to bookcase where there were some astronomy books and plucked out one at random–it turned out to be Denison Olmsted’s (1791-1859) Practical Astronomy textbook sort of written for his 12 students at Yale in 1839 (and bound with Ebenezer Porter Mason’s Introduction to Practical Astronomy, which was a supplement published ten years later). Its a fine not-big/not-little book (320 pages plus Mason’s 135 pages), and it still reads pretty well. (There’s also a very sweet 16-page outline of the course he taught, breaking the lectures down into fairly small chunks. There’s an interesting part of lecture XII entitled “DANGERS” which addresses heat and cold and bad business that could come from “perturbations of the moon and planets” and comets, of course, particularly the one like the “threatening circumstances attending the great comet of 1843″. As it happens the only annotation made by the 19th century owner of this book was right here, in the danger section, where they wrote the word again followed by five check/whatever marks.

Astro art944
There would of course be images of the sun in the book, and so was found this lovely small woodcut within the astronomical image (above), measuring in real life at about 5mm. There are a lot of lines on the circumference of this tiny circle.

The “S” stands for Sun.

Astro art det
And another beautifully-design illustration from the same source:

Astro art945

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

Theodore Andrea Cook wrote a lovely book called The Curves of Life, published by the admirable firm of Constable and Company in London in 1914, a book which is filled with all manner of marvels of insight in finding curves in natural and created situation. (I wrote a little about the book in an earlier post about stairs, here.) The beauty of spirals found in fero-concrete, geometries of Minoan clay seals, the beauty of the human laminae of cochlea of interval, the colon of the Dogfish, Maori war canoes, and so on, were all subject matter ripe for the discriminant picking of Mr. Cook as he explored the depths of curves.


One thing that perhaps escaped his grasp–at least in this book–was the curve in the costume of Baroque women oif semi-high (or at least non-ordinary) standing. As I've seen a number of times in some illustrated books, the trend towards the curvilinear is absoutely outstanding. The example that I came across tonight is an excellent example. Of course there was no great need to supply interesting bits of social life in these engravings of famous architectural achievenents outside of supplying a human scale to the structures, but as if often the case the artist (or engraver) went a little further than was really demanded by the artistic "needs" of the image and provided some interesting and at times very unexpected glimpes into somewhat-common street life

This image comes from Regles des cinq ordres d'architecture de Jacques Barozzio de Vignolle, which was originally written by Vignolla (1507-1573) in 1560. and published in 1680 or so. The engraving of our interest here is "Elevation du Portail de la Cathedrale de St. Paul de Londres", and the main part of that is the 1% in the bottom quarter, showing a very roundish dress.


An outstanding curve of high fashion, not seen in the Cook book.

This also reminds me a little of bombing fashinistas in an earlier post I wrote (here), showing parachuting (though they look a little like bombs) on this 1904 image.


JF Ptak Science Books Post 1753

Leonardo understood "big", especially when it came to weapons, and he understood what the concept of 'big" meant to adversaries and enemies of the folks with the "big" weapona bit of psych-ops in the mid-Renaissance by the High Renaissance man.

Giant crossbow

Leonardo's crossbow (drawn around 1486) should have worked. He certainly understood the idea of stored power in his many drawings–bent and twisted and torqued wooden arms and such–and the concepts of enormous potential is certainly reeking through-and-through this fantastic weapon. The bow itself seems certainly like a laminated object, adding to its strength via flexibility, the giant bow-string drawn back by a very considerable worm and gear, the whole of which is set to give flight to a large stone more so than an arrow. And that stone was supposed to be able to be delivered to its target over and over again, with minor adjustments, which would have placed it head-and shoulders above cannons, whose recoil made it really quit impossible to re-aim the instrument with any accuracy at the same target over and over again. The main compliment of the crossbow, then, was reproducible accuracies. (In this vein it is interesting to recall "Operation Crossbow", a Combined Bombing Operations during WWII that took place in 1943 and 1944 against the Nazi installations for the V-2 and V-3 weapons–a directed effort to remove a threat which was even more "precise" (if by "precision" we mean marginally guided weapons loaded with high explosives).)

The "atomic" part of the title of this post is I know far from the mark of being metaphorically correct–the scale isn't anywhere near being accurate. Offhand to have an "atomic" crossbow in relation to a nominally normal crossbow in similar scale of the Fat Man weapon in scale with an "average" 500-pound bomb (40 million pounds in relation to 500 pounds) the atomic crossbow would need to be miles wide.

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1433

This blog's series on the History of Dots needs to be folded into the History of Circles section–it seems that whenever I see interesting circles that I am seeing dots, and vice versa; and after all, aren't circles just unfilled dots? An anti-dot (or at least so in two dimensions)? I like the idea, especially since one of the great and revolutionary ways in which particles were found was with the device pioneered by D.A. Glaser (Nobel physics, 1960), the bubble chamber, which through the use of superheated hydrogen (usually) it was possible to track electrically charged particles, often producing dots in their signatures.

Which leads me to bubbles and anti-bubbles. We all know what a bubble is–at least a physical one–but what about its opposite? Its not quite that, really, though there are bubbles that are liquids surrounded by gas rather than the much more conservative and popular way. And so it is this way that I came to the anti-dot, the circle, and then of course one of its three dimensional relatives, the bubble (and the sphere).

Earlier in this blog I've written a few times about the speech and though bubble/balloon, which was a fantastic invention, enabling to make literal the thinking of the subjects in a painting (and seen probably for the first time in a printed book in 1523, in this work about Bruno Carthasisienna):

0 blog feb 18 balloon599

I'm sure that there must've been some number of people who regarded it as base and retrograde, that the view of a print or painting should by the art's elements know what the characters might be thinking, and that by showing the specifics of thought, by boldly stating the thought or speech itself, that the experience is removed from the viewer's imaginations. Perhaps these thoughts were common to the people who considered the telephone as an affront to communication as an attempt to replace the written letter, and so on to fax to email to tweet and so on.

I have no idea when the first bubble as a bubble appeared in print, though a gorgeous version of a bubble-maker is seen on the cover of another "first": the first full-cover illustration on the front cloth cover of a published book1, Sir Francis Bond Heads (1793-1875) Bubbles from the Brunnens of Nassau, which was published by in 1834 by John Murray of London, who 25 years later would publish Darwin's Origin (where the word "bubble" by the way does not appear).

Dots bubbles princeton
There are many illustrations and paintings of people blowing bubbles–I'm not sure which one is the most famous but Gerit Dou (1613-1675) certainly comes to mind (with his Still Life with a Boy Blowing Bubbles). Perhaps a ittle more unusual and also involving a great scientist is the economic bubble, which is the subject of this great print called "A Bubbler's Funeral". An economic bubble is one in which the value of a share of stock in a company or interest becomes hyper-inflated, expanding outward until the price bubble found its pin, and once contact is made, the whole thing goes to shamble, and anyone left holding the enormously inflated stock finds themselves with a stock worth next to nothing.

Dots bubbler funeral
This image was a satire on the Ages of Man, professing to be a ticket for a Bubblers funeral, and was in 1720 aimed at the directors of the South Sea Company, a notorious early 18th century bubble, which had just burst. Many people lost fortunes in this, including the aged Sir Isaac Newton. The invitation was for a funeral profession to “accompany the whole Body of S.S. Directors from ye Bubbling house in the Broad way… to ye three Legged Tree near Padington on Fryday the of February 1720/1".

And so ends this first bot on folding the story of circles and bubbles into this blog's History of Dots. I should point out that one of the great bubbles of the last hundred years or so imploded only a dozen yers or so ago–the dot coms.

I wonder if the History of Holes thread should also be folded in?


1. From Princeton University: "Ellen Morris puts it in anything way, “This period also produced the first full-cover designs: John Murray’s 1834 issue of Bubbles from the Brunnens of Nassau is reputedly the earliest publisher’s cloth binding with a full pictorial design on its cover.” ( The Art of Publishers’ Bookbindings 1815-1915).

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1429

(1) Destiny
Robert Fludd’s (1574-1637), title page for his Utriusque Cosmi . . . Historia (1617) features this complicated astrological wheel with a Vitruvian-man-like image at the vortex of the imaged pulls and pushes of the cosmos. In addition to everything else, real and imagined, Rosicrucianism and astrology and puffy-birds, Fludd, who was an English physician, delved deeply into the real stuff of the world in this book in addition to all of the other make-believe–optics, the musical intervals, perspective drawing, hydraulic engineering, construction of lifting machines, military engineering and many other interesting, physical science topics. But this drawing, right there on the title page, reveals Fludd’s real interests and shows what governs what he does. Everything else, the math and and the physics, services this need. Of course the image is beautiful, which is why it is here, but it is also a deeply personal, exploitative, cover-all for the things that Fludd *wanted* to find.

Fludd 3

I can’t resist adding the following Fludd image, which appears in the same book and may be one of the most iconic images of the Fludd opus, these beautiful circles showing the areas of thought and consciousness of the human being:

Fludd 4

(2) Wheels of Forture
In Le Passetemps de la Fortune des dez, written by Lorenzo Spirito in the late 15th century1 and published in this pictured format in 1559–a delightful little book with many2 zodical illustrations and the first printed illustrated book on fortune-telling—appears this gorgeous wheel of fortune wood engraving.

“There are 20 questions, grouped around a wheel of fortune on which are represented four men; to each man a reference is added to a list of kings… These 20 kings in their turn guide the enquired to 20 planets; the table of dice casts attached to these planet contain 56 references to the 20 spheres of the planets. After one has found their way through these stages, they finally reach 20 prophets who each have 56 three-line answers to give….”

The wheel sends the reader to a king; the king to a sign; the sign, with a throw of dice, to a wheel; the wheel to a prophet, and then to the peek into the future.

Artikelbild: Losbuch des Lorenzo Spirito von 1482 bot Antworten auf Fragen nach dem Schicksal szmtag

Spirito 2

Referring to the image below: “In this opening, the leopard (left) is cut in a thick outline and modeled with precise curved lines. The leopard’s formal pose is particularly appealing because it projects a dignity commensurate with the animal’s position in the hierarchy of the animal kingdom. The dolphin (right) is similarly cut and set within a sea of curved lines against a well-defined architectural background. The dolphin’s design reflects classical

origins. The animal projects an aggressive attitude, suggesting the dolphin’s importance as protector of the city of Venice. The well-designed woodcut borders of the hunt (left) and the putti at play (right) are symbols of the vagaries of life, in which good fortune and calamity are equally possible.

(3) Wheels of Destiny 2

In Sigismondo Fanti’s Triompho di Fortuna ( Triumph of Fortune), printed in Venice in 1526, the second illustrated fortune-telling book to appear in print. Fanti’s book, like Spirito’s, functions as a game in which the seeker follows cues that lead from figures of Fortune to houses and then to wheels, spheres, and astrologers, the path determined by either a throw of the dice or the time of day at which the book is consulted.

Fanti 2As this is not really an area I know very much about I’ll just quote the commentary on this illustration from the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

“When the reader reaches the indicated page, a choice must be made between two wheels. The upper one represents all the possible combinations (twenty-one) to result from a throw of the dice, while the lower is bordered by the first twenty-one hours of the day. If no dice are handy\—and it’s not too late at night\—the seeker can turn to the lower wheel and choose the segment that corresponds to the current hour.”

Fanti “The pages representing wheels are bordered by eight alternating frames containing a series of musicians, astronomers, artists, writers, popes, rulers, and other distinguished figures of the past and present, labeled differently at each appearance. Among the artists named are Andrea Mantegna, Raphael of Urbino, and Baldassare Peruzzi, the designer of the frontispiece. On the page shown here, at right, the astronomer and artist are identified respectively as the book’s author, Sigismondo Fanti, and the painter Dosso Dossi (died 1542), who was also from Ferrara and who has been plausibly credited with the design of the figural borders.”


1. Lorenzoi Spirito’s book was very popular, going into at least five printings in the 15th century alone following the first printed edition of 1482. Fortune-telling works such as this were extremely popular and well-used–so much so that it has led experts in this area to conclude that the books were basically worn out of existence, which might explain why so few of them have survived to the present day.

2.Description of the Spirito book from Christie’s auction house: 38 leaves. Roman type. 56 lines and headline. 2 woodcut full borders (one incorporating Da Ponte device) repeated to 6 impressions, full-page woodcut wheel of fortune, 20 woodcut portraits of kings from 15 blocks printed 4 to a page, 20 pages of dice throws with 20 woodblocks of signs, 20 circular woodcuts of signs within wheel of text set within one of two borders, 20 portraits of prophets and other Biblical figures.”

JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 962

Circle 1 Circle 4

Circle Factory." Well, not quite. Actually, not at all. The first image is just a detail from the
warehouse of the ubiquitous Columbia
bicycle works in 1881. The second aren’t
even circles, but cosmological ovals, and is a detail of a wood engraving
depicting planetary and cometary orbits in Leonhard Euler’s Theoria Motuum Planetarum et Cometarum (1631-1635).

bicycle wheels appeared in Bicycling World (for April 1881, “A Great
American Manufacture”), illustrating a story about the growing interest in
bicycles in America but more specifically the success of the partnership
between the Weed Sewing Machine factory and Albert A. Pope in the mass
production of the bike. It was a newish
idea, partially borrowed from the Sharps Manufacturing

Circle 2

Company’s mass
production of weapons with standardized parts, which was employed in the production
of sewing machines by Weed, and then on to bikes by Pope. Actually Weed took the step further than
Sharps by producing almost all of their machines in-house, having a foundry and
forge right there at the factory. It was
this step and then other innovations by Pope that produced an enormously successful
bicycle production company, with something like a quarter million bikes made in
the first few years of operation.

Circle 3

Weed-Pope domination didn’t last long though, what with the introduction of the
remarkable safety bicycle from England
in 1887—this is instantly recognizable as a “modern” bike, with a chain power train
and two same-size wheels. In two years there were hundreds of companies building
those bikes, producing a million a year.

1895 this balloon busted, and for some reason Americans stopped buying bikes, with
demand falling off to nearly nil, causing the vast majority of these companies to
whither and fold, causing the whole of the bicycle interest to come first
circle. Or cycle.

there was a huge lesson learned for future manufacturers of transportation
devices—namely cars, and more specifically, Ford(s), drawing critical lessons
in production from forging methods and sustainable assembly lines.

Circle 5 Euler
has nothing to do with bikes or Fords, but he did have a whole heck of a lot to do with circles. (Actually, I just liked the image set against the
big bike wheels.)