Beyond Celestial Toys: Orreries and Public Astronomical Lectures in the Eighteenth Century

Hsiang-Fu Huang


      This article introduces a selection of orreries collected in the Royal Observatory, Greenwich/National Maritime Museum, London. Eight items were investigated in this study. As important visual aids of astronomy developed in the eighteenth century and used in contemporary public philosophical lectures, the orreries provide a good case study through which to investigate the material culture in eighteenth-century Britain. A joint collaboration between instrument business and philosophical lecturing was formed in the eighteenth century marketplace, and this market was promoted by the politeness pursuit. This study shows how the orreries combined instruction with entertainment in eighteenth century polite culture context. Most of the orreries in the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, are small portable types. Among the eight selected items, William Lacy’s orrery (AST1066) is the most unique and was designated to be used in specific demonstration of the Saturn system. Item AST1055 made by W. and S. Jones was also probably for public demonstration. Other items were most likely for domestic use or private possession.