Stock Number: 10021


For sale, an antique 19th century Hindu brass astrolabe engraved in Sanskrit. The engraving is quite crude, but the design is both honest and accurate. Probably the maker was the astronomer who designed the instrument. The alidade is lacking, the suspension ring is present.


5" (13 cm in diameter"


c.19th century

Country of manufacture


Category: Scientific


PRIMITIVE BRASS HINDU ASTROLABE, Indian, probably 19th century. Measuring 5″ (13 cm) in diameter, the astrolabe is made of sheet brass, hand cut and engraved in Sanskrit. The rete has 20 named star pointers, all of the early dagger form. The ecliptic circle is divided into 12 named houses, and the equatorial circle and tropic of Capricorn are present. The combined plate / mater, designed for a single latitude, bears a Sanskrit inscription on the throne, and is divided, rather crudely, every degree, with 15 divisions of six degrees each, in each quadrant. The throne has a scalloped crown shape, as known on some astrolabes made in Jodhpur in the third quarter 19th century. The inscription is difficult to decipher, but seems to translate as “Salutation to the glorious Omniscient One” (Sarma, personal communication.) The reverse is scratch divided with a sine/cosine grid, and a labeled shadow square. The alidade is lacking; the suspension ring is present. The workmanship is quite crude but the design is honest and the condition is fine, noting the brass now quite darkened.

The maker of this astrolabe was certainly not an accomplished craftsman; his “engraved” letters and numerals were basically all punched out with a single narrow tool, almost as punches with a screwdriver blade. Yet the design appears astronomically correct. It was traditional for an astronomer to design the astrolabe, and for a metalworker to execute it. This is often acknowledged in the inscription (see for example Tesseract Catalogue 91 item 2). We can speculate that in this case the astronomer, with little craft training, executed the instrument himself.

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David and Yola Coffeen both have enjoyed academic careers, as planetary astronomer and as linguist/educator. But since 1982 (yes, 1982!) they have been full-time dealers in early scientific and medical instruments, under the name Tesseract. Selling primarily by catalogue (over 100 issued so far) they also have a web presence at, and can be contacted at [email protected].

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