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William Jones was a young instrument maker in London when he designed an orrery “for the better introduction of young Gentlemen and Ladies to the most pleasing, sublime and useful of all sciences, Astronomy.” This instrument was to be simple and inexpensive, and thus widely available. In use, the planets would be pushed by hand around the sun. Jones introduced this instrument in his Description & Use of a New Portable Orrery (London, 1782). In the second edition of this text (1784) he included a lengthy discussion of the Georgium Sidus, the planet now known as Uranus that William Herschel had discovered in 1781. Jones also noted that his orreries were now provided with a newly engraved paper plate that showed the Georgium Sidus and a comet.
In the Museum’s example, the engraved paper plate covering the circular wooden base is marked “A NEW PORTABLE ORRERY / Invented and Made by W. JONES / and Sold by him in Holborn, / LONDON.” The plate also shows the proportional diameters of the planets out to and including the Georgium Sidus as well as a figure of a comet. There is no mention of the sixth and seventh moons of Saturn which Herschel found in 1789.
This orrery has two interchangeable mechanisms. One (the Tellurian) represents the Sun (brass), Earth (ivory) and Moon. The other (the Planetarium) represents the Sun (brass) and five planets (ivory): Mercury, Venus Earth & Moon, Mars, Jupiter and 4 moons (one is missing), and Saturn with ring and 4 moons.
Ref: Henry C. King and John R. Millburn, Geared to the Stars. The Evolution of Planetariums, Orreries, and Astronomical Clocks (Toronto, 1978), pp. 207-210.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Orrery / Tellurian
date made
Jones, William
place made
United Kingdom: England, London
overall: 11.2 cm x 22.3 cm x 22.3 cm; 4 13/32 in x 8 25/32 in x 8 25/32 in
overall in box: 4 3/8 in x 8 3/4 in x 8 3/4 in; 11.1125 cm x 22.225 cm x 22.225 cm
overall; part (mechanism with two planets): 3 in x 6 3/4 in x 2 5/8 in; 7.62 cm x 17.145 cm x 6.6675 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
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Data Source
National Museum of American History
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