Whittaker's Planisphere

The toy closet in the Long Room is home to many interesting objects, including a Whittaker’s Planisphere, a tool for charting the stars and constellations. Thomas Whittaker was a publisher with Thomas Whittaker Publisher, Bookseller, and Importer and also sold other tools for scientific education. This planisphere was made in Germany and the one Whittaker sold had been adapted for the United States. It cost 60 cents in 1888.  It is made of cardboard and on the back of it has instructions on how to use it. Unfortunately, the instructions on the one in the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum have worn off. Due to the immense popularity of the device in the late 1880s and early 1890s, it seems that the Whittaker’s Planisphere would have belonged to James Lincoln Huntington and his siblings or other cousins of the sixth generation of the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Family.

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In an advertisement in The Protestant Episcopal Review in April of 1894, Whittaker explained two of the products he was selling, the Whittaker Anatomical Model or “Manikin” and the planisphere. The planisphere was described as,

a device composed of a movable disc and a frame, by means of which you can locate any star in the heavens at any hour in the year. It also enables one to find out the hour of sunrise and sunset for any day. Those who have purchased Whittaker’s Revolving Planisphere know well its value as a teacher of astronomy. Over seventy-five thousand copies are now in use.[1]

The back of the Whittaker’s Planisphere in the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum.

The back of the Whittaker’s Planisphere in the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum.

In 1894, the planisphere’s cost had risen to 65 cents. In the 1888 full page advertisement in Publisher’s Weekly, Whittaker sold the planisphere among other books and described the planisphere as “the cheapest and most practical device for the study of the stars at home or in school that has ever been offered.”[2]

As described in the advertisement placed in an issue of the Literary World, to see the stars “at any hour in the year,”[3] from the Whittaker’s Planisphere, one had to rotate the card, which had the month, date, and zodiac sign printed on it to match with the hour printed on the overlaid piece of cardboard, so that it reflected the time when one was using it. The overlaid piece of cardboard had an oval shaped opening that revealed the stars for the time at which it was used.[4] Therefore, one would have been able to see the stars and constellations  “at any hour in the year.”[5]



[1] Thomas Whittaker, “And What Is a Planisphere,” The Protestant Episcopal Review 7, no. 7 (April 1894): 7.

[2] Thomas Whittaker, “Thomas Whittaker’s Announcements for the Fall Season,” The Publisher’s Weekly

34 (September 22, 1888): 448.

[3] Thomas Whittaker, “And What Is a Planisphere,” 7.

[4] Thomas Whittaker, “Whittaker’s Planisphere,” The Literary World 19, no. 22 (October 27, 1888): 357.

[5] Thomas Whittaker, “And What Is a Planisphere,” 7.


Aasmaster. "Booksellers' and Bookbinders' Labels Collection Name List." American Antiquarian Society. December 28, 2018. Accessed July 31, 2019. https://www.americanantiquarian.org/booksellers-and-bookbinders-labels-collection-name-list.

"Antique Whittaker's Planisphere." Everything But the House. February 23, 2016. Accessed July 31, 2019. https://www.ebth.com/items/2995750-antique-whittaker-s-planisphere.

Whittaker, Thomas. “And What Is a Planisphere.” The Protestant Episcopal Review 7, no.7 (April 1894): 7.  https://books.google.com/books?id=b6YSS6tnzPgC&pg=RA1-PA382-IA21&lpg=RA1-PA382-IA21&dq=thomas+whittaker+planisphere&source=bl&ots=-m6XaLEw b&sig=ACfU3U204E7B_FRrRlY0jakTXPwQ-jhaIQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj89cf0k93jAhW XXM0KHa39AtMQ6AEwEnoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=thomas%20whittaker%20planisphere&f=false

Whittaker, Thomas. “Thomas Whittaker’s Announcements for the Fall Season.” The Publisher’s Weekly 34 (September 22, 1888): 448. https://books.google.com/books?id=URADAAAAYAAJ& pg=PA448&lpg=PA448&dq=thmas+whittaker+planisphere&source=bl&ots=4GLDWPg0wf&sig=ACfU3U18AWwgoWPYALpqcW1asKINchrsOg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj89cf0k93jAhWXXM0KHa39AtMQ6AEwD3oECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=thomas%20whittaker%20planisphere&f=false 

Whittaker, Thomas. “Whittaker’s Planisphere.” The Literary World 19, no. 22 (October 27, 1888): 357. https://books.google.com/books?id=4EsDAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA361&lpg=PA361&dq=whittak ers+planisphere&source=bl&ots=2hlfZH62iS&sig=ACfU3U1YeDeV0KNtVdffOk3LemxjFqQwPA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiu5LX1r93jAhVPKqwKHaUuCng4ChDoATAIegQIBhAB#v=onepage&q=whittakers%20planisphere&f=false