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Volvelles

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Monday, July 5, 2010

Volvelles

Volvelles are paper wheel charts with rotating parts. The modern ones, such as those reproduced in Jessica Helfand's Reinventing the Wheel, are enjoyable. But there's something so captivating about the ones from previous centuries that were incorporated into books. These were used for serious stuff like astronomy, medicine and fortune-telling. They were computing devices in their day. To think that the modern movable book has such exalted ancestry.

When I posted a picture recently of a volvelle from Petrus Apianus's 1529 Cosmographia, it whetted my appetite for more. Here are a couple of other examples from the Cosmographia.



A spread from the Library of Congress website, showing the positions of the sun, moon and planets.

According to the Lambeth Palace Library Exhibition catalogue, Petrus Apianus (1495-1552) was a mathematician and a pioneer in astronomical and geographical instrumentation. The Cosmosgraphia was a European best-seller. It appeared over the next century in as many as 45 editions in 4 languages, printed in 7 cities by at least 18 printers. It contained four volvelles.

Here are a few links to historical volvelles:

Robert Sabuda has a brief history, with pictures. An early one, pictured below, was made by a Benedictine monk in 1250 and was used to determine when to observe holidays. Some say it is the earliest known example of a volvelle.



A few reproductions from the 1552 Astronomicon Caesareum, which contained 35 volvelles, can be found here. The following image from it is thanks to the Wikipedia page on Volvelles:


This page also has a brief history of volvelles and some more pictures from the Astronomicon C., among others, but be warned that several of the links here no longer work.

The following is a "cipher encoding machine" from around 1600, from an exhibition of manuscripts that was at the Getty:


Doesn't it just make you want to start cutting and assembling circles?

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4 Comments:

Blogger Angela said...

These are absolutely beautiful. Never really heard about these before, so thanks for sharing.

Lovely blog by the way and some great links. Thanks for following my blog, looking forward to your posts.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010  
Blogger Paper Chipmunk said...

Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you liked the volvelles, and I appreciate the kind feedback. I got pleasantly lost following your various links to your website and pics on Flickr. Really lovely stuff there. I look forward to your posts.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010  
Blogger Angela said...

Thanks. Know what you mean by getting lost. I start looking at blogs which lead to other links, Twitter, Flickr etc. then end up on a page and have no idea how I got there.

Friday, July 09, 2010  
Anonymous Paper Chipmunk said...

Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you liked the volvelles, and I appreciate the kind feedback. I got pleasantly lost following your various links to your website and pics on Flickr. Really lovely stuff there. I look forward to your posts.

Saturday, April 02, 2011  

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