astronomical observation and the photographic revolver

A Collection of 58 Offprints.

Paris, Gauthier-Villars, 1874-95

58 offprints in one vol., 4to, various paginations, from Comptes Rendus des Séances de l’Académie des Sciences, with a mimeographed list of contents bound in at the end; contemporary calf-backed marbled boards


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an outstanding collection of offprints of janssen’s important work in physical astronomy and spectroscopy, including the first description of his photographic revolver.

The first paper is Présentation de quelques spécimens de photographies solaires obtenues avec un appareil construit pour la mission du Japon, 22 June 1874, in which he alludes to but does not describe the ‘photographic revolver’ (the principles of which he had announced in February 1873). The following paper, 6 July 1874, is the epoch-making Présentation d’un spécimen de photographies d’un passage artificiel de Vénus, obtenu avec le révolver photographique, which introduced to the world his famous ‘photographic revolver’ and its first results - ‘the first “film”’ (Singer, A History of Technology V, p. 739).

With this apparatus, the first to photograph successive phases of a single movement and here largely applied to astronomical observation, Janssen ‘realized one of the operations necessary for cinematography’ (DSB). Later in the volume comes Note sur le principe d’un nouveau révolver photographique, 3 April 1882, published in response to Marey’s earliest papers (in March 1882) on the use of the revolver to record the flight of birds: these papers of Janssen spurred Marey’s momentous experiments which resulted in the birth of cinematography, as presented by him to the Académie des Sciences on 29 October 1888. Janssen ‘was in the chair on this historic occasion ... but few of the other members could have realised that these small strips of photographic paper marked the foundation of a new art and a new industry’ (Singer, p. 741).

Other interesting papers may be mentioned briefly. Sur la constitution de la surface solaire et sur la Photographie envisagée comme moyen de découverte en Astronomie physique, one of his visionary disquisitions on the potential of photography in astronomy, has an actual photograph of the solar surface pasted onto the final page, an ‘épreuve photoglyptique obtenue sans aucune intervention de la main humaine,’ which is followed by his Présentation d’un specimen de photographies d’un passage artificial de Vénus, obtenu avec le revolver photographique, as well as papers on a micrometer designed to measure solar images, on the passage of hypothetical bodies between Mercury and the Sun, solar spots, solar temperature, eclipses, a transit of Venus, and the application of photography to spectral analysis.

A non-astronomical paper is Sur le phonographe de M. Edison, 23 April 1889, which Janssen encountered at the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Bath, September 1888.

All of these offprints are extremely rare. OCLC records copies at the Paris Museum of Natural History or Observatory, or not at all.


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