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Royal Observatory Library - The Crawford Collection

Address. Blackford Hill, Edinburgh EH9 3HJ [Map]
Telephone. (0131) 668-8100
Fax. (0131) 668-8264

Governing body or responsible institution. An establishment of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council
Function. Research library.
Subjects. Astronomy and related subjects.

Access. Access to bona fide researchers only by prior arrangement with the Librarian. - Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9 a.m. - 17.30 p.m.
Special facilities. Photocopier; microfiche readers; photography by arrangement.
Travel directions. Bus service (nos. 40, 41).


1.1 There are now five large collections of early astronomical books in the world including the Crawford Collection, namely the Pulkovo Observatory near St. Petersburg, the Royal Astronomical Society Library in London, the Paris Observatory Library and the Uppsala University Observatory Library, but this is regarded as the most comprehensive. Although founded on the model of the library at Pulkovo, to which it was regarded as next in importance for many years, it has now overtaken it, especially after the fire in the latter observatory also damaged a large part of the library's stock.

1.2 In 1872 James Ludovic Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford (1847-1913) founded an observatory at Dun Echt, his Scottish estate to the west of Aberdeen, in order to pursue his interest in astronomy, which appears to have had its origins during his student days at Cambridge, while bibliographical interests seem to have been inherited. It is clear that the programme of work outlined by Lindsay for his observatory owed a great deal to the description of the observatory at Pulkovo near St. Petersburg written by its Director, Wilhelm Struve (1793-1864), which included the catalogue of its library. A revised edition of that catalogue was published separately by Struve's son, Otto, in 1860, by which time that library had been recognised as the finest of its type anywhere. In acknowledging this, Lindsay used that catalogue as the model for his own observatory's purchasing policy.

1.3 A further spur to his career as a bibliographer was supplied about the year 1870 by a request from his father, the 25th Earl of Crawford and 8th Earl of Balcarres, who was also a renowned book collector, to use his known scientific interests to develop the general scientific material in his library as a way of complementing the family library, which was deficient in these subjects. The young Lindsay was able to achieve a striking improvement of such material within a relatively short time by the wholesale purchase in 1872 of the library of the mathematician Charles Babbage (1792-1871). This collection of over 2,500 items contained works on mathematics, astronomy, chronology, physics and meteorology, scientific periodicals and the transactions of many scientific societies and academies. A further significant acquisition was made in 1881 with the purchase of manuscripts and printed books which had belonged to Michel Chasles (1793-1880), Member of the French Academy, who had held the Chair of Geodesy and Applied Mechanics at the École Polytechnique in Paris. Other important acquisitions came from the sales of the libraries of the statesman and bibliophile Charles Spencer (1674-1722), 3rd Earl of Sunderland, and John Poyntz Spencer (1835-1910), 5th Earl of Spencer, the library of William Beckford (1759-1844; sold 1882), the Hamilton Palace Library belonging to Alexander Douglas, 10th Duke of Hamilton (sold 1882) and the Osterley sale (1885), when the library of Victor Albert George Child Villiers, 7th Earl of Jersey (1815-1915) was auctioned. While these purchases ensured that the stock of both his own and the family library was as comprehensive as possible in scientific subjects generally, Lindsay pursued his special interest in comets. In acquiring almost 1,000 items on that subject alone he succeeded in outstripping by fifty per cent the holdings of Pulkovo. There are now over 1,250 comet-related items in the Crawford Collection at Edinburgh. (For the history of the library see also below 5, A. Macdonald, A heavenly library.)

1.4 Important and substantial documentary evidence of Lindsay's use of German antiquarian booksellers exists in the collection in the form of bills, with details of the author's name, a brief title and date of publication, from such firms as Oswald Weigel of Leipzig, Robert Peppmüller of Göttingen and R. Friedländer & Sohn of Berlin. By way of illustration Weigel's bill of 1 October 1887 included Friedrich Nausea's Ad sacratissimum Caesarem Ferdinandum ...super huius anni ...M.D.xxxi. & quolibet alio cometa exploratio (Cologne 1532?), for which he charged Lindsay Mark (M) 3.00, Jacob Ziegler's Gründlicher Bericht, von den natürlichen Ursachen der Erdbidmen (Zürich 1674), for which he asked M 2.40 and Johann Herrliberger's Kurtze und grundtliche Beschreibung desz ...erschrocklichen Wunder Cometen (Zürich 1681), which cost Lindsay M 2.70. Similarly an undated bill from Friedländer listed Jacob Köbel's Geometrei, vonn künstlichen Messen, usw. (s. l., 1536), at a cost of M 2.70. For the last fifteen years or so of the 19th century the British and German currencies remained remarkably stable vis-à-vis each other at M 20.00 to £1.0.0, which means that Lindsay paid under 3s. for each of the three mentioned above. To help us toward a more accurate picture of how much Lindsay was paying to these booksellers, the total of M 222.70 [£11.2.9] paid by him to Weigel against that bill of October 1887 represented a little over one-eighth of the annual salary of £80.0.0., which a qualified pharmacist could earn in Scotland at that time. Around the same time Lindsay purchased a large selection of items from Friedländer at a cost of M 2,462.10 [£123.2.1]. (See also below 5, O. Gingerich, The Crawford treasures, in: A heavenly library.)

1.5 In the late 1870s the British Government seemed prepared to abolish the Royal Observatory on Edinburgh's Calton Hill, which had been badly underfunded during the first fifty years. Incensed by this prospect, Crawford offered to donate to the nation all his instruments and library on condition that the Government should build and maintain a new Royal Observatory. In spite of Crawford's later regret that his gift of his library to the nation had included his rare, early works on astronomy, a fact which explains their omission from his monumental Bibliotheca Lindesiana (Aberdeen 1910), his generosity meant that this body of material was not dispersed along with the rest of that material, and allows students of the history of science and bibliographers alike to benefit from his passion for books and his critical taste.


2.1 The Crawford Library comprises approximately more than 15,000 vols. The computerised catalogue of the pre-1800 Crawford collection (including tracts up to 1900 and later acquisitions) lists 4,376 vols and pamphlets (see below 3, Smyth). German imprints form a significant part not only numerically but also bibliographically. The total number of German-language and German-printed volumes published before 1900 cannot be stated with any accuracy, but may be in the region of 20 per cent. German imprints of the 15th to 17th centuries are mostly in Latin.

2.2 Four books printed in the early 1470s by the Nuremberg astronomer Johannes Regiomontanus are among the oldest examples of printing in the collection. In the press which he set up in Nuremberg Regiomontanus began work on an ambitious programme of scientific printing, one of the most elegant products of this venture being Georg Peurbach's Theoricae Novae Planetarum (1471). Among the other early editions produced by Regiomontanus in the collection are the Astronomicon (1472) by the first-century Roman astronomer, Marcus Manilius, as well as Regiomontanus's own popular Calendarium of 1474 in both the Latin and German editions.

2.3 There are roughly 450 16th-century titles in the Crawford Library, including the first Latin and Greek editions of Ptolemy's Almagest (Venice 1482 and Basel 1533) and Petrus Apianus's Astronomicum Caesareum (Ingolstadt 1540), whose multiple layers of colourful volvelles illustrated in a very graphic manner Ptolemy's geocentric theory. However, the most important book published on astronomy in that century was Nicolaus Copernicus's De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (Nuremberg 1543), and its presence in the collection is doubly remarkable because Crawford by chance, and quite unknown to him, had acquired the most important copy of that book in existence, in that it bore from beginning to end numerous, perceptive annotations by a former owner, Erasmus Reinhold, the influential professor of astronomy at Wittenberg. Crawford's holdings of the works of other astronomers of that century are impressive in both quantity and quality. They include Nicolaus Reimarus Ursus's De astronomicis hypothesibus (Prague 1597), most copies of which were destroyed in consequence of a lawsuit instigated against him by Tycho Brahe. Indeed copies of the work are so rare that Tycho's biographer, J. L. E. Dreyer, had been unable to find one until he located the one in Crawford's collection. Albertus Leoninus's Theoria motuum coelestium (Cologne 1583) was similarly dismissed for some time as a ghost by the bibliographer Lynn Thorndike.

2.4 There are almost 600 titles in the Crawford Library from the 17th century, with strong representation of the works of Kepler and Hevelius. These include the former's Astronomia nova (Prague 1609) and Harmonice mundi (Linz 1619) and the latter's magnificent star atlas, Uranographia (Gdansk [Danzig] 1690), which once belonged to the German astronomer Johann Elert Bode. An even larger atlas with the same title was published by Bode at Berlin in 1801, a copy of which is also in the Crawford Library. More than a thousand titles from the 18th century were acquired for the library, including important works by Euler, Leibniz, Lambert and others. Increasingly during that period major scientific works, including those on astronomy, were published for the first time in serial form by academies and learned societies, and these are well represented in the Crawford Library. (See also below 5, O. Gingerich, in: A heavenly library.)

2.5 Parallel to the main collection is a group of 1,200 comet tracts, a special interest of Lord Crawford's and clearly an area in which he acquired works with a particular passion, forming an unrivalled collection. To the 450 16th-century titles mentioned above (see 2.3) must be added nearly 80 more relating to comets, over a score dedicated to the Great Comet of 1577. Among these pamphlets from the 17th century are to be found, for example, Petrus Apianus's little tract of 1532 in which, for the first time in the West, he shows that comet tails flow directly away from the Sun. As for the 17th century, in addition to the 600 titles mentioned earlier (see above 2.4), there are another 350 comet tracts, including nearly 80 concerned with the great sungrazing comet of 1680, which figures in Newton's Principia. (See also below 5, O. Gingerich.)


Catalogue of the Crawford Library of the Royal Observatory Edinburgh. [Compiled by Ralph Copeland.] Edinburgh 1890

[There are two versions of this catalogue, one printed in single, the other in double, columns. In the former entries are printed only on the left hand side of each page, to allow for additions to be noted in manuscript on the right.]

Johnston, George P.: The Crawford Library, Royal Observatory. In: Papers of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society 9 (1913) pp. 169-178. Repr. in: Lists of fifteenth century books in Edinburgh libraries. Edinburgh 1913

Smyth, Mary F. I.; Smyth, Michael J.: Supplement to the catalogue of the Crawford Library of the Royal Observatory Edinburgh. Edinburgh 1977

[Computer-produced index of the earlier works of the Crawford Collection published before the year 1800, and of broadsheets and works on comets published up to the early 1900s. It also includes later acquisitions in the same categories. Of the 4,376 vols and pamphlets indexed, about one-fifth do not appear in the original catalogue.]

Grassi, Giovanna: Union catalogue of printed books of the 15th and 16th centuries in astronomical European observatories. Rome 1977

Grassi, Giovanna: Union catalogue of printed books of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries in European astronomical observatories. Manziana 1989

The incunables are recorded in the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC).


The Lindsay family muniments have been deposited in the National Library of Scotland's Department of Manuscripts. Although their contents have not yet been examined in detail, they may include correspondence and other material, including booksellers' bills, which chart the development of the collection while it was still in Lord Crawford's ownership. Access to the muniments can be obtained by written application to the present Earl of Crawford.


Barker, Nicolas: Bibliotheca Lindesiana. The lives and collections of Alexander William, 25th Earl of Crawford and 8th Earl of Balcarres, and James Ludovic, 26th Earl of Crawford and 9th Earl of Balcarres. Repr. with corrections. London 1978

The Crawford Library of the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh. Edinburgh 1957. Rev. ed. Edinburgh 1959

Forbes, E. G.: The Crawford Collection of the Royal Observatory. In: Publications of the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh 9 (1973) pp. 7-13

Kemp, D. A.: The Crawford Library of the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh. In: Ibis: an international review devoted to the history of science and its cultural influences 54 (1963) pp. 481-483

Macdonald, A.; Morrison-Low, A. D. (eds.): A heavenly library. Treasures from the Royal Observatory's Crawford Collection. An exhibition held at the National Museums of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh 8 October - 31 December 1994. Edinburgh 1994 [especially pp. 11-16: O. Gingerich, The Crawford treasures. A personal view; pp. 17-20: 5 A. Macdonald, The Crawford Library of the Royal Observatory Edinburgh]

Smyth, Michael J.; Smyth, Mary F. I.: Cataloguing the Crawford Collection by computer. In: Publications of the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh 9 (1973) pp. 14-19

See also: A directory of rare book and special collections ...2nd ed. London 1997, p. 646

October 1997

William A. Kelly

Quelle: Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände in Deutschland. Digitalisiert von Günter Kükenshöner.
Hrsg. von Bernhard Fabian. Hildesheim: Olms Neue Medien 2003.