Monthly Archives: March 2024


Around this time we celebrate the Spring Equinox, an important point in the yearly calendar but also, marking as it does the change from Winter to Spring with the hope of better weather and more light, good for the soul. Both the Spring and Autumn equinoxes mark the point when the Sun’s path is directly above the Equator, giving equal amounts of daylight and night (the word ‘equinox’ comes from the Latin term Aequus nox, equal night). This double hemisphere World map comes from a Dutch eighteenth-century atlas* and shows the paths of the Equator and the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, when the Sun is at it’s highest point for Northern and Southern summer and winter solstices.

Planisphærium Terrestre sive Terrarum Orbis…from Atlas Minor by Claes Janszoon Visscher, c1705. Map Res 85

The line of the Equator is described as ‘Æquator sive circulus æquidialis vulgo æquinotialis’  (‘Equator or equidistant circle’)

Here’s a page from a German atlas by the publisher Justus Perthes, circa 1910, explaining the way the movements of the Earth around the Sun (Erde und Sonne) create the solstices, equinoxes and seasons.

Page 2 from ‘Sydow-Wagners method. Schul-Atlas’ c1910. B1 (1745)

In Erde und Sonne different diagrams explain the journey of the Earth around the Sun, showing the tilting of the Earth on its axis that gives us the changing seasons. For the purposes of the blog figure 5 is the most important, Lauf der Erde um die Sonne (Erdrevolution), which shows the Earth’s rotation around the Sun. At the top is the Earth in relation to the Sun on the 21st of March, showing a perfect split between light and shade running from Pole to Pole,

This last third period of March has a number of ‘named’ and other important days. As well as the Equinox, the 18th of March, according to the Venerable Bede, was the first day of the Creation. This idea was due to Lady Day, the 25th, which was until 1751 considered the first day of the year. With the 18th being the first day of Creation it could then be worked out that, by a nice coincidence,  fours day later on the 21st the Sun, Moon and Stars were created, this is also St Benedict’s day. The 25th, Lady Day, marks the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, nine months later it will be Christmas.

Mary is an important figure in the history of navigation. She is the Pole Star, a constant in the night sky and is also the saint of Navigators and, most useful on a journey, the ‘Virgin of Good Winds’. This image of the Virgin and Child comes from an early Portuguese portolan chart of the Atlantic. The cartouche with Mary in the centre is located in North America, a guide to those making the perilous journey across the ocean to the New World. Circling Mary are the words to the prayer ‘Ave Maria’, a prayer no doubt uttered on many a dangerous moment on-board ships, ‘…pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen’.

[From an] Untitled portolan chart of the Atlantic, c1550 (MS) K1 (111)

*We have more than one edition of the Atlas Minor…, one edition uses gold-leaf at key points to highlight certain features, including appropriately enough, a Sun


Plane Globe, or, Flat Earth

Geographic depiction of the globe comes in several forms but this one is still a little unusual.  The Modern  Geography… a treatise on the newly-invented Plane Globe  contains essentially two cardboard hemispheres mounted as volvelles with accompanying text description and detailed instructions for use.  The maps are beautifully engraved and hand coloured, centred on the North and South Poles fixed with brass measuring rules.  Curiously for the time the measure is marked in centimetres rather than inches.

This plane globe was issued at a time when geography was emerging as an academic discipline, indeed the Royal Geographical Society had been founded less than a decade previously.  The volume was printed in Manchester in around 1839 by Bancks and Co. which was responsible for the impressive large scale Plan of Manchester and Salford (1832).

The globe form was considered the ultimate in geographical aids so that students could fully understand spatial relationships and had a part to play in instructing astronomers and navigators, however they are bulky and unwieldy. To overcome the problem of portability, convenience and legibility ‘Inventor’ Joseph Bentley has devised what he describes as a ‘Plane Globe’ as a device for learning, as he says on the title page “… for the student, the man of business, and all classes who wish to know something of the world we live in; …”.  The Modern Geography was reviewed in The Spectator (vol.12, June 29, 1839) who were rather impressed

“…is clear and comprehensive; containing an immense amount of statistical and other useful information, packed into a close compass, and so well arranged that individual facts appertaining to any country are easily ascertained: for instance, the latitude and longitude, population, products, and manufactures of every chief town in the world. The topography of the British Isles is still more fully and minutely described: the boundaries and extent of each country – the population, constituencies, and parishes – the average rent of and per acre, the ratio of crime and instruction, and the average amount of productions – are stated. The general account of the different states and kingdoms, though concise, is lively and pregnant with matter. In a word, the publication is a complete multum in parvo of ‘Geography and the use of the Globe.”

The hemispheres are attached to the boards with beautifully illustrated figures in the corners including an orrery and a telescopic view of the moon. The Plane Globe is bound in square quarto, quarter red morocco with green cloth covered boards and black paper title label to upper board.  When the volume arrived in the library as part of the copyright intake it was one of the last books placed in the ‘Med.’[Medicina] classification which is one part of the Bodleian four-part classification. In the later years the distinction by faculty began to be disregarded, and books were added where there was space on the shelves, accounting for this rather anomalous shelfmark.


Not a lot is known about Joseph Bentley himself but there is mention of the availability a celestial plane globe but none seems to have survived. The Modern Geography was later issued without the globe element so the lack of further editions of this work and the high price it probably means it was not a commercial success.


Bentley, Joseph. Modern geography, for the student, the man of business and all classes who wish to know something of the world we live in; … Manchester, [1839]  4° P 40 Med.

Bentley, Joseph. Modern Geography : for the student, the man of business, and all classes who wish to know something of the habitable globe; … Manchester, [1839]  [Without plane globe] S 748 (Buxton Room)