[BEVIS, John (1693-1771). Uranographia; or the Celestial Atlas. London, ca 1750].
Oblong 2o (374 x 484 mm). 51 hand-colored engraved celestial charts, with printed arms of the dedicatees (either academic institution or nobleman) beneath each image. Each annotated in manuscript and with manuscript index (watermarked 1809) at end. (Some slight marginal soiling to some, generally remarkably fresh, with colors bright.) Contemporary red half morocco (rebacked). Provenance: anonymous owner, sold Christie's London, 24 October 1990, lot 9.
EXCEEDINGLY RARE EXAMPLE OF BEVIS'S 'UNPUBLISHED' STAR ATLAS. Bevis worked on the charts from 1747-49, planning to produce a large celestial atlas to be titled Uranographia. He attracted 5 subscribers, all instrument-makers, for 30 copies. In the autumn of 1750, however, Bevis was declared bankrupt and the plates were sequestered. Bevis obviously retained a number of the pulls of the charts, possibly around 50 of the 51 charts completed to that date. A copy is known to have been given to Charles Messier in 1771, and on Bevis's death later that year John Horsfall, his executor, received the remaining charts.
At Horsfall's death in 1785, the catalogue for the sale of his estate lists 6 copies of the 51 chart set. Some copies (such as this one) do not have a title-page, some have a frontispiece and the British Library copy has a later unique title entitled Atlas celeste, dated 1786. William Ashworth's article "John Bevis and His Uranographia" in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (1981, vol. 125., pp.52-73) discusses the work in full. He does not mention any colored copies. John Booth records 12 surviving copies in institution and private hands. The present copy is annotated and indexed in manuscript not before 1809 (watermark date of the index sheet) and was presumably colored by or for the annotator. Colored copies of Bevis's atlas ARE VERY RARE: according to American Book Prices Current, three copies of this atlas have sold in the last 30 years, including this one, last sold at Christie's London, 24 October 1990, lot 9 (and records no colored copies in at least the last 75 years). See also Kilburn, Kevin; Jay M. Pasachoff; and Owen Gingerich, "The Forgotten Star Atlas: John Bevis's Uranographia Brittanica." In: Journal of the History of Astronomy 34 (2003), pp.125-144.