Small Oblong Folio (32 x 40.3 cm / 12.5 x 16 inches): Collation Complete – 5 (letterpress text, with 2 coloured woodcut vignettes on p. 2), [1 (letterpress ephemeris table)], 1 engraved celestial map; bound in original light blue-grey paper covers with decorative printed pastedown label to front cover (Very Good, internally clean and crisp; covers with marginal fraying and wear to spine).
This fine treatise is a guide to celestial navigation for mariners, written by Poul de Løvenørn, one of the era’s most important hydrographers and practical astronomers. Published in only this single edition, in April 1822, in Copenhagen, by the Königliches Dänisches Seekartenarchiv (the Danish Hydrographic Office), it was written in the German language in an effort to reach a wider audience. Here Løvenørn builds upon his 55 years of maritime experience to give an excellent and practically useful guide to celestial navigation on the high seas by the stars of the Northern Hemisphere. Unlike many other such guides, this work is scientifically accurate, yet employs a brilliant economy of expression, allowing the reader to quickly master the necessary concepts in a short matter of time. Fittingly, the title translates to read: ‘Map of the stars and instructions for the knowledge of the most distinguished fixed stars, according to their position on the exchange. Especially for use for sailors. Published by the Royal Danish Sea Chart Archives.’
Løvenørn notes that most stars appear to move from east to west in the night sky, although, in actuality, it is the earth that is moving, rotating upon its Axis, while the stars are immovable objects (at least on a day-to-day basis). That being said, some stars, notably the Polar, or, North Star, are constants, and appear to remain stationary in the sky, regardless of the observer’s day-to-day positioning and, as such, all other stars appear to be rotating around this seminal point (as the North Star is located almost directly above the North Pole).
In this well-written text, Løvenørn provides a guide for navigating by using imagined lines drawn between the permanent (immovable) starts, which he describes as a “declaration of the accompanying representation of the reciprocal state of the stars and the proof of the principal fixed stars by lines”. The text is meant to be read while consulting the Ephemeris Table (which notes the scientific positioning of various key stars) and the chart of the Northern Celestial Hemisphere (centred on the North Star), which features Løvenørn’s navigation lines between the various permanent stars.
Poul de Løvenørn: Leading Danish Astronomer and Cartographer
Poul the Løvenørn [often known by the German version: Löwenörn] (1751 – 1826) was one of the most important figures in the development of astronomy and scientific cartography in Scandinavia, as well as being a senior diplomat and administrator. Løvenørn was born to a good family and entered the Danish naval academy in 1767. He was a stellar student, graduating as a second lieutenant in 1770. He proved to be a virtuoso navigator and astronomer, and this led him to be seconded to serve in the French Navy, which was allied to the Danish crown. While in French service, he became acquainted with several of leading lights of that nation’s scientific community, notably the great astronomer Jérôme Lalande.
Løvenørn returned to Denmark in 1781, where he was promoted to lieutenant commander. In 1782, he was appointed to lead an important test mission to asses the accuracy of the ne J.A. Armand chronometer, sailing across the Atlantic to the West Indies and back. His well-regarded report was published in 1786.
Løvenørn was a great admirer of the French Dépôt des cartes de marine, the official chart-making and archiving office. This organization had led France to become a world leader in hydrography. Denmark had no office for sponsoring hydrographic surveys and printing and storing charts. In 1784, fresh from his test mission, Løvenørn had acquired enough ‘street cred’ to convince the Danish government to sponsor the creation of the Königliches Dänisches Seekartenarchiv, to fulfil the same role as the Dépôt in the Danish realm, which then controlled not only metropolitan Denmark, but also Iceland and the Faroe Islands.
In his new role, Løvenørn personally led advanced trigonometric surveys all along the coasts of Denmark, while successfully urging the government to fund the construction of new lighthouses, buoys and other navigational aids.
In 1786, Løvenørn led an expedition to ‘rediscover’ Denmark’s ‘lost colony’ of Greenland, but never managed to reach the shores of this great landmass, due to the obstruction of drifting sea ice.
Løvenørn’s most consequential contribution to hydrography was perhaps the completion and publication of the first scientific charting of Iceland. The scientific hydrography of Iceland was commenced by Captain Hans Erik Minor in 1776, who made fine charts of the island’s southwestern coasts. His death in 1778 halted surveying activities, although many of his charts were printed in 1788 under Løvenørn’s direction. Løvenørn sought for years to gain the funding to continue and complete the coastal surveying of Iceland, which was finally granted in 1800. Surveying resumed in 1801 under the hydrographic department’s auspices, and all of Iceland’s coastlines were charted to advanced trigonometric standards by 1818, with all charts being published by 1826.
Løvenørn was held in high esteem by the Danish Royal Court and was, on several occasions, dispatched as a special ambassador to various nations. In 1787, he represented Denmark during a mission to the court of Catherine the Great in St. Petersburg. The Russian Tsarina was so impressed with Løvenørn that she tried to recruit him to her navy, a generous offer that the Danish officer politely refused. In 1791, Løvenørn led a mission to Morocco.
For the rest of his life, Løvenørn worked tirelessly on a variety of causes, such as mapmaking, scientific writing (leading to the present work) and harbour / urban planning. By the time of his death, in 1826, he was one of the most respected and consequential figures in Denmark, well known throughout European elite circles.
A Note on Rarity
The present work is very rare. We can trace only 4 institutional examples (Dänische Königliche Bibliothek; Hamburg Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek; British Library; and the Bibliothèque nationale de France); we can trace only a single other example appearing on the market during the last 30 years.
References: OCLC: 488297978; Poggendorff I, Sp. 1487f.; Annalen der erd, völker- und staatenkunde (1825), vol. 2, p. 101.