Robert B. Ariail: Collector and Stargazer

The Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections is pleased to display highlights from Robert B. Ariail Collection of Historical Astronomy. Robert Ariail, a native of Sumter, SC and graduate of the University of South Carolina, began practicing astronomy as a youth in the 1940s. His first book on the subject was William Tyler Olcott’s Field Book of the Skies. Over the past half-century, Mr. Ariail built a collection that encompasses more than 5,200 rare books and star atlases, scientific journals, rare offprints and manuscripts now housed in the Irvin Department. The Robert B. Ariail Collection of Historical Astronomy compliments Mr. Ariail’s collection of historic telescopes and astronomical instruments, now at the State Museum. Both collections are exemplary in their comprehensiveness and we are pleased that Mr. Ariail chose to share his passion for astronomy with the general public in donating his collections to our institutions of learning.

Works on display during the weekend of the eclipse will include: Alessandro Piccolomini’s Sfera del mondo e Delle stelle fisse (1540), the first printed star atlas, Johann Bayer’s Uranometria (1603), the first atlas to cover the entire celestial sphere, an early astronomical textbook by Georg von Peurbach (1537), a manuscript treatise by William Stukeley, Claude Siméon Passemant’s Construction d’un telescope de réflexion de seize pouces de longueur (1738), which explains the details of Passemant’s reflecting telescope, and many other works that illustrate the progress of astronomy. Also on display will be a variety of texts that illustrate humanity’s progressive understanding of the nature of solar eclipses and their corollary phenomena, books that document how astronomy transitioned from a highly specialized science to a popular amateur pursuit, as well as some of Mr. Ariail’s own astronomical observations.