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The Great Astrolabe

Made by Humphrey Cole of London, 1575

Astrolabes can be used for navigation, surveying, astronomical calculation and astrological purposes.  This exceptionally beautiful instrument was made by Humphrey Cole, the most important scientific instrument maker of the Elizabethan age, and is widely regarded as his masterpiece.  Its size would have made it cumbersome to use, and it may have been designed originally as a presentation piece for a rich patron:  Cole made smaller astrolabes for Edward VI and Elizabeth I.

The astrolabe's base is deep enough to hold three plates, but only one of Cole's plates survives.  It is for a latitude of 52 degrees, corresponding to the English Midlands.  Another plate was designed for the astrolabe by John Marke of London, probably about 1673 at the request of James Gregory, who is thought to have bought the instrument for use in the planned University observatory.  The Marke plate has a latitude of 56°25′, close to the accepted latitude of St Andrews in that period.