Adler Planetarium

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What does the Adler collect?

The Webster Institute for the History of Astronomy cares for, studies, and interprets the Adler’s collections. The Adler boasts one of the largest and most significant collections of historic scientific instruments in the world. In addition, the collections include rare and modern books, works on paper, photography, paintings, models, and archives.

Search the Collections


Scientific Instruments 

The Adler's historic scientific instrument collection contains over 2000 instruments and models from the 12th through the 20th centuries. Strengths include astrolabes, sundials, and telescopes.

The online collections database is currently unavailable. Please contact for assistance.




Rare and Modern Books

The rare book collec tion covers a wide range of topics about the history of astronomy and scientific instruments.

Books are catalogued in OCLC. You can find books listed in OCLC’s free WorldCat database: In libraries where OCLC’s FirstSearch is available, you can limit your search to the Library Code "AP$". Interlibrary loan is not available.


Research Resources


Webster Signature Database

The Websters’ Database of Instrument Makers Signatures contains 15,000 signatures found on scientific instruments in museums and private collections around the world.


John Herschel Database

The John Herschel Correspondence Database contains summaries for 14,815 letters between John Herschel and his contemporaries. The letters are housed in repositories around the world.


Early Telescope Database

The Dioptrice database catalogs the optical properties of refracting telescopes constructed prior to 1775. The telescopes are from the Adler, the Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon, the Smithsonian, and private collections.

Featured Collections Projects

Collections Access Initiative

Jodi Lacy, M.A.
Lauren Boegen, M.A.
Jennifer Brand, B.F.A.
Jill Postma, M.L.I.S.

The Collections Access Initiative is a five-year project to provide improved access to our collections through a new online catalog and innovative digital gallery access programs for museum visitors. The Webster Institute is implementing a new collections management database that will integrate all collections – scientific instruments, books, works on paper, and archival collections. We are also planning a new digital asset management system to store and preserve our digital collections. Standards for metadata and controlled vocabularies are being established across the two systems. 

Sundials Conservation

Jennifer Brand, B.F.A.
Lauren Boegen, M.A.
Bruce Stephenson, Ph.D.

The Webster Institute is working with a conservator to treat 85 sundials threatened by metal oxidation of silver, brass, and steel surfaces and by physical instabilities. These objects, largely made by European artisans from the 16th through 19th centuries, are distributed over six sundial types: garden and portable horizontal, string-gnomon, compass, Augsburg-type, cube, and diptych and triptych.  

This project is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Bay & Paul Foundations, and the North American Sundial Society.

Webster Memorial Volume

Marv Bolt, Ph.D.
Lauren Boegen, M.A.
Teasel Muir-Harmony, M.A.

To honor contributions of Marjorie and Roderick Webster to the Adler Planetarium, a collection of essays, recollections, and new history of astronomy scholarship will be published as a memorial volume. The Websters began as volunteer caretakers of the Adler’s collections and eventually served as co-curators and Life Trustees of the museum. The volume celebrates their passion for the study of scientific instruments and contributions to the Adler’s collections, the relationships they made, and their support of the broader history of science community.

Adler Collections Publications

Publications are available through the Adler’s online store.

The Astrolabe: Some Notes on its History, Construction and Use (Astrolabe Kit) by Roderick S. Webster. Lake Bluff, IL: Paul MacAlister & Associates, 1984 (second edition). ISBN: 978-1-891220-07-4

Astronomy's Inspirations: A Guide to Art at the Adler by Anna Friedman Herlihy and Elizabeth A. Kessler. Chicago: Adler Planetarium, 2005. ISBN: 978-1-891220-04-3

Awestruck by the Majesty of the Heavens: Artistic Perspectives from the History of Astronomy Collection (exhibition catalog) by Anna Felicity Friedman. Chicago: Adler Planetarium, 1997. ISBN: 978-1-891220-00-5

Historic Scientific Instruments of the Adler Planetarium, Volume I: Western Astrolabes by Roderick and Marjorie Webster. Chicago: Adler Planetarium, 1998. ISBN: 978-1-891220-01-2

Historic Scientific Instruments of the Adler Planetarium, Volume II: Eastern Astrolabes by David Pingree. Chicago: Adler Planetarium, 2009. ISBN: 978-1-891220-02-9

Mapping the Universe (exhibition catalogue) by Jodi Lacy. Chicago: Adler Planetarium, 2007. ISBN: 978-1-891220-05-0

Telescopes: Through the Looking Glass (exhibition catalogue) by Marvin Bolt. Chicago: Adler Planetarium, 2009. ISBN: 978-1-891220-06-7

The Universe Unveiled: Instruments and Images through History by Bruce Stephenson, Marvin Bolt, and Anna Felicity Friedman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. ISBN: 978-0-521791-43-4