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. The Adler Collections Catalog is essentially complete.

Collections Strengths


The Adler’s archival collections relate primarily to the 19th and 20th centuries, and contain manuscripts and printed materials. Strengths include the Adler Planetarium Institutional Records, the Derek J. de Solla Price Papers, the Roderick and Marjorie Webster Papers, and the Alvan Clark & Sons Business and Family Papers. The archival collections total approximately 130 linear feet.


The Adler’s library collections include rare books, modern books, and periodicals. These materials cover a wide range of topics on the history of astronomy and historic scientific instruments. Rare book collection strengths include celestial atlases, books on comets, early works on instruments, and astronomical and cosmological texts. The library collections include approximately 2800 rare books and 7000 modern books.


The museum collections include works on paper, paintings, and three-dimensional objects. The three-dimensional objects include historic scientific instruments and astronomical models from the 12th through the 20th centuries. Strengths include astrolabes, sundials, and telescopes. The works on paper collection includes individual maps, prints, and bookplates. Strengths include comet and eclipse broadsides, portrait prints, and celestial charts. The museum collections total approximately 2700 artifacts.

Featured Project: Sundials Conservation 

Sundials Conservation

Jennifer Brand, B.F.A.
Lauren Boegen, M.A.

The Webster Institute recently completed a sundials conservation project. A conservator treated 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, were distributed over six sundial types: garden and portable horizontal, string-gnomon, compass, Augsburg-type, cube, and diptych and triptych.  

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

Institute of Museum and Library Services

Noon Guns and Cannon Sundials

Explore our noon gun and cannon sundial collection from the Adler Planetarium in our webisode, Spark Your Curiosity

Sundials Conservation

Learn more about how we conserve our sundials on our webisode, Conserving Sundials

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

Research Resources

Webster Signature Database

The Websters’ Database of Instrument Makers Signatures contains information about 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.