Adler Collections

The Webster Institute for the History of Astronomy cares for, studies, and interprets the Adler 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. For research appointments, download, fill, and submit the Research Request Form to For rights and reproductions requests, please email

Behind The Scenes

Celestial Cartography in the Adler's Collections Department

Celestial Cartography Digitization

The Webster Institute is currently working on a celestial cartography digitization project, part of the Collections Access Initiative to bring Adler collections to the broadest possible audience. Through 2017, staff will digitize and create metadata for approximately 6000 celestial maps. The project includes more than 227 rare books and atlases, containing over 1,000 star charts; 97 works on paper; 58 objects from the scientific instrument collection; and the Carte du Ciel collection of approximately 3,750 prints. Dating from the fifteenth through twentieth centuries, the Adler’s celestial cartography focuses on European astronomy, but also includes significant examples from China and the Islamic world. The images will be available online in the Adler Collections Catalog.

The Celestial Cartography Digitization Project has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Celebrating 50 Years of Excellence.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Zeiss Projector, close-up, ca. 1940

Adler Planetarium Historic Photography Collection

With the generous support of the Michael W. Louis Charitable Trust, Webster Institute staff is in the first phase of a multi-year project to catalogue and digitize more than 35,000 photographs capturing the history of the Adler Planetarium from 1930 to 2013.

In this phase, Adler staff research and document the events and subjects of each photograph to museum cataloguing standards and make high resolution scans of the original images. The original images are rehoused in archival materials and the high-resolution scans are stored in a trusted digital repository while the catalogue information and the scans are made available to the public in the online catalog. Staff and public have unprecedented access to the objects, rare books, and archival material in the Adler collections.

The 2015 Summer Teen Interns worked on scanning and cataloging the collection, and the 2015 Girls Do Hack event utilized materials from this collection to build timelines from JavaScript plugins using the open source TimelineJS tool from Northwestern University’s Knight Lab.


Books in the Adler Collections Department

Book Conservation

The Webster Institute cares for more than 2500 rare books and manuscripts. Well-used objects made of fragile and organic materials, books require ongoing conservation and stabilization. The Adler utilizes a contract book conservator who completes conservation on books flagged for repair by the collections staff and assists in preparing books for public display. Treatments include full rebinding, building enclosures, treating red rot, consolidating leather, mending pages, and securing new endsheets, among others. See below for some before and after examples, and be sure to check on the Webster Institute Facebook page for our Conservation Monday highlights!

A photograph from the Adler's Collections Department

Adler Collections Staff

Learn more about the Webster Institute staff and the Adler Collections department.

Research Resources

Webster Signature Database

John Herschel Database

Early Telescope Database

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