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Orrery (front), made by John Miller

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in Edinburgh

Orrery (front), made by John Miller
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This piece of demonstration equipment was ordered by John Robison (1739-1805), Professor of Natural Philosophy (physics) so that it could be used in a large classroom with raking seats, yet still be seen by most of the students. This is why, unlike most orreries, or models of the solar system, it is set up vertically, rather than the more usual horizontal form. The first orrery, constructed in the late 17th century, was made for the Earl of Cork and Orrery, hence its name.

This photograph shows the front view of the instrument. It is signed above the dial, 'John Miller Edinburgh'. The wheelwork and internal construction of orreries has much in common with clocks, and it is possible that the gearing of this complicated instrument was done for John Miller by his younger brother Alexander, who had completed a clockmaking apprenticeship in Edinburgh in 1772.

John Miller (1746-1815) may have served his apprenticeship with the London instrument maker George Adams. On his return to Edinburgh, one of his most significant early commissions was from John Robison, who from 1774 was professor. Because the class equipment was normally the professor's personal property, Robison had to re-equip, but fortunately he had a large bequest to help him. Some instruments were purchased from London, but this orrery was one of many items ordered from Miller, although only one of two which survive.

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