Columbia businessman Robert Ariail’s astronomical hobby has become a new collection for the state museum and the University of South Carolina that “rivals, and in some areas exceeds, the Library of Congress itself.” That’s according to Owen Gingerich of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. He adds, “Ariail has put together a vintage collection of astonishing proportions.”
Ariail has donated more than 5,200 rare books and star atlases, scientific journals, rare offprints and manuscripts, historic and modern telescopes plus binoculars, lenses and other scientific equipment related to the study of the universe and dating back nearly 500 years.
It will be called the Robert B. Ariail Collection of Historical Astronomy. The telescopes and scientific equipment will be housed at the museum, and the books and documents will be housed at USC’s Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library.
Ariail, who turns 80 years old this December, says he wanted to make sure everyone had access to the rare collection.”I wanted to preserve the collection as a complete collection, not sell one here, sell one there, so that it can be used by amateurs, scholars, writers, whatever.”
The museum and USC are developing a website that will allow the public to do just that. USC President Harris Pastides explained “Most people who access this Ariail collection will do so virtually.”
“This is a collection that was amassed over a lifetime,” said Tom Falvey, director of education and curator of science and technology for the State Museum. “It is priceless. The historic scopes, which date back to 1730, were individually made, not mass-produced. This collection could not be duplicated anywhere in the world.”
Many of the scopes are now displayed in a small state museum gallery, but will eventually be housed in a large designated space planned by the museum.
The books, manuscripts and documents are on display in the Irvin Department Gallery at USC’s Hollings Library Sept. 13 – Oct 31.
The documents, being appraised now, could be valued up to $750,000 says Tom McNally, USC’s dean of libraries. The collection includes the earliest printed star atlas, compiled in 1540 by Alessandro Piccolomini. Titled “De la sfera del mondo,” the atlas is also the oldest book in the Ariail collection.