The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Orrery making

 

The making of orreries, mechanical solar system models that have been made for centuries as teaching aids.

 

Status Critically endangered
Craft category Instruments
Historic area of significance London
Area currently practised Norfolk, Essex
Origin in the UK 16th century
Current no. of professionals (main income) 1
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
1-2
Current no. of trainees 0
Current total no. serious amateur makers
1
Current total no. of leisure makers
2 estimated
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

Orreries were first made as teaching aids to explain how the solar system worked. One of the first known orreries is the Antikythera mechanism, dated between 150 and 100 BC and discovered in 1900 in a wreck off the Greek island of Antikythera. It shows the the diurnal motions of the Sun, Moon, and the five planets known at the time.

Clock makers George Graham and Thomas Tompion built what is considered the first modern orrery around 1704. Modern orreries are still used as teaching aids, but are increasingly collected as artworks. Modern orrery makers push the boundaries of the traditional orrery model to incorporate an orbiting moon.

 

Techniques

The manufacture of orreries requires a high level of mechanical engineering techniques, woodworking and mathematical skills, and a good sense of design.

 

Local forms

 

 

Sub-crafts

 

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • There is a worldwide demand for top quality orreries, but the problem that a lot of makers face is the high level of skill required to make a quality orrery, plus the mathematics involved.
  • Most existing practitioners are past retirement age
  • No recognised training programme
  • No full or part-time courses (see below in ‘initiatives))
  • No instructional publications

 

Support organisations

 

 

Craftspeople currently known

  • Staines & Son – Derek Staines now works part time in the business, while son Tim works full time.
  • Orreries UK, Essex – Peter Grimwood, now on a part-time basis
  • Ted Goode – part-time maker

 

Other information

Last year at West Dean Peter Grimwood ran a 1-day orrerymaking course, and they were exploring the practicalities of an in depth training course of four three-day sessions extending over a few months. This all stopped when COVID 19 became an issue.

 

References

There is nothing published on the craft of orrery making. There are a few books on individual orreries, and Henry King’s 1978 Geared to the Stars is a comprehensive review of the historical development of orreries.