About the Webster signature Database

Compiled by Roderick S. and Marjorie K. Webster
Former Curators, Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.

Copyright notice

This database and its documentation are © 2007, Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum. The database is made freely available for scholarly use, but it is not in the public domain. You may copy or redistribute the database in any form, but you may not charge money for it except to recover your expenses. No warranty of any kind is associated with the database.

History of the Websters' database

This database of instrument makers, or more precisely of their signatures, is a product of many years of research by Roderick and Marjorie Webster, longtime curators of the collection of scientific instruments at Chicago's Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum.

Important note: Most of these instruments are not in the Adler collection (which you can find more information about here). We know nothing about them beyond the information returned by searching this database. You may be able to learn more by contacting the institutions in the "Instruments" column, or by consulting the "References" listed.

The Adler has the finest collection of its type in the western hemisphere, but when the Websters arrived in the early 1960s as volunteer curators the Adler collection had long been neglected. They quickly took up the serious study of scientific instruments, traveling widely to study and photograph instruments in other collections. In their travels the Websters took copious notes about the instrument makers whose work they encountered. Realizing early the benefits of computerization, they acquired a Vector Graphics microcomputer and commissioned a custom database into which they could enter the information and notes they had accumulated on instrument makers. This custom database was later converted to the MS-DOS operating system, and was updated in that form until Rod Webster's death in 1997. In 2001 Madge Webster formally gave the database to the Adler Planetarium.

Bill Burns (http://ftldesign.com/) first extracted the data from the Websters' custom database for use on the web. More recently, Steven Lucy has converted the html files into the modern database that currently holds them. We are grateful for their generous assistance, and neither of them is responsible for any errors in the database. This project seems to us an example of the merits of distributing free (to you) or low-cost (to us) information on the Web.

The presentation of these data could be further improved in many ways, mostly involving money or time that is not available. Please take this resource for what it is: a guide to research, rather than an authoritative reference. You can suggest a correction to the database from the Search Results form.

Finding a signature

Enter a maker's name and click Search. To search one of the other fields, uncheck Signature and check the desired field.


This is a simple database of signatures appearing on scientific instruments preserved in museums or private collections visited by Rod and Madge Webster. The data are presented in spreadsheet format, with six columns.

  1. Signature
  2. Maker info
  3. Instruments
  5. Location
  6. References
  1. The literal signature, possibly with an appended number. A single signature used by several instrument makers is listed several times with sequential numbers appended. Appended sequence numbers are not part of the signature.
  2. Information (not guaranteed) about the instrument maker. This may include nationality, dates, and an abbreviation indicating the types of instruments on which the signature appears. Abbreviations for type of instrument made:
  3. A partial list of other instruments attributed to the instrument maker, with the location or institution at which they were observed. A table of abbreviations used for instrument locations is linked to the main database page.
  4. Comments can be almost anything.
  5. Location or address at which the instrument maker worked. Often unknown; sometimes a city; sometimes a street address or list of addresses.
  6. References. A table of bibliographic abbreviations is linked to the main database page. The most common reference, RSW, indicates a personal observation by Rod Webster.
  7. Return to main page of the Websters' Database
    MIM Mathematical instrument maker
    NIM Nautical instrument maker
    OIM Optical instrument maker
    PHIM Philosophical instrument maker
    SIM Surveying instrument maker