Philip Mills Arnold Comet Collection

Though perhaps best known in the Julian Edison Department of Special Collections for his expansive Semiology Collection, Philip Mills Arnold (1911-1994) is to thank for a number of notable collections within the University Libraries.

One such collection, the Arnold Comet Collection, highlights another niche of the avid collector’s interests: early cometary science and its developments over the past several hundred years. Comets have long inspired humanity to look to the stars for answers, and the study of such heavenly bodies has opened new chapters in science since the earliest days of more formal astronomical theory around the sixteenth century.

As long as humans have been studying the skies, comets have provoked feelings of awe, wonderment, and dread—starry messengers that bode ill for all. It was not until Edmond Halley proposed a theory of cometary motion—later proved when the comet since named for him returned as predicted in 1759—that comets began to lose much of their mystery.

Arriving at the University Libraries in 1986 to coincide with the return of Halley’s Comet, the Philip Mills Arnold Comet Collection includes 34 works in 33 volumes concerning the science and theory surrounding comets—the earliest of which dates to 1531 and all but a few printed before 1900. Such material provides a window into early cometary science and documents the evolution of what humanity believed, learned, and wrote about comets over most of the previous millennia.


Special Collections, Special Collections, Preservation, and Digital Strategies
Cassie Brand
Job Title
Curator of Rare Books
Phone Number
(314) 935-4950