Thomas Harriot
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Guinea-Bissau, 2009

Thomas Harriot (c.1560–1621) was an English scientist and mathematician who in 1609 made the first known astronomical observations through a telescope, beating Galileo by four months. The International Year of Astronomy (IYA) in 2009, nominally a celebration of the revolutionary work of Galileo, afforded an opportunity to make Harriot’s pioneering work better known. Harriot’s first drawing of the Moon, made from Syon House just west of London, was dated 1609 July 26. As well as producing the first map of the Moon, Harriot also left numerous observations of sunspots. But his achievements remained unheralded because, unlike Galileo, he did not publish. The 400th anniversary of Harriot’s first lunar drawing was marked by a special event called Telescope 400 which included the unveiling of a commemorative plaque at the site where his observations were made, Syon House, on 2009 July 26.

Harriot was commemorated philatelically by the west African republic of Guinea-Bissau on this sheet issued in April 2009. The stamp itself depicts Galileo peering through his simple telescope, but on the surrounding sheet we see Harriot and some of his lunar drawings. The picture of Harriot is based on this portrait by an unknown artist which is assumed to be of him but the identity is not confirmed. This lack of an authentic portrait of Harriot supposedly dissuaded Royal Mail from producing their own commemorative stamp to him in IYA.

Part of Harriot’s Moon map, but not Harriot himself, is shown on the Journey to the Moon sheet issued by Royal Mail in July 2009.


Stanley Gibbons no. ??

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