Guide to the Lick Observatory Records: Research and Publication files UA.036.Ser.05

Alix Norton
University of California, Santa Cruz
1156 High Street
Santa Cruz 95064

Language of Material: English
Contributing Institution: University of California, Santa Cruz
Title: Lick Observatory Records: Research and Publication files
Creator: Lick Observatory
Identifier/Call Number: UA.036.Ser.05
Physical Description: 5.75 Linear Feet 6 boxes, 3 oversize boxes
Date (inclusive): 1840-2009
Date (bulk): 1870-1970


Collection is open for research.


This collection is organized into six series:
  • 1. Research logs
  • 2. Research notes and charts
  • 3. Lick Observatory publications
  • 4. Manuscripts and reports
  • 5. Publications correspondence
  • 6. Indexes

Historical note

The Lick Observatory was completed in 1888 and continues to be an active astronomy research facility at the summit of Mount Hamilton, near San Jose, California. It is named after James Lick (1796-1876), who left $700,000 in 1875 to purchase land and build a facility that would be home to "a powerful telescope, superior to and more powerful than any telescope yet made". The completion of the Great Lick Refractor in 1888 made the observatory home to the largest refracting telescope in the world for 9 years, until the completion of the 40-inch refractor at Yerkes Observatory in 1897. Since its founding in 1887, the Lick Observatory facility has provided on-site housing on Mount Hamilton for researchers, their families, and staff, making it the world's oldest residential observatory.
James Lick was born in Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania in 1796, and spent much of his life building organs and pianos in Pennsylvania and Maryland, as well as in South America. In 1847, he moved to San Francisco, where he started purchasing large amounts of real estate that made him a sizable fortune. Near the end of his life he began discussing ways to leave a legacy in the form of a monument of some kind, and settled on the idea of building something that would advance science, technology, and human knowledge. In 1874, Lick set up the first of three trusts to devote $700,000 to the construction of the most powerful and superior telescope in the world. Richard S. Floyd was the president of the board of trustees of the successful third Lick Trust, and Thomas Fraser was the foreman and superintendent of the entire construction project of the observatory. In August 1875, Lick selected Mount Hamilton in Santa Clara County, California as the site for the observatory after consulting with Fraser. One of the conditions of Mr. Lick's donation for the observatory was that the County would construct a suitable road to the summit of Mount Hamilton, which the County agreed to do. Lick passed away in 1876 before the completion of the observatory, and was later buried at the base of the pier of the Great Lick Refractor.
As chairman of the board of Lick Trustees, Richard S. Floyd was entrusted with making sure the observatory was the greatest of its time. Having no formal training in astronomy or in the use of its instruments, Floyd recruited astronomers Simon Newcomb and E.S. Holden as scientific advisors in planning the buildings and the astronomical equipment. They invited astronomer S.W. Burnham, well known for his work on double stars, to conduct tests on the atmospheric conditions on the mountain, and he found that the observing conditions were among the most favorable he had experienced.
The main telescope that was initially built at Lick Observatory was the 36-inch equatorial refractor, also known as the Great Lick Refractor, completed in 1888. Alvan Clark & Sons shaped the objective lens, and Warner & Swasey constructed the telescope mounting. With the completion of the Great Lick Refractor and the reconstruction of the Crossley 35-inch reflecting telescope in 1895, the Observatory has been home to some of the world's most powerful telescopes. Early research at the Observatory made important contributions to the development of instruments for detecting, photographing, and taking measurements of celestial objects. The Observatory continued to pioneer research in the astronomical applications of spectroscopy and photography throughout the 20th century with the addition of the Carnegie 20-inch double astrograph camera (1941) and the Shane 120-inch reflector telescope (1959), which at the time of its construction was the second largest reflector after the 200-inch at Palomar Observatory. As of 2015, Lick Observatory leads in extrasolar and extragalactic research with the Katzmann Automatic Imaging Telescope (1998), which searches for supernovae, and the Automatic Planet Finder (2013), which searches for planets capable of sustaining life.
Some other examples of notable research conducted at the Lick Observatory throughout the decades include the double star survey initiated in 1888 by S.W. Burnham and E.E. Barnard, and continued by director R.G. Aitken and Hamilton Jeffers through the mid-twentieth century, as well as work in radial velocity and spectroscopy started in 1896 by W.W. Campbell, who later became director for almost 30 years. Campbell also oversaw the majority of the Lick Observatory's solar eclipse expeditions through the early 20th century, traveling to multiple locations in Asia, Africa, Australia, and North and South America to study eclipses in their areas of totality.
The Observatory is currently operated by and headquartered at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and is part of the University of California Observatories (UCO) system. The Observatory was originally transferred to the Regents of the University of California by the James Lick Trust in 1888, and was an independent campus of the UC system until 1958, when it was made part of the University of California, Berkeley. On July 1, 1965, the administration of Lick Observatory was officially transferred from UC Berkeley to UC Santa Cruz, and the following year the astronomers relocated their offices and residences to Santa Cruz, along with the astronomy shops, materials from the observatory's library, and historical documents that made up the archives of the observatory. Mary Lea Shane served as the custodian of the archives both on Mount Hamilton and at UC Santa Cruz, preserving and indexing the correspondence, logs, business records, photographs, and research materials from the observatory's history. In 1982, a ceremony was held at the library to name this collection the Mary Lea Shane Archives of the Lick Observatory. These records are now available as the Lick Observatory Records, collection UA 36, in the Special Collections and Archives department of the UCSC McHenry Library.
For additional references with more information on the Lick Observatory and its history, see the Bibliography section of this finding aid.

Preferred Citation

Lick Observatory Records: Research and Publication files. UA 36 Ser.5. Special Collections and Archives, University Library, University of California, Santa Cruz.

Related Materials

Related published materials can be found via the Library Catalog:
  • Publications of the Lick Observatory (Call number QB82.M646 P92)
  • Focus: the Lick Observatory Newsletter (Call number QB1.F62)
  • Lick Observatory Bulletins (Call number QB82.M646B93)
  • A Brief Account of the Lick Observatory of the University of California (Call number QB82.L5L5)

Scope and Contents

This collection contains both research materials and publication files from the Lick Observatory. Research materials document the work done by Lick astronomers, and contain research logs, reduction books, albums, various notes and charts, and drawings and photographs of astronomical objects. Publication files include mostly unpublished manuscripts and reports by Lick astronomers, as well as some promotional publications made by and about the Lick Observatory. Also included are various indexes from the Lick Observatory library, and correspondence related to the delivery of the Lick Observatory publications and bulletins to other institutions around the world.

Publication Rights

Property rights for this collection reside with the University of California. Literary rights, including copyright, are retained by the creators and their heirs. The publication or use of any work protected by copyright beyond that allowed by fair use for research or educational purposes requires written permission from the copyright owner. Responsibility for obtaining permissions, and for any use rests exclusively with the user. For more information on copyright or to order a reproduction, please visit


Consult the following resources for more information about Lick Observatory:
  • Handbook of the Lick Observatory of the University of California. San Francisco: Bancroft, 1888.
  • Holden, Edward S. A Brief Account of the Lick Observatory of the University of California. Sacramento: State printing Office, 1895.
  • The Lick Observatory Collections Project: Building the Observatory.
  • The Lick Observatory Collections Project: The Life of James Lick.
  • Lick, Rosemary. The Generous Miser: The Story of James Lick of California. Los Angeles: Ward Ritchie Press, 1967.
  • Mathews, Henry E. The James Lick Trust. San Francisco, 1918.
  • Neubauer, F.J. "A Short History of the Lick Observatory." Popular Astronomy 58.5 (1950): 201.
  • Osterbrock, Donald E, John R. Gustafson, and W J. S. Unruh. Eye on the Sky: Lick Observatory's First Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
  • Shane, Mary L. H, and Elizabeth S. Calciano. The Lick Observatory. Glen Rock, N.J: Microfilming Corp. of America, 1974.
  • Wright, Helen. James Lick's Monument: The Saga of Captain Richard Floyd and the Building of the Lick Observatory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Subjects and Indexing Terms

Logs (records)
Astronomy -- Research -- United States
Registers (lists)
Lick Observatory


Research logs 1860-1863, undated


Materials arranged alphabetically by last name of author or by title.

Scope and Contents

Includes various research logs, notebooks, and reduction books of Lick Observatory astronomers.
box 1, folder 1

Aitken, R.G. - Sirius 1867-1918

box 1, folder 2

Aitken, R.G. - Formulae, etc. undated

box 9, folder 1

Burnham, S.W. - List of double stars 1881

box 1, folder 3

Burnham, S.W. - Star index undated

box 1, folder 4

Comet orbit computations 1898-1899

box 7

Moon photographs 1888-1892

Scope and Contents

Album of sketches and photographs of different views of the moon by various astronomers at Lick Observatory.
box 1, folder 5

Moore, J.H. and Chappelle, J.F. - Moon, 36-inch telescope 1935

box 8

Planets, Moon, etc. 1888-1893

Scope and Contents

Album of sketches and photographs of the moon and various planets by various astronomers at the Lick Observatory.
box 10

Shane, W.W. - Supernova Search Program I-III, RS-1 - RS-703 1956 June - 1958 June

Physical Description: 3 notebooks
box 1, folder 6

Spectroscope 1888-1892

box 1, folder 7

Townley, S.D. - Variable stars 1913-1914

box 2, folder 1

Unidentified log 1881-1885

Scope and Contents

Possibly belonged to S.W. Burnham.

Research notes and charts 1840-1967


Materials arranged chronologically.

Scope and Contents

Contains various forms of research data including notes, charts, tables, atlases, lists, etc. created by and collected by Lick astronomers.
box 2, folder 2

Star position notes from various British astronomers 1840

box 5, folder 1

Casey, Thomas - Star Atlas 1873

box 9, folder 2

Oversized charts and drawings 1892-1951

box 2, folder 3

Color curve and plate effect, 24-inch telescope circa 1967


Lick Observatory publications 1902-2009


Materials arranged chronologically by date of publication.

Scope and Contents

Includes brochures and other promotional materials created by and about the Lick Observatory, as well as publication proofs and layouts.
box 5, folder 5

Holden, Edward S. - Unidentified proof prints 1897

box 2, folder 4

A Brief Account of the Lick Observatory, 3rd edition 1902

Scope and Contents

Published pamphlet on the history of the Lick Observatory including annotations and inserted documents.
box 2, folder 5

Publications of the Lick Observatory, catalogs 1909-1945

Scope and Contents

Contains catalogs of publications of the Lick Observatory as well as catalogs and bulletins of University of California publications.
box 2, folder 6

120-inch telescope album, Sky Telescope 1955

box 2, folder 7

"Lick Longhairs" 1956-1967

box 2, folder 8

Announcement of the Lick Observatory 1962-1963

box 2, folder 9

New Horizons for Lick Observatory 1967

box 5, folder 6-7

Focus newsletter 1975-1986

Scope and Contents

Includes proofs and layouts for Lick Observatory's newsletter.
box 2, folder 10, box 9, folder 1

Modern Astronomy circa 1980

Scope and Contents

Includes proofs and layouts for Modern Astronomy brochure on Lick Observatory and 120-inch telescope.
box 2, folder 11

The Shane Reflector: Celebrating the First Fifty Years 2009


Manuscripts and reports 1862-1987


Materials arranged alphabetically by last name of author or by title.

Scope and Contents

Includes reports and drafts of manuscripts written by Lick Observatory astronomy staff, documenting astronomical observations as well as the history of the observatory and its staff.
box 2, folder 12

Bobrovnikoff, N.T. - Report on Comets 1946

box 2, folder 13

Burnham, S.W. - Double Star Observations 1897

Scope and Contents

Sent to R.S. Floyd by S.W. Burnham
box 3, folder 1

Comet discovery reports 1862-1931

box 5, folder 2

Gould, Benjamin Arthorp - On the Reduction of Photographic Observations 1870

box 5, folder 3

Keeler, James - The Lick Observatory circa 1888

box 3, folder 2

Keeler, James - Some Photographs of Faint Spectra Taken with the Slitless Spectrograph of the Crossley Reflector undated

box 3, folder 3-4

Osterbrock, Donald - James E. Keeler: Pioneer American Astrophysicist, galley proof 1984

box 3, folder 5

Osterbrock, Donald - Lick Observatory: The First Century; notes, interviews, outline 1987

box 5, folder 4

Publications of the Lick Observatory, volume 1; manuscript and typescript drafts circa 1886

box 3, folder 6

Todd, David P. - Observations of the Transit of Venus made at the Lick Observatory 1882

box 3, folder 7, box 4, folder 1-2

Townley, S.D. - Untitled manuscript 1906

box 4, folder 3, box 6

Publications correspondence 1898

Scope and Contents

Contains letters and postcards from observatories and other institutions around the world acknowledging receipt of Lick Observatory publications, bulletins, and indexes.

Indexes 1882-1985


Materials arranged chronologically.

Scope and Contents

Includes indexes, catalogs, and lists of publications at Lick Observatory.
box 4, folder 4

The Transit of Venus, record of photographs 1882

box 5, folder 8

Names and addresses index 1887-1888

Scope and Contents

As indexed in volume 1 of Publications of the Lick Observatory.
box 5, folder 9

Errata in Star Catalogues circa 1888

box 4, folder 5

Published works of the Astronomers of the Lick Observatory 1888-1891

box 4, folder 6

Negatives, publications 1929-1949

box 4, folder 7

Observing books in Lick Observatory Plate Vault 1985

Scope and Contents

Contains inventory created by Donald Osterbrock of research logs and observing books at Mount Hamilton.