Jason Clarke Antiques

Danchells Patent Water Testing Kit by The London & General Water Purifying Company


For sale, a rare early Victorian Danchell’s Patent Water Testing Kit by The London & General Water Purifying Company Limited of 157 The Strand, London.

This wonderfully complete set is comprised of a three-tiered circular stand holding seven glass stoppered tubes retaining their original numbered labels and contents. The central shaft of the stand has Danchell’s patent and the Royal cypher in relief with the manufacturing company’s name below. The hollow centre of the shaft is fitted with two small test tubes which may be rested within hanging loops attached to the exterior of the shaft whilst in use. A small glass dropper is also stowed in the centre to allow the user to apply the various tests to water samples contained within the test tubes.

The set comes complete with its original two-part stiff card case which is covered in its original black leather covering. The lid is further embossed “Danchell’s Patent Water Tests” and “The London & General Water Purifying Company Ltd – 157 Strand”.     

As part of the set, I also include a very rare copy of the original accompanying publication, “Water: Its impurities and purification by The London & General Water Purifying Company Ltd”. A section of the booklet explaining Danchell’s water test kit is produced but further detail relating to the individual tests is also documented within the booklet:

“Few persons are sufficiently initiated in the mysteries of chemistry to be able to institute enquiries whether a water is pure or not; nor are the ingredients always at hand. This little apparatus constitutes a little laboratory in itself, enabling anyone, if ever so little acquainted with chemistry, to find out whether a water contains any of the impurities generally met with in water. To the head of every family it presents a ready means of ascertaining the purity of the water used in the household; to the keeper of horses and cattle it will point out many of the sources hitherto concealed of the mysterious diseases from which they suffer; the agriculturist will, by its means, be enabled to determine the probably advantages to be derived from the use of any particular water for irrigation; the manufacturer may ascertain the nature and suitableness of the water supplied for his use; whilst to emigrants about to choose their future home it will have an especial value, as indicating the localities which, for the preservation of health, are to be chosen or avoided. And although the little apparatus has no pretensions to supply the place of, or dispense with, the necessity for an accurate qualitative and quantitative chemical analysis, yet it will be found of use by medical and scientific men who may have occasion to ascertain, in a ready way, whether any of the more usual impurities are present or not in water.

DIRECTIONS FOR USE: Two test tubes are provided, so as to permit of two descriptions of water being operated on at the same time, thus allowing a comparison to be made of their respective degrees of purity. These tubes in the small apparatus (but not in the large) fit into hinged hoops attached the to the frame holding the bottles. To save the trouble and uncertainty of dropping the fluids from the bottles, a dropping glass is provided: by inserting its point into the bottle of test fluid required, and placing the thumb upon the other opening, the requisite quantity can be readily conveyed to the water, and allowed to drop into it by simply relaxing the pressure.

All these tests are dependent upon the appearance presented by the water after the addition of one or other of the test fluids. The best method of observing this appearance is by looking from above down into the tube; not, however, holding it against the light, but against some dark object, when the cloudy appearance caused by the presence of the object sought for will, if it be present, be readily observed. In all cases, the test tubes should be nearly filled with the water to be tried.

Of course, after the addition of any of the test fluids, it is necessary to refill the tube with a fresh supply of water before proceeding to test for any other substance.”

Danchell’s ingenious and domestically available kits were patented in May of 1861 just prior to the 1862 London International Exhibition where they were exhibited and very well received. Following the exhibition, The Artizan Engineering Journal Exhibition Supplement related the following:


By this convenient ingenious apparatus for testing water, invented by Mr FH Danchell, any sort of impurities contained in the water can be detected immediately; and as all the tests are made dependent on the appearance of the water after the addition of one or other of the test fluids, it is brought within the reach of every one to ascertain what kind of water they drink without going to the expense of applying to a chemist to have it examined.

The apparatus consists of seven small bottles containing the standard test fluids. They are arranged to detect:

1: Ammonia

2: Decomposed Organic Matter

3: Absence of Lead

4: Presence of Lead

5: Carbonate (bicarbonate) of lime

6: Sulphate of lime & Sulphuric acid

7: Iron

For further details we must refer our readers to a very clever and well written work by the same gentleman, “Water: Its impurities and Purification” which contains, besides the directions for the use of the apparatus, much valuable information for everyone, and especially for agriculture, brewers, dyers, owners of steam boilers, manufacturers, and many others. Thus it is shown how, with the assistance of this small apparatus, and without a knowledge of chemistry, any one can find out for himself what foreign matter in contained in the water tried. It points out to us what water we can safely drink and what we ought to be careful and informs us of the means that can be employed in removing the impurities from the water.”

Frederic Ludewig Hahn Danchell was presumably of German extraction but appears in the British patent records as early as 1834. He seems to have initially settled in London and worked as a piano-Forte maker and this was the subject of his earliest recorded submission. How Danchell proceeded to become such a prolific inventor in matters of industry and water treatment sadly remains a mystery.

His earliest patent for more related matters came in 1855, concerning apparatus for testing the pressure of water or steam and over the next twenty years, he is numerously recorded as an engineer living in London, Middlesex and in Lancashire. The last I can find relates to the treatment of sewage, a subject that was at the forefront of Victorian minds with the recent construction of the first underground sewage system that was newly completed at this time.

Danchell’s invention was undeniably ahead of its time. The general conscencus of the Victorian public and scientists alike was that the numerous epidemics which affected London’s population were caused by bad air quality. It wasn’t until the mid 1860’s that water quality started to become the accepted source of the issue.

Danchell clearly focused his efforts on this specific problem and aside from his water testing kits, he also patented water softening and filtration systems which were marketed by The London & General Water Purifying Company.

A very rare and complete set with a fascinating social history from the building of modern London. I can find one other incomplete example of this set which is housed within the Science Museum’s collection.

Circa 1865

You may also like

Recently viewed