Jason Clarke Antiques

Early nineteenth Century Oak Cased Rutherford Type Minimum Thermometer by Adie & Son Edinburgh


For sale, an early nineteenth century oak cased Rutherford type minimum thermometer by Adie & Son Edinburgh.

This rare surviving example is comprised of an open-fronted oak case with a silvered brass scale plate screwed to the inside back reading from -20 to 120 in Fahrenheit. The scale plate is engraved with “Fahrenheit” above the scale and includes the makers name, “Adie & Son, Edinburgh” to the base. The spirit filled thermometer is further divided into smaller graduations on the tube itself and aligns with the scale plate. As with Six’s combined max/min thermometers, this examples includes a small conical piece of metal which allows for the recording of the lowest temperature in a user defined period of time. The brass scale is cut out behind the thermometer bulb in order to avoid inaccurate readings due to the temperature of the metal and the void is filled with coloured paper to provide some colour to the clear spirit employed in the thermometer. Please note that the paper has been replaced but is chosen to mimic the colour of the original.

The separate maximum and minimum thermometer was introduced in this form by John Rutherford and was presented to the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1790. An account of that description still exists and is provided below:

The following improvement on the construction of the thermometer, by which is fitted to mark the lowest or the highest point to which the fluid has attained in the absence of the observer, is due to John Rutherford, M.D. of Middle Baililish. This gentleman communicated it to me some time ago, and accompanied the description with one of his thermometers. The contrivance is so very simple and ingenious, that it well deserves to be made public. I therefore, by permission of the author, beg leave to lay an account of it before the Royal Society.

If it be required, that the thermometer should mark the lowest point to which the liquid has descended within any given time, a common spirit of wine thermometer must be provided, of a convenient size, with its point turned towards the bulb of the thermometer. This piece (the conical pointer) is about half an inch long, and of such diameter at the base, that it may move freely within the tube, yet nearly fill the calibre. It is to be allowed to move downwards till it be fully immersed in the spirit. After this has once been effected, it will be found, that it is not disposed to part again from the spirit; but if the thermometer be held vertically, with the bulb uppermost, it will immediately descend to the extremity of the column, but no farther: There it rests; and if by a diminution of heat the spirit contracts, it is drawn upwards at the extremity of the column, as this recedes towards the bulb. Now, let the thermometer be disposed, that its stem instead of being vertical shall be horizontal, (and such is the ordinary position of this thermometer) it may be readily imagined, that in this case, the conical piece shall equally; as before, follow any retraction of the column; but this should lengthen again, in consequence of an increase in temperature, the conical piece does not advance with it, but remaining fixed at the lowest point to which the column has descended, it allows the liquor to pass freely beyond it, as that again expands. Hence the point of the scale at which the conical piece is found to rest, denotes the lowest degree to which the liquor has sunk in the interval of the observation. To rectify the instrument for a fresh observation, nothing farther is requisite than to elevate the bulb of the thermometer, in order that the conical piece may sink by its proper gravity, to the extremity of the column.

The account goes on to explain the workings of the maximum thermometer which was ordinarily constructed by the use of a mercurial thermometer but worked on similar principles.

The history of the firm, Adie & Son began in 1776 with the celebrated Edinburgh scientific instrument maker John Miller, the uncle of Alexander Adie. Miller himself had been apprenticed under the world renowned maker George Adams so Alexander was privileged to have had an uncle from such a prestigious background.

From 1789, Adie (1774 – 1858) undertook his apprenticeship with Miller and by 1804, a partnership was agreed which traded at various addresses on Nicholson Street. Miller & Adie continued to trade until 1822 (although Miller had died by 1815) whereafter the business was renamed solely to Alexander Adie. By this point, Adie was himself an accomplished maker with a focus on meteorological instruments and had by 1818 taken out a patent (No: 4323) for a sympiesometer, a type of barometer designed initially for marine use which contained hydrogen and almond oil instead of mercury. Perhaps the most well-known instrument that the Adie family are now recognised for, this invention was patented as, “An improvement on the air barometer” an instrument that had been conceived as early as 1668 by Robert Hooke but never brought into practical use until Adie’s later developments.

By 1822, Adie had a family of three sons, John (1805-1857), Richard (1810-1881) and Patrick (1821-1886) and it is sensible to presume that all undertook some kind of apprenticeship under him. The eldest, John went into business with his Father to form Adie & Son in 1835 and Richard is also known to have worked for the firm. Like many scientific instrument making firms of the period, both Richard and Patrick were to go on to set up their own successful satellite firms under their own names both in Liverpool and London respectively.

In Edinburgh, the partnership between Alexander and John continued to grow, they received Royal Appointments from both William IV and Queen Victoria and were the only two instrument makers elected as Fellows of The Royal Society of Edinburgh. The links with the Society are considered to be the reason for their commission to build William Wallace’s patent Eidograph, an improvement to the less accurate pantograph. They had trading links with Spencer, Browning & Rust (they retailed Adie’s Sympiesometer) and John completed the installation of a Troughton & Simms altazimuth circle for The Edinburgh Astronomical Institution at Calton Hill Observatory after Simms proclaimed himself too busy to undertake the exercise! They were also known to have had links with Charles Darwin.

Sadly, John shot himself in 1857 after suffering from, “fits of despondency” and therefore predeceased his father who died the following year. The Royal Society wrote of John:

“Mr Adie’s enrolment among us is a sufficient proof that he successfully followed his calling. He was greatly esteemed as a man conversant with the highest branches of his profession, and who has left behind him in that respect scarcely and equal, certainly no superior, in Edinburgh, or perhaps in even in London itself”.

They went on the following year to say of his father Alexander:

His attention to business, with his skill as a mechanic, his quick inventive powers, and his sound judgement, led him to his being much employed by all kinds of inventors to give their schemes a practical form.”

Following the sad demise of both partners of the firm, Richard Adie continued to run both the Edinburgh firm and his own concern in Liverpool until his eventual death in 1881. Himself an accomplished instrument maker, Richard was awarded a silver medal by The Royal Scottish Society of Arts for his developments in meteorological instruments and published twenty seven papers on philosophical instruments between 1837 & 1868. He also exhibited a vacuum steam gauge, an alcohol hermetic barometer and a double telescope at the 1862 London

On the death of Richard, the company was sold to Thomas Wedderburn who had been the Adie family’s foreman at the firm and the name was changed to Adie & Wedderburn. He died in 1886 whereafter the business was again sold to an Alexander James Menzies who also died a year later and the firm was finally handled by an optician named Thomas Mein.

The firm of Patrick Adie, the youngest of the brothers continued to flourish in London. Set up in 1844 after serving apprenticeships with both his Father’s firm and the gas engineers, Milne & Son, he also specialised in the production of meteorological instruments. Through contacts made during his apprenticeship and training at Sir Thomas MacDougall Brisbane’s observatory near Kelso, Patrick had close links with John Welsh Superintendent of The Kew Observatory. An international conference had taken place in 1853 for the purpose of promoting meteorological observations at sea and numerous recommendations were adopted by the British Government. They encouraged the Kew Committee of the British Association to develop some of these ideas and both Welsh & Adie worked together to develop the now famous “Kew Pattern” barometer, a fitting development to his father’s earlier work.

Adie himself developed a number of instruments during his lifetime including the first coincidence rangefinder used in astronomy. He exhibited numerous patent instruments at the Great Exhibition, The Paris Exhibition of 1855 and at the London Exhibition of 1862 and gained medals for his meteorological instruments. Close links were also garnered with the civil engineering industry, and his instruments were used as part of the great trigonometrical survey of India and in the construction of railways at home and abroad. 

Adie eventually died in 1886 from bronchitis and heart disease and upon his death, the Institution of Civil Engineers (of which he had been a member since 1865) wrote:

“That Mr. Adie possessed great inventive power is shown by the fact that he took out no less than twelve patents, many of which are well known, and have proved very successful. One of these patents he was engaged in perfecting at the time of his death. It consists in the employment of corrugated steel belting, in lieu of leather, which he believed would effect a large saving both in power and cost. In this opinion he was supported by some eminent Members of the Institution, to whom he was well known, and who frequently sought the advice which his great experience enabled him to give.”

His business continued until 1942 presumably under family ownership although the latter history of this London firm remains largely unclear. Adverts from this later period for cement making machines suggest a closer association with industry rather than retail.

It is highly likely that Rutherford would have engaged John Miller (Alexander Adie’s master) in the making of his new invention during the last decade of the eighteenth century, just as many engaged Adie for similar requirements in the nineteenth. Either way, Adie and later his son, would have been well versed in the procedures for manufacturing these thermometers. Adie & Son are again mentioned in the transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1845 in relation to their developments of “dry & wet bulb thermometers”. The family took a particular interest in all things meteorological as the detail above relates and their continuing production of Rutherford’s ingenious invention shows just how enduring it came to be.   

A rare and early example of its type, circa 1835 - 40

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