A Hermetically Sealed Alcohol Barometer by Adie & Son Edinburgh

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Vendor: Jason Clarke Antiques

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For sale, a hermetically sealed alcohol barometer by Adie & Son Edinburgh.

This scarce instrument was invented by Richard Adie in 1860 for which he received a silver medal from The Royal Scottish Society of Arts and which was afterwards exhibited at the 1862 London Exhibition.

The box wood scale measures just 28cms in height and 7cms in width with readings for 29 to 31 inches of barometric pressure. The alcohol filled tube has a circular brass cistern cover and a similar domed brass cover to the top. A sypiesometer type brass spring loaded pointer is attached to the side for the purpose of recording the current reading.

Interestingly, the barometer is engraved to Adie & Sons, Edinburgh to the top. Originally run by his Father and older Brother, Richard Adie had, by the time of his invention, taken over the running of both his Liverpool premises and the Edinburgh premises after both had died in the 1850’s. (See description below for more detail).

Richard Adie’s, “Description of an hermetically sealed barometer” was publicised in the 1861 Quarterly Journal of the Chemical Society of London as follows:

“When mounted on an ivory scale, this instrument resembles in size and portability a pocket thermometer of the medium or larger class.

It is constructed from a piece of thermometer tube, in which, in lieu of the spherical or cylindrical bulb formed for a thermometer, a cistern is made in the form of the section of the cylinder, 1.4 inches diameter and 1/10th of an inch thick, varying these measures according to the corcumstances; but generally the bulb has nearly the shape and dimensions of a half crown. On top of the tube there is an air cavity similar to that used in Dr. Rutherford’s registering thermometer.

The influence of change of temperature is got rid of by trial and adjustment of each instrument; so that the expansion of the air in the upper cavity will counterbalance the expansion of the liquid in the cistern. This correction for temperature applies only to the condition of equal heating of the instrument throughout. When it is well done, an instrument is obtained, which is extremely sensitive to any change of atmospherical pressure.

If dipped in water at the temperature of the air, the column in the tube immediately rises to show the increase of pressure. When carried from one story of a house to another, the change is noticed as the stairs are ascended. In the beginning of last April, I put one of the barometers in the corner of the compartment of the railway carriage in which I was travelling from Liverpool to Edinburgh, where it indicated regularly the extensive changes from the sea level which that line of route contains.

Filled with mercury, instruments corrected for temperature were obtained to move through half an inch for every inch of the barometer; but, in point of mobility, they were much inferior to alcohol filled tubes.

Filled with ether, an instrument corrected for temperature could not be obtained in combination with delicacy of indication; but if the correction for temperature be dispensed with, and a place can be found for the barometer where the changes of temperature are small, ether in an hermetically sealed tube of the kind described, would furnish a most minute measure of changes in atmospheric pressure.

A tube filled with water did not act with delicacy, from the want of mobility in the fluid.

In the hermetically sealed barometer, the reading may be much disturbed by unequal heating, when the instrument is held in the hand, or the sun allowed to shine on a portion of it. This can in a degree be prevented by the skill of the observer, with the interposition of non-conductors, and when carried by holding the instrument suspended by a cord, rather than keeping it in the pocket or hand. When the indication has been disturbed by unequal heating, it must remain suspended fifteen or twenty minutes before a reliable reading can be made.”

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 “New Hermetic Barometer” in 1860 (the medal is held in The National Museum of Scotland Collections in Edinburgh) and published twenty seven papers on philosophical instruments between 1837 & 1868. He also exhibited a vacuum steam gauge, his alcohol hermetic barometer and a double telescope at the 1862 London Exhibition.

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.

A very unusual and scarce meteorological instrument from one of the top scientific instrument making families of the nineteenth century.

Circa 1860.

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