Jason Clarke Antiques

Early Victorian Large Cased Meteorological Thermometer by Patrick Adie of London


For sale, a large leather cased meteorological thermometer by Patrick Adie of London.

This unusually large example is comprised of a 29cm bone scale divided for -10 to 150 degrees of centigrade and with a 34cm thermometer that extends 5cms beyond the base of the scale. It is stamped with the maker’s name, “Adie” to the top with the abbreviation of centigrade (CENTE) below. A small hole at the top allows the thermometer to be hung in its chosen place for the purposes of measuring.

The beautifully constructed wooden hinged case is covered in red morocco leather with hook and eye fasteners to the side. It has a purple velvet sectioned interior to safely house the instrument and original green cushioned and patterned fabric to the lid.

Both the case and the thermometer are in superb condition.

The interior of the case has a small hand written note within it, stating, “the points on this thermometer are marked the bulb only being in water. My barometer 30 inches”. It is likely that this is note from the manufacturer to give guidance on how the thermometer was manufactured given that the boiling point and freezing points of water (zero and 100) are the reference points on which the Centigrade relies. The barometer reading is of importance as the density of the atmosphere at any given time will affect the point in which water boils. It is not a huge stretch of the imagination to consider that the note may have been written by Adie himself, or if not certainly a trusted member of his workshop but at this early stage in his career he is unlikely to have had a large roster of staff.

Thermometers of this type are known to have been manufactured as early as 1854 by which time (according to Meteorological Office records) Adie’s competitor, Louis Casella was supplying them to the Board of Trade. They were seen as superior for use in this field of science due to the understanding that a thermometer attached to a back plate would be more inclined to measure the temperature of the base it was attached to, rather than the pure temperature of the air. Patrick Adie by this time was himself hugely influential in meteorological circles for his close associations with The Kew Observatory.

It is also likely that this thermometer was intended for use in the measurement of liquid temperature, given the length of the scale is beyond the general bounds of atmospheric parameters and the point reflected in the note informing that the thermometer is devised with the use of water as the principle guidance for the scale.

The history of the Adie dynasty 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.

A very rare and early example of its type, circa 1850

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