Jason Clarke Antiques

Eighteenth Century Cased Surveyors Level Attributed to Benjamin Martin


For sale, an Eighteenth Century Surveyors Level attributed to Benjamin Martin of Fleet Street, London.

The instrument is comprised of a brass base plate with central socket and adjustment screw for mounting. A telescope with a three quarter inch objective is mounted on two upright pillars with levelling screw provided adjacent to the eyepiece and a bubble level is suspended neatly below the telescope barrel. It also retains it original objective dust cap.

The level is contained within its original black fish skin covered deal case with green silk and velvet lined fitted interior finished with distinctive red painted edges.

The style of the case is key to the attribution of this instrument and although this unsigned piece is stated as Benjamin Martin it could well have been manufactured by John Cuff. Both instrument makers worked next door to one another on Fleet Street and Martin’s enthusiastic competition is considered to have been partly responsible for Cuff’s demise. Cuff had been trading on Fleet Street for twenty years prior to Martin’s arrival but Martin’s strength in marketing created difficulties for some of the more established makers. The publishing of catalogues with prices was a new phenomena and although Cuff was a serious maker who executed all of his own work, the competition is likely to have contributed to his financial issues. In the early 1750’s Cuff avoided the bankruptcy of his business but he lasted only until about 1760 after which time he is suspected to have undertaken piece work on behalf of other makers. Given the above, it is interesting that these close neighbours were the only ones to produce such distinctive cases. It is likely that the use of the same method of presentation was another competitive master stroke by the younger maker. The instrument is attributed to Martin because he was by far the most prolific across a range of instruments and Cuff largely specialised in microscopes. Without an engraving and other extant examples it is impossible to tell so this seems a sensible position.

Benjamin Martin was born in 1705 in a village called Worplesdon, near Guildford in Surrrey. Martin did not follow the path of apprentice like most respected instrument makers of the period, his Father’s prosperous background allowed Benjamin to become a merchant by the age of 24 but he largely worked in Chichester as a schoolmaster during the 1730’s up until his departure in 1742. To give a flavour of this enterprising man, he had by this time published eight books, invented a new form of microsope which he described in his “The Description and Use of a New Invented Pocket Reflecting Microscope” and lecturing widely on philosophy.

Martin lectured extensively across Southern England during this 1740’s and was responsible for numerous educational publications on science, mathematics and English grammar but in 1750’s, he established premises in Fleet Street, London, setting himself up as a scientific instrument maker whereafter his advertisements are recorded in London newspapers of the period.

His inventory grew throughout the 1760’s to include optics, globes, electrostatic machines and all types of philosophical instruments. His enthusiasm unbounded, he also tackled horology and planetariums in the early 1770’s while also producing his famous steelyard coin balance. Business continued to flourish until 1782 when Benjamin Martin committed suicide owing to an impending bankruptcy. There is nothing recorded to suggest that the business was in turmoil but it is likely that his old age and increasing reliance on others was largely to blame.

It is perhaps a little ironic that Martin’s demise was based upon a bankruptcy, perhaps his memories of Cuff’s experiences and his death in the 1770’s remained fresh in his mind.

An interesting, rare and early example, circa 1760

You may also like

Recently viewed