For sale, an early nineteenth century cased Culpeper type microscope by Robert Brettell Bate.
Contained in its original mahogany case with trade labels to both RB Bate 17 poultry London and the retailer E Smith & Co Liverpool, the instrument is in great condition with smooth rack and pinion and relatively fox free mirror. The cases lower draw contains four objectives and numerous accessories as pictured. The microscope stage is signed to Bate London.
Robert Brettell Bate was a very high quality manufacturer of scientific instruments working in the early part of the Nineteenth Century. Born in 1782, to a family of Bankers in Stourbridge, he initially travelled to London to become a Haberdasher under his Uncle Robert Brettell. His Aunt also living in London was married to Bartholomew Sikes, famous for winning favour with The Board of Excise for his hydrometer design in 1802.
In 1804, Robert Bate married his cousin, the daughter of his aunt Mary and Bartholomew Sikes, however it was followed quite shortly with the sudden death of Sikes. Supported by his newly widowed Aunt, Bate took over Sike’s business and its Government commission and successfully persuaded the Board of Excise to adopt the “improved” hydrometer that his Father in Law had been working on before his untimely death.
At this time, the company was being run at 17 Poultry where in 1814 he became a member of the Spectacle Maker’s Company of London, by 1824 his reputation was such that he was further commissioned by the Board of Excise & Ordnance to make the new national standard measures for weight & capacity, this event led Bate to acquire further premises at 20 and 21 Poultry. It was this Governmental relationship that underpinned his entire career, leading to an important commission from the US Mint where his Troy pound standard weight became legal standard for US coinage at the time and his instruments were also known to have been used by The East India Company, The Royal Navy, The Board of Ordnance, The Hydrographic Office and The Bank of England.
His quality of manufacture led him to receive Royal Appointments from George IV, William IV and Queen Victoria where he acted as Optician and he eventually rose to become Master of the Spectacle Maker’s Guild in 1833. He was also known to have acted for the Admiralty as its main chart agent with numerous sub agents acting below him such as his old apprentice and instrument maker to The Royal yacht Club, George Stebbing.
The final two decades of his life (the 1830’s and 40’s) were riddled with ill health probably due to the amount of work that he was undertaking. He travelled widely across the UK and abroad for health reasons but still maintained lively correspondence with his customers. Owing to its output, the business found it sometimes necessary to buy in work from other instrument makers. Later in his career, he is known to have purchased microscopes from both James Smith and Powell & Lealand but conversely it supplied others in both the regions and in London. Bate is listed as a creditor in the bankruptcy proceedings of the famous makers William Harris and also W&T Gilbert.
Bate traded from his Poultry street addresses for the majority of his career although he moved to number 33 Royal Exchange in 1846 until his death shortly after in 1847. Bate’s widow continued to run the business until 1850 whereafter the Excise work was taken over by Dring & Fage and the Admiralty Chart side of the business went to Bate’s former employee, John Dennett Potter.
The other trade label within the microscope case belongs to Egerton Smith & Co of Liverpool, a company formed in 1765 and was involved in both the instrument making industry and the printing and publishing industry. After the Father’s death in 1788, the latter work largely consumed the business and it founded the Liverpool Mercury newspaper in 1811 and The Kaleidoscope in 1818. By the early nineteenth century the Smith Brothers divided their dealings with William Smith continuing to run the instrument business until about 1820 and Egerton Smith (the younger) going on to become a noted philanthropist and anti-slavery campaigner. Notably the firm took out its own patent for improvements to ships’ binnacles and compasses in 1809, acted as agent to the clockmaker Edward Massey who patented his ships’ log water speed indicator in 1802.
The smith business is considered to have continued until 1820 and coinciding with the fact that Bate traded singularly at 17 Poultry until 1824, it is possible to date this instrument to a sixteen year period between 1804 and 1820, An interesting example representative of the trade happening between London and the regions during the period
Please note that three of the four objectives have threads that do not match the instrument owing to the lack of agreed industry standards of thread size during the period. These are likely to have been added to the instrument case at a later date. They could have been removed but remain as period examples for display purposes.