Jason Clarke Antiques

George III Mahogany Cased Wall Thermometer by Cox of Plymouth Dock

$1,651

For sale, a George III period mahogany cased wall thermometer by Cox of Plymouth Dock.

A superbly conceived example of a Georgian period wall thermometer with a mahogany case which is perhaps the best I have seen in terms of its cabinetry. The case is mounted on a thick mahogany backboard graduating to the top into a hanging loop. The front case has a pagoda style top with a chamfered edge running around the glasses edge. With particularly unusual attention to detail, the thermometer scale beneath the glass is also surrounded by a further mahogany framing slip which gives the piece a more decorative appeal than many.

The large fourteen inch thermometer scale plate contains Fahrenheit readings from -20 to 210 degrees to the left and has various standard temperature indications to the right. The central thermometer remains in good working condition and has a super globe type bulb at the base. The thermometer case measures sixteen and a half inches in total.

The thermometer is completed with a maker’s engraving to the head of the scale stating the famous regional maker, Cox, Plymouth Dock.   

The Cox family were trading as opticians and scientific instrument makers from the beginning of the nineteenth century, having an establishment date of 1806. Records suggest that a William Cox was trading at this period and later in 1822, a William Charles Cox (who may be one in the same or a son) had premises across Fore Street and Southside Street until 1857. His advertisements from this period, announce him as an “optical and nautical instrument maker”.

Taking advantage of the necessary requirements of a naval station and its inhabitants, Cox was an agent to Robert Brettell Bate for admiralty charts and agent to both John Roger Arnold and Edward John Dent (EJ Dent) as a supplier of their “admiralty chronometers”. In addition, his instruments are often found with inscriptions suggesting that he was supplier to The Royal Western Yacht Club founded in 1827.

A later partnership of Cox & Coombes is considered to have been formed in 1845 and although some sources suggest an end to the partnership in 1865, it is clear from inscription on other pieces that I have sold that the partnership was still trading in 1884. Advertisements by a J. Coombes in Fore Street from 1890 indicate that the partnership with Cox had then been severed by either death or dissolution and I have seen later Admiralty presentation barometers (1894) which are solely marked to J. Coombes. It is interesting to note that Coombes was advertising his business as having been established since 1806 but he was obviously using the Cox family’s earlier trading dates prior to the partnership to promote the longevity of his business. Early records of the Coombes business are noticeably absent.

With the evidence to hand, it may be more sensible to question the establishment dates for the partnership of Cox & Coombes as Cox as a sole trader has established working dates up until 1857. Unless further evidence comes to light, my view is that the partnership is more likely to have existed from circa 1860 – 1890.

Records for the succeeding Coombes business prove that the business was still active in the 1930’s and was at some point between 1930 and 1950 formed into the partnership of Coombes and Jarvis. It is suggested that this firm was finally bought out by Dollond & Aitchison in the 1970’s which itself was finally amalgamated into the Boots Optician brand.

This thermometer is one of the earliest instruments by Cox that I have handled and can be evidenced by his use of “Plymouth Dock” that appears beneath the name engraving at the head of the instrument scale. Almost all of Cox’s instruments are inscribed with the words “Cox of Devonport”, a name which was granted to the town by George IV on the 1st of January 1824 following a petition by the people of Plymouth Dock to gain distinction from the neighbouring City of Plymouth. Since Cox began trading in 1806, we have a concise eighteen-year window in which this instrument would have been produced and sold.

Circa 1815

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