Jason Clarke Antiques

Large Victorian Aneroid Barometer in Carved Walnut Display by James Pitkin London


For sale, a Victorian aneroid barometer in very large carved walnut display case by James Pitkin of London.

This imposing example is comprised of a six and a quarter inch silvered dial with a scale measuring 28 to 31 inches of barometric pressure to the upper half and a Fahrenheit thermometer to the lower half. The scale is wonderfully engraved with weather indications coloured in red and black. The centre is further engraved to James Pitkin of London with a personalised message stating, “presented by a patient”. Nothing more is known of its origin but quite obviosuly a generous gift to a doctor for their care and attention.

The walnut case is extraordinarily large measuring 53cms in length and 42cms high, quite an unusual size for these examples. It is profusely carved with floral motifs, wreaths and scrolls and is surmounted with a turned finial to either side.

The instrument is in full working order.

The maker, James Pitkin had a long career as a scientific instrument and barometer maker, born in 1828 in Bethnal Green, London. Information on his early career is very scant but he was certainly in business as a barometer maker by 1858 at 3 Church Street in Mile End. By 1860, he moved to Red Lion Street where he would be based for the remainder of his career.

The first mention of Pitkin in the records is for a patent for “improvements in aneroid barometers” in February of 1862 and then in 1868 he formed a shortlived two year partnership with Thomas Watling Short of later Short & Mason fame. Short himself formed numerous partnerships during this period and was also working with JS Marratt at the same time, giving Short a superior grounding in the art of barometer making.

Nothing is known of the reason for the dissolution which appears in the London Gazette dated December 1870 but Banfield does relate a Henry Thomas Pitkin trading in the 1870’s from Red Lion Street which is likely to be James’s son. It is possible therefore that Pitkin took his son into partnership at this time in preference to Short. Although the dates are not perfectly clear, the company name did change to James Pitkin & Co so this occasion is the most likely point for this change to have happened.

These sporadic partnerships do not seem to have dented Pitkin’s business as from this point he is known to have undertaken work for Lord Kelvin and provided barometers to the Scottish Mountaineer, The Reverend Archibald Eneas Robertson whose Pitkin barometer is still treasured by The Scottish Mountaineering Club. He also invented a “portable electric lamp for mines” in 1887 and presented his invention to The Royal Society in 1889. The company also exhibited at the 1908 Physical Society Exhibition.

By 1892, a young Herbert Brandon White began working for Pitkin & Co and went on to become a partner in the firm. White continued with Pitkin’s business until 1911 whereafter he left to form The White Electrical Instrument Company which continued in business until 1990.

Pitkin was eighty three years old in 1911 and died the following year in 1912, White also died in 1915 at the young age of forty six. Nothing further is known of Pitkin’s son Henry but his name does not appear on the dissolution notice of 1911. It must be assumed that he left or pre-deceased his Father and the business was wound up at this point after fifty three years of trading.

Circa 1865

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