Late Eighteenth Century Cased Steelyard Coin Balance by Benjamin Martin London


Vendor: Jason Clarke Antiques

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For sale, a late Eighteenth Century shagreen cased steelyard coin balance by Benjamin Martin of Fleet Street, London.

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 1756, 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.

Martin’s 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. In 1772 responding to the Government’s concerns of the deterioration or counterfeiting of gold coinage, Martin devised his own solution which was followed up with a publication in 1773, “The Monied Mans Vade Mecum. Being an explanation of the nature, structure, and use of a new portable steelyard for weighing gold coin”. Ultimately it explained how to weigh coinage in a static fashion (to look for reducing of the gold coin by shaving) or by hydrostatic means where the coin being weighed in water, would reveal whether it had been plugged with another base metal and covered up.

Martin’s portable steelyard balance consisted of a six inch ivory beam with a weighted brass slider moving over a scale engraved for shillings and pence. It was hung by a silk chord at the centre and a pincer was provided at one end to hold a gold coin. A blue steel pointer was also provided at the fulcrum to ensure a level balance.

His business continued to flourish but in 1782, 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. The sales of his steelyard balance alone would have been enough to keep him reasonably solvent. Known examples of this balance number up to the late 4000’s and according Gerard L’E Turner’s calculations, would have seen a revenue of £125 year.

The examples here for sale is engraved, “Martin Fecit” with the serial no: 2083 which would roughly date this example to 1786. It comes complete with its original two part shagreen case, all of which are in superb condition. It is of course missing its coin pincer but remains a rare and desirable instrument from a siginificant figure of London’s scientific instrument making community.  

Martin is an unlikely figure amongst most Eighteenth Century makers, his career reflects a proud man whose thirst for enlightenment and education of others was paramount across the numerous subjects he covered. His unexpected failure in his later years must have been a considerable blow. A sad ending to a highly repected teacher, instrument maker and publicist of the period who contributed greatly to his various subjects and interests.

Circa 1786