Jason Clarke Antiques

Late Victorian John J Griffin Field Mineralogists Set Retailed by James R Gregory & Co


For sale a Late Victorian mineralogist’s field set containing a portable scale and rock hammer retailed by James R Gregory & Co, London.

This geological or mineralogical field set contains a five piece portable scale comprising of two circular brass base plates with threaded central holes to receive the two upright scale stands. An eighteen inch scaled balance is then suspended through the eyelets of the stands. The set also contains a geologist’s rock hammer with a removable hickory shaft. The hammer head also incorporates a hanging eyelet to its side which allows it to double as a weight which can be attached the pivoted end of the scale for counterbalancing samples taken in the field.

The scale itself is engraved to Griffin, the widely regarded Nineteenth Centry scientific instrument maker and chemist John J Griffin and the mahogany case also bears a paper label to, “James R Gregory & Co, Mineralogists, No 1 Kelso Place, Stanford Road, Kensington, London. Removed from 88 Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square”. Underneath is a further small brass plate denoting its previous ownership by the Geological Department of The University of Aberdeen.

This scarce set was undeniably manufactured by John J Griffin owing to the engraving and was most likely retailed by James R Gregory as a piece of complementary field equipment alongside his main trade in fossil and mineral collections.

John J Griffin was an early supplier of chemistry apparatus but was also an accomplished chemist, publishing numerous books on the subject which helped to bring it to wider public attention. Brought up in Glasgow, the son of a publisher, his early career probably attuned him to the power of the written word and his education, contacts and personal scientific interests led him to set up an accompanying business selling chemistry apparatus during the 1830’s.

Shortly after, Griffin moved from Glasgow to London and by 1841 was renowned enough to be involved in the formation of The Chemical Society (now The Royal Society of Chemistry) and in 1851 was an exhibitor at The Great Exhbition. This growing success led to him to relinquish his interests in the family publishing firm and the proceeding two decades became his most prolific in terms of output, the company’s voluminous trade catalogue of 1866 is insightful in its sheer size and breadth of products. Sadly, it does not contain the set in question but it certainly relates the availability of rock and mineral hammers and also curated sets of minerals for purchase.

Griffin died in 1877 but his sons continued to successfully manage the business under the new title of John J Griffin & Sons into the early part of the Twentieth Century. It maintained its ties with Scotland throughout and in 1925, the company merged with the Glasgow arm of Baird & Tatlock to become Griffin and Tatlock until 1929 where it merged again with the firms W&J George & Becker and Stanley Belcher & Mason to finally become Griffin & George Limited. It survived until the end of the Twentieth Century in that form supplying scientific teaching apparatus.

The mineral and fossil specimen retailer James R Gregory founded his business in 1858 and garnered a huge reputation throughout his career. Unusually, he was not active as a field collector but simply bought through auction and private purchase but like Griffin, he was renowned enough to have exhibited at most of the London Exhibtions after 1851 and in Paris and Sydney. He was also a member of both The Geological Society and The Mineralogical Society. Gregory’s two sons both worked in the business and the name was changed to James R Gregory and Co in 1896 just three years before Gregory’s death in 1899.

The company continued until 1931 whereafter it was taken over by Percy Bottley and renamed to Gregory, Bottley & Co. Upon Bottley’s death in 1981 it was taken over again and renamed Gregory, Bottley & Llloyd and was finally taken over in 2016 by Timeline Auctions who continue to exist today.

The scale on this instrument is simply signed to Griffin therefore owing to the lack of reference to John J Griffin & Co or John J Griffin & Sons it is difficult to be certain whether the Gregory firm retailed this instrument directly from the firm or retailed it as a second hand piece.

James R Gregory were present at Kelso Place from 1896 to 1906 but their trade label mentions the previous address at Charlotte Street so it would be reasonable to suggest that the label was affixed to this box at the earlier end of these dates. Without evidence for earlier attribution, it should be assumed that this piece dates to circa 1896.

A highly unusual and seldom seen instrument for a field mineralogist containing references to two highly regarded companies in the field.

The image provided is one of James R Gregory.

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