Jason Clarke Antiques

Mid Victorian Brass Aneroid Barometer by JH Steward of London


For sale a mid Victorian brass cased aneroid barometer by JH Steward of London.

This super example is comprised of a graduated brass case with hanging loop and brass bezel with brass setting hand contained within the glass and knurled brass setting knob to the front. The indicating hand is formed of blue steel with arrow and a crescent shapes motif to either end.

The engraved and silvered dial provides a barometer scale to the upper half reading from 28 to 31 inches of barometric pressure with Vidi type weather indications to inner circumference. The lower half is fitted with a curved thermometer and Fahrenheit scale measuring 20 to 130 degrees.

The centre section below the set hand is further engraved with the maker’s name of JH Steward and the various addresses of 63 St Pauls Churchyard, 406 & 66 The Strand & 54 Cornhill, London. It has a serial number of 1646.

A very fine example of its type circa 1865.

The business of James Henry Steward is considered to have started in 1852 where he is described as an optician. It is not known from where he initially traded but he is first recorded in 1856 as residing and trading at 406 The Strand and from the founding of the NRA (National Rifle Association) in 1859, Steward was known to have regularly traded at shooting events held across the country, establishing a long and prosperous relationship with the sport. It is unknown whether Steward saw the sport as a niche marketing opportunity or whether he had a personal interest but using his skills he seems to have developed and patented many sights and optical instruments specifically for the field.

By at least 1862 he was advertising himself as, “official optician to the National Rifle Association” and was providing instruments as prizes and more shrewdly for the use of competitors on match days at Wimbledon Common. Not confining himself to optical instruments, Steward sold a full range of scientific instruments and his meteorological instruments were also used by the NRA for foretelling weather conditions at their shooting ground.

The 1850’s and 60’s also saw the rapid expansion of Steward’s family with six children (four boys and two girls) being born within that period. The four sons, James Henry Charles, Henry William Lake, John James and William Jesse all joined the business as soon as they were old enough and each took the management of separate satellite premises at 456 West Strand, 66 The Strand and 54 Cornhill with the Head Office remaining at 406 The Strand. It is not understood why the family chose to open so many premises in such close proximity but business was clearly good enough for each to maintain a positive income. These premises were all certainly in existence by the early 1880’s where they are mentioned in the firms advertising alongside their affiliations to, “The British and Foreign Governments and the National Rifle Associations of England, Ireland, India, Canada and America. The “JH Steward’s Improved Hourly Self-Recording Aneroid Barometer” takes pride of place on the front page of their meteorological catalogues of 1885.

The company seems to have continued to trade successfully through its second generation and given its advertising, was probably able to continue through the First World War by providing optical equipment to the military, however, as was the case for so much industry, the post war depression hit the company hard and by the 1930’s the two sons of William Jesse Steward, James Henry and William Malcolm had no choice but to downsize the company. Managing to maintain the original premises at 406 The Strand they continued trading until the early 1970’s whereupon the death of William and with the increasing frailty of James, William’s son David Steward took control.

The seventies saw the slow demise of the original company with the premises at 406 The Strand being sold off and rented premises in Catherine Street being maintained solely for the purpose of selling off the remaining company stock. The remaining part of the instrument business was moved to Hove but was finally wound up in 1975.

It is somewhat heartening to know that the name of JH Steward lives on through the opticians business of a Simon Goldsmith. The Stewards’ longstanding and highly respected employee, George Goble arranged for the name to be transferred to his niece (Simon Goldsmith’s wife) and through this, the generation spanning relationship with the National Rifle Association is maintained. The company, JH Steward (Bisley) Ltd still trades today as provider of optical instruments to the shooting industry.  

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