Jason Clarke Antiques

Scottish Aesthetic Movement Aneroid Wheel Barometer by James White of Glasgow


For sale, a Scottish Victorian 8” dial aneroid wheel barometer with crisp engraving to the scale, weather indications and a superb rose engine turned central section. The ebonised body is styled with Gothic type curvature around the perimeter with floral carving and lozenge shaped decoration on its face. The neck of the barometer holds a Fahrenheit and Centigrade thermometer with silvered scale and is completed at the top with a domed and carved pediment.

Besides its unusual aesthetic period design, this barometer is highly unsual in that it has three separate resellers and a manufacturer’s mark evident, all of which tell an interesting story.

A huge proportion of British sold aneroid barometers during the second half of the Nineteenth Century were actually manufactured in France, and the Parisian firm, Pertuis, Naudet, Hulot & Bourgeois (PNHB) were one of the largest exporters to the UK. The French company’s trademark can be seen on both the silvered dial face and the reverse of the barometer casing.

The company was formed in 1860 and their British success may be related to their exhibiting at the 1862 London Exhibition. The original Vidi patent for the aneroid mechanism had expired in 1855 and they had by this time mastered the production methods and specialist techniques required to fulfil the European market. Aneroid barometers were in high demand in the late Nineteenth Century so it was simpler and quicker for most British retailers to simply buy them in for resale. Naudet is perhaps the only remaining company that exists today that continue to produce them.

To the face of the barometer dial, you may also see the name J White, 241 Sauciehall Street, Glasgow which is somewhat blurred due to “intentional” contemporary over-silvering which has since worn back. Above the thermometer is also attached an ivorine plaque which states, “WJ Hassard successor to M.Edwards, Optician, 209 Sauchiehall Street Glasgow”.

In unravelling the mystery of names it is firstly obvious that the barometer was originally commissioned for the company of James White due to the engraving on the dial.

James White was a highly respected Glaswegian instrument maker who gained fame for his close working relationship with Professor William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) of Glasgow University. Under Thomson’s direction, White produced nearly all of the equipment for Thomson’s laboratory at the University. The following twenty five years saw White form a short-lived partnership with John Barr (1857 – 1860) with a declaration of bankruptcy shortly after in 1861 but by the 1870’s his long partnership with Thomson was maintained and he continued to produce instruments of Thomson’s design which included the production of accurate compasses for metal ships and sounding machinery associated with the laying of the first trans-Atlantic cables. Thomson was himself a director of the Atlantic Telegraph Company and took an active part in the attempts, he was knighted in 1866 by Queen Victoria for his work in engineering and physics, becoming Baron Kelvin of Largs

James White died in 1884 but the company continued under the stewardship of Matthew Edwards and David Reid and new workshops were constructed in Cambridge Street to support the manufacture of Thomson’s compasses and supply to the Admiralty. It continued under White’s name until 1900 when the company was finally bought out by Thomson (Lord Kelvin) to become Kelvin and James White Ltd. Laterly it became Kelvin & Hughes and then Kelvin Bottomley & Baird.

Matthew Edwards was an Irishman by birth and although little is known of his early career, he was certainly working for White by 1881 at 241 Sauchiehall Street through mention in the Glasgow street directory. From White’s death in 1884, Matthew Edwards continued to run the business with David Reid but the partnership was finally dissolved in 1891. The Edinburgh Gazette relates the following:

“The co-partnery carried on by the subscribers under the firm of James White as opticians and philosophical instrument makers at 16, 18, and 20 Cambridge Street and 209 Sauchihall Street, Glasgow, was, by mutual consent, dissolved on the 31st January 1891. The portion of the business carried on at the shop 209 Sauchiehall Street is retained by the subscriber Matthew Edwards, who will continue under his own name the business hitherto carried on there. The portion of the business carried on at the works in Cambridge Street is retained by the subscriber David Reid under the name of James White”.

From the evidence, Edwards was working with White at 241 Sauchiehall Street from 1881 although by the time of the dissolution of the partnership with Reid the business had moved its retail premises to 209. Edwards evidently maintained ownership of some of White’s remaining stock from the prior business given the remaining inscription.

As a Manager to James White’s original business, Edwards was well connected and he was also a member of the Glasgow Philosophical Society. Sadly his business aspirations were not to be fulfilled as he died just three years later in December 1893. Without family members prepared to continue the business, the firm was sold in March 1894 to WJ Hassard, a manager working for Edwards prior to his death. Owing to the plaque on the barometer, it is likely that Hassard found this barometer amongst Edward’s remaining stock. The silvering over of the original White name and a replacement plaque would have made this item again capable of resale.

Like his employer before him, Hassard’s own tenure also lasted for a fairly short period from March 1894 to January 1902 with a William Roberton taking over the business by mutual consent.

All of the above provides some useful information for dating. The barometer would clearly have been sold within Hassard’s eight year trading period between 1894 and 1902 but most likely to the earlier end given that Hassard was still using Edward name on his advertising and would have been selling the inherited stock. The barometer was however, manufactured at a slightly earlier date which would fit more closely with the style and design. The retail business of J White continued until 1891 so it must have been manufactured prior to that point. I suspect that it is slightly earlier than that due to the earlier Sauchiehall Street address of 241 engraved on the barometer. With a manufacture date closer to the mid 1880’s it would have been a ten year old barometer before it ever reached the market!

A really unusual example with a very interesting Scottish (and French) instrument making story.

Circa 1885

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