Jason Clarke Antiques

Small Edwardian Leather Cased Travelling Thermometer by WE Pain of Cambridge


For sale, an unusually small leather cased travelling thermometer by WE Pain of Cambridge.

The hinged case measures just 11.5cms by 2.5cms and is of wooden construction with a morocco leather covering and a push clasp opening catch. It is further monogrammed with gilt lettering to “H.S. – 1905” presumably the owner. The inside of the case is lined with purple velvet to the base and white silk to the lid and remain nicely intact.

The bone thermometer may be removed by means of small silk pull and measures 10cms by 1.5cms and 0.5cms thick. It has both Fahrenheit and Centigrade scales and has an adjustable suspension ring to the back. It is also signed to the maker WE Pain of Cambridge.

The retailer of this extraordinarily small travelling thermometer WE Pain were established in Cambridge (according to their shopfront) from 1827 and continued to trade until the early 2000’s.

Little information has been published about this longstanding regional firm but the founder WE Pain seems to have been a keen contributor to scientific endeavours in the city during the nineteenth century.

He is noted as an associate of the Cambridge Philosophical Society in the 1880’s but must have been involved for a number of decades before as an interesting article exists of Mr Pain’s involvement in providing meteorological data for John Venn of Venn Diagram fame. During the 1880’s John Venn was working on the theory of distribution and had plotted the frequency distribution of the height of a barometer reading over 4857 successive days. In 1887, Venn wrote a letter to the “Nature” publication outlining his findings as an example of “skew” distribution and his letter was later to form the basis for Karl Pearsons development of skew distribution and the Pearsonian family of distributions.  

In Venn’s letter he states that, “the splendid series of barometric pressures was made by Mr WE Pain, starting on January 1st 1865, all recorded on the same instrument at 9am each day”. The article further relates that the barograph was installed within the tower of the University Church, Cambridge so Mr Pain must have shown significant dedication to the recording of this scientific data which was collected from the 1st of January 1865 right through until 28th of February 1878.

The firm seems to have been bequeathed to the family as it was later known as WE Pain & Sons and it seems also to have acted as a chemist as well as an opticians for some time. A record in the Gazette exists of the dissolution of the partnership between Emily, Sydney & Jesse Pain under the name of WE Pain & Sons but was continued by both Sydney & Jesse thereafter at 7 Alexandra St, Cambridge.

The firms final address was at 21 Kings Parade until it ceased to trade.

Given the information available, it seems unlikely that WE Pain would have been too old to have been involved in the company by 1905 (the date on the case) if he opened the business in 1827 and given that the trade mark on the back of the thermometer is just signed WE Pain rather than WE Pain & Sons, it might suggest that the thermometer is a little earlier in manufacture than the date on the case but without other information it is difficult to confirm.

A really interesting and unusual example of its kind and with an interesting history of a little known regional maker.

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