Jason Clarke Antiques

Very Early Cased Pocket Barometer by Smith Beck & Beck of London


For sale, an extraordinarily early leather cased pocket barometer by Smith, Beck & Beck of 31 Cornhill, London.

In super condition, this metal plated barometer has a one and three quarter inch silvered dial with a scale measuring 24 to 31 inches of barometric pressure. It has weather indications on the inner circumference and is engraved to the makers, “Smith Beck & Beck, 31 Cornhill, London” to the lower half. The pressure is indicated by a superbly crafted hair thin blue steel indicator with circular tail design and the setting pointer is incorporated within the inner edge of the face and is adjusted by operating the outer bezel ring by hand.

The barometer case is complete with its suspension ring and a screw adjuster with slide cover at the back for setting the indicator hand to the correct pressure. All is contained within its original leather hinged case with original velvet interior and catch mechanism to the side.

The barometer measures two inches in diameter and is three quarters of an inch in depth.

This super piece is an example of one of the earliest pocket barometers that became available to the market. After the barometer capsule mechanism was original invented by Lucien Vidi in the 1840’s its rise in popularity in the UK was assisted by the manufacturing support of the clockmaker EJ Dent. His new invention was showcased at the Great Exhibition but after 1855 with his patent expired, famous scientific instrument makers, most notably Negretti & Zambra were keen to gain some market share. It is known that Negretti & Zambra had manage to produce and market a pocket sized version of Vidi’s invention by 1861 with the support of Admiral Fitzroy and therefore It is unlikely that they were freely available until that point.

This example is easily attributed to this early period owing to the short lived trading dates of the Smith, Beck & Beck Company as it only traded under this name from 1857 until 1865. It can be sensibly assumed then that this barometer was manufactured at some time in a four year period between 1861 and 1865.

The earlier history of this company can be traced back to around 1839 when James Smith set up as a microscope manufacturer. His entering into business was as a result of his close association with Joseph Jackson Lister, the man responsible for the development of achromatic lenses for use in microscopy. Smith had previously manufactured brass work for Lister’s early experiments and was encouraged by him. The Beck brothers were nephews of Lister and Smith initially took on Richard Beck as an apprentice, finally culminating in the formation of a partnership between the two men (Smith & Beck) in 1847. The other brother Joseph Beck had himself been apprenticed at the renowned company of Troughton & Simms and moved to Smith & Beck in 1851, he finally joined the partnership fully in 1857 whereafter the firm became Smith, Beck & Beck. Smith retired in 1865 and the firm was renamed to R&J Beck trading from 31 Cornhill, London. The company continued long after all the partners had died and were a significant manufacturer of optical equipment during both World Wars. 

A rare and early piece of meteorological history.

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