Jason Clarke Antiques

Victorian Clockwork Heliostat by Archer & Sons of Liverpool


For sale, a hugely rare Victorian clockwork heliostat by Archer & Sons of Lord Street Liverpool.

Comprised of a wooden base with three screw feet for levelling and a bubble level, the heliostat’s clockwork mechanism is contained within a wooden case hinged to the base at one end with an arc scale to one side to allow for fixing and fine adjustment of its angle. The top of the case has a brass lacqured plate with a twenty four hour dial and central axis that holds a pivoted mirror. The mirror also has an arc scale for adjustment of the mirror.

An ivorine plaque to the base states the makers, “Archer & Sons of 43 Lord Street, Liverpool.   

Semi-automatic heliostats such as this example have a mounted mirror rotated by a clockwork mechanism about an axis that is set parallel with the earth's axis of rotation. The mechanism turns the mirror once every 24 hours in the direction opposite to the earth's rotation. The mirror is oriented so it reflects sunlight along the same polar axis as its axis of rotation and the beam of light that is reflected along the polar axis by the rotating mirror was usually intercepted by a second, stationary mirror, which reflects the light in any desired direction.

During the Nineteenth Century its uses were myriad when the availability of reliable electric light was scarce. They were used by artists to maintain continuous light to their subjects, scientific optical experiments and in astronomy for observing the sun (stellar spectroscopy or stellar photography).

The Archer firm was established in 1848 by William Frederick Archer as an opticians on South Castle Street Liverpool. It was continued by his son Walter upon William’s death in 1875 whereafter his sons, Frederick and Foster joined the business. This date is of course the likely point in which the business was renamed to Archer & Sons.

In the early 1880s, Archer & Sons became most famous for their high quality, oil and lime light, optical lanterns and advertised heavily on the subject. They were acknowledged in the British Journal of photography in 1884 and 1885 to be superior to all others so given their specialism, it becomes more obvious why a heliostat would form part of their inventory at this time. With the growing popularity of photography their specialism saw them receive medals from the Liverpool International Exhibition in 1886 and Photographic Exhibition in 1888 at which point they were located at 43 Lord St. In the 1890s several ads appeared for cameras of their manufacture, the first being the Archer combined camera. From about 1899 they were located at 73 Lord Street.

Little is known of their demise but it is likely that the First World War put pay to the company’s long and illustrious history. They are recorded at 5 St Georges Cross in Liverpool from 1911 but no further records are available.

This scarce instrument dates to circa 1880 and has been very recently serviced by a BHI qualified horologist.

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