Jason Clarke Antiques

Victorian RNLI Fishermans Aneroid Barometer by Negretti & Zambra London - N0 2608


For sale, a late Victorian Fisherman’s Aneroid Barometer with five inch enamelled dial by Negretti & Zambra of London and issued by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) – No. 2608.

As early as 1864, Negretti & Zambra were advertising “The Fisherman’s Aneroid Barometer”, their catalogue states,

“No trouble or expense has been spared to obtain a trustworthy instrument at a moderate cost. It is mounted in a stout metal case, with a plate glass covering, the dial is of enamelled metal and five inches diameter. The range of scale is 26 to 31 inches, subdivided into tenths, corresponding with the scale of the mercurial barometer.

It will be noted at the top of the dial is placed the word CHANGEABLE, to the right and left of this word is printed a condensed form of Admiral Fitzroy’s rules for prognosticating the coming weather.

Should the blue index move to the right fine weather may be anticipated; on the contrary, should it recede to the left, bad and stormy weather is indicated.

These movements correspond with those of the mercurial barometer, hence the aneroid, like the mercurial instrument, is said to be rising, falling or steady.”

The moderate cost for one of these barometers at the time was one pound and fifteen shillings.

Both Negretti & Zambra & Dollond were the only suppliers deemed of sufficient quality and standards to produce this design and these barometers were used on fishing vessels towards the end of the century. All examples by either supplier are manufactured with a zinc metal casing and an enamelled dial enclosed behind a brass bezel with thick plate glass insert.

Negretti & Zambra’s relationship with the RNLI began in 1857 after Admiral Robert Fitzroy requested the company to provide a design for a stick barometer that would be fit for installation at sea coast stations throughout the UK. Fitzroy’s new position at the Meteorological Office, his previous experiences in the Royal Navy and upon his famous expedition in HMS Beagle with Charles Darwin had shown him the importance of precise methods of weather prediction and his intent was to make these expensive instruments accessible to individuals who were involved in the maritime and coastal industries.

These iconic mercurial instruments were initially supplied through the Meteorological Office and paid for by HM Government but Negretti & Zambra were certainly advertising the early porcelain scaled version to the general public by 1864 as they are recorded in the company’s, “Treatise on Meteorological Instruments” with advertising that stated that, “many poor fishing villages and towns have therefore been provided by The Board of Trade, at the public expense, and through the humane effort of Admiral Fitzroy, with first class barometers, each fixed in a conspicuous position, so as to be easily accessible to all who desire to consult it”.

The Royal Lifeboat Institution (with whom Fitzroy was also associated by 1859) had similarly procured examples for their coastal stations and the success of these instruments urged them to look for functional aneroid instruments that were as effective on board ship. The result was the Fisherman’s Aneroid Barometer and it remains one of the most robust and good looking aneroid barometers from the period

The relationship with Admiral Fitzroy and the RNLI allowed Negretti & Zambra to become a leading name in the production of meteorological and scientific instruments. The company was founded in 1850 although their parents and close family acquaintances were amongst those Italian emigres that bolstered the British meteorological instrument making industry at the turn of the century.

Throughout their long and esteemed history they exhibited at British industrial fairs throughout and became makers to both Queen Victoria and Edward VII. Owing to changes in the business, the firm ceased the public retailing of scientific instruments sometime around the late 1960’s and continued with a focus on the aviation industry in numerous guises until its eventual liquidation in the year 2000. They are today perhaps the most collected of the scientific instrument firms which bears testament to the quality of their work.

A fine and historic example of an aneroid barometer from one of the highest quality makers of scientific instruments during the nineteenth century. It also has a very low serial number although it must be noted that there is some doubt as to whether the numeric order is significant in understanding date of manufacture. 

Circa 1870

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