With the pending arrival of the Vernal Equinox, and the beginning of our oft-turbulent Spring,

we direct your attention to

the art - and the science - of the antique British barometer.




An antique mercury barometer has a vertical glass tube of about 3 feet in length :

the top end is sealed and other end is open.

The tube is filled with mercury, the open-end being placed into a reservoir at the base,

which also contains mercury. As the mercury level in the tube falls,

a vacuum is created in the top.

So "atmospheric pressure" is literally

the weight pressure of the atmosphere trapped in the top of the tube,

weighing down upon the mercury.

Short-term changes in local weather can be predicted by examining changes in the atmospheric pressure.

Settled, dry weather is found in steady or slowly rising atmospheric pressure.

Decreasing pressure indicates storms and strong wind.


Most Georgian barometers include :

a vernier scale and gauge -

for reading and recording the height of the

mercury as it rises and falls with pressure (left)

a  thermometer -

as the density of mercury and materials used in

construction change with temperature (also left)

a reservoir at the base

which contains the mercury (straight tube)

 (lower left)

 a hygrometer -

for reading the humidity in the air,

not always included (lower right)



A Fine Straight Tube Barometer, c1780,

George Adam Jr., Instrument Maker to King George III ;

the silvered plate with thermometer, and vernier sliding

scale siding the mercury tube, Fleet Street, London

(Subject to prior sale)




In 1641, the Italian physician and mathematician Evangelista Torricelli moved to Florence

to assist the father of modern science and physics, Galileo Galilei.

They worked together for only one year before Galileo’s death in 1642.

Torricelli applied what he had learned from Galileo to construct history's first barometer,

using water to measure air pressure.

However, as water is not a heavy liquid, the barometer measured almost 35 feet high -

rising through the roof of his home.

He placed a figural buoy on top of the water to more easily observe the changes.

Needless to say, as the figure rose and fell with the pressure,

his neighbors noticed his three-story experiment.


Rumors began to circulate through the neighborhood that Torricelli must be practicing sorcery.

Torricelli realized he must quickly change the experiment - or risk being arrested.

From a previous suggestion by Galileo, Torricelli decided upon mercury as the solution.

Mercury is 14 times heavier than water, and remains in a liquid state at normal temperatures.

Thus the glass container needed only to be 32 inches tall!

The "Torricelli Tube" was invented --

and the scientist could continue his experiments in the privacy of his own home,

with a much-reduced risk of arrest.



The weather was important to the landed gentry of 18th century England.

It was largely an agrarian economy, as are many areas of the United States today.

Great manor houses were all supported by vast land holdings.

Predicting the weather for the next few days was vital to the economy of the manor.

Thus, almost every good house had a barometer in the front hall.

And as with today - everyone talked about - 'the weather'.

Even this 'miniature' of a c1790 Georgian room includes the wheel barometer (to the left).





Advertisement for Barometers by John Patrick, c.1705-1715.
British Museum, Ilbert Collection.
Surviving barometers dating prior to 1680 are incredibly rare.

Originally they were simple vertical tubes attached to planks of wood.

This simple form gradually became the straight tube barometer (stick barometer) -

having more elaborate and refined examples,

many with ornate casing, engraved 'register plates', and tube and cistern covers.

Some were also quite intricately carved and inlaid.
The wheel (or banjo) barometer was introduced in the late 18th century -

some splendid examples existing from that period, as well as the early 19th century.

The wheel design features a large round dial near the base,

making it easier for non-scientists to read changes.

By the mid-1800s, the wheel or banjo type had become the most popular barometer - that popularity,

however, often abetted by many cost- reducing innovations

brought in by Italian crastsmen working in the 19th century England.

A fine late 18th century satinwood wheel barometer, the silvered scale marked in Reamur and Fahrenheit
with notable temperatures marked such as 'Just Freezing' at 32 and 'Blood Heat' at 98



Despite the wheel’s popularity, the straight tube (stick) barometer,

with its slender, elegant and restrained form, still remains more desirable

– and also expensive –

than most wheel (banjo) types.



We are pleased to offer a rather exceptional George III straight tube barometer –

exceptional not only due to the intricate inlaid paterae and checker-banding of the case,

but the two protective glazed doors, the original surfaces and silvered plate, and wonderful color :





London, c. 1770


The case veneered with well figured mahogany

and enriched with well-drawn boxwood fan and

paterae inlays throughout;

the broken arch pediment centering a brass finial;

the hygrometer is set in the case

below the pediment and is enriched with

quarter-fan inlaid corner spandrels;

the concealed tube with silvered plates and vernier;

signed J. Hilliard, London,

behind a hinged glazed door;

the trunk with oval paterae inlays above and

below a thermometer with silvered scales,

also behind a hinged glazed door, and with

checkered boxwood and ebony inlay to the edges;

the rounded reservoir cover is inlaid with a circular

patera and with brass rating screw below

43.5” High




(For full details, click the image at left, or here)


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 "The Art - & Science - of British Barometers"; M. Ford Creech Antiques