Cast bronze, German, 19th century.
is the oldest and most universal of war games. European chess
is directly descended from an Indian game, played in the 7th
century, and forms of chess are also played in China and other
parts of Asia. It was popular across Europe from the Middle
Ages, a civilized and leisured pastime that has a huge literature.
The varied and colourful pieces of the chess-set have always
stimulated the imagination of writers, as in Alice Through
the Looking Glass, or, right up to date, in the first of the
Harry Potter books.
come in a bewildering variety of materials and forms. Ivory
was the preferred substance from which chessmen were carved,
but bone, rock-crystal, jasper, amber, ebony and other hard
woods were also used. Some chessmen are represented as human
figures, the kings and queens crowned and the knights mounted
on horseback, while the pawns are foot-soldiers.
chessmen, however, were made more simply, in formalized shapes
to indicate the piece represented. The king, in medieval sets,
was shaped like a throne, the knight as a cylinder, the pawn
like a thimble. These simple, chunky forms gradually became
more stylized and elegant, and could be exquisite examples
of the carver’s art.
striking and dramatic set pits Roman soldiers against Germanic
tribesmen, and is made from cast bronze, one side gilded,
the other blackened. Such “historical” chessmen
were popular in the 1860s, and the tribesmen pawns with their
spiked clubs and round helmets are typical of the period.
This set is particularly finely finished, with lofty, flagged
castles, knights on rearing horses, and the Romans resplendent
in crested helmets, with drawn swords.
Early 18th-Century Simple
simple microscope uses a single lens, as opposed to the compound
instrument, which employs three or more lenses in line. The
variations in simple microscopes depend on how the lens is
mounted, and how focus is achieved. A popular type of simple
instrument throughout the 18th century was known as the compass
microscope, with two arms hinged above the handle, one holding
the lens, the other the rod and forceps supporting the specimen.
the very end of the 17th century, a Dutchman, Nicolaas Hartsoeker,
invented another design, known as the screw-barrel, and this
was introduced into England by James Wilson, continuing to
bear his name. The screw-barrel consists of a wide-threaded
cylinder which is screwed in or out of the main barrel to
focus slides held between brass plates. The barrel can either
be held to the eye with a handle, or mounted on a stand. Both
these instruments were generally used to examine botanical
and other commonly found specimens, and these could be either
transparent or opaque.
viewing of opaque objects was greatly improved by the invention
of a German anatomist, a cup-shaped silver mirror to fit round
the lens, providing proper illumination from the eye side.
These are to be found with nearly all 18th century simple
microscope kits, and are known as lieberkuhns, after their
of Miniature Silver
appeal of the miniature is universal and irresistible. It
is certainly not only children who love a dolls’ house,
and collectors abound of tiny silver objects, books smaller
than matchboxes, and model soldiers in the uniforms of every
war that has ever been fought.
Dutch have always been the most important producers of miniature
silverware, and they have given names to the different categories
in the field. The particular term for this superb cutlery
set is poppengoed, meaning doll’s ware. These items
were of a size to be used by little girls playing at being
mistress of the house. The penny coin in our photograph shows
that the knives, forks and spoons are just right for a small
quality of the set and its design place it firmly in the early
part of the 18th century, and it may well be Dutch. The shaped
and fitted case is covered in fishskin, the material often
used for microscope boxes of the period, and lined with velvet.
braidedging is a Continental rather than an English feature.
The silver lock eschutcheon and carrying handles are particularly
fine details. The shape of the knife handles, and the three-pronged
forks also point to an early date.
late 17th century, signed: J B Londini fecit. Diameter
complex and delicately engraved instrument is the work
of the instrument maker, John Brown, who flourished
in the second half of the 17th century, and had his
shop at the sign of the Sphere & Sundial, in The
Minories, London. He was Master of the Clockmakers’
Company in 1681, and was an author as well as a successful
the side of the instrument that carries the signature
is a 60 degree arc of a Gunter quadrant, together with
a table of six stars, named in Latin, with English details,
giving their Right Ascension and Declination. With a
plumb-line, the Gunter scale is used to measure solar
altitudes, and thus find the time.
the reverse, around the middle, is a folded calendar
scale, starting at the Vernal Equinox on 10 March, and
proceeding first anti-clockwise to the Summer Solstice,
and then clockwise to the Autumnal Equinox on 13 September,
and so on to complete the year. Around the edge are
six concentric scales giving the following information:
sunrise; declination; place in the Zodiac; the longest
day; Right Ascension; degree scale. Each scale, except
the last, is identified, the Sun designated by a circle
with a dot in the middle. Pivotted at the centre is
an ivory rule that spans the scales and connects the
information for each day of the year.
instrument is a compendium of the detailed calendrical
information that was considered essential for a civilized
person in the 17th century, rather as a diary is today.
Wood Model of a Naval Officer.
in Dombey and Son describes them perfectly: “little
timber midshipmen in obsolete naval uniforms, eternally
employed outside the shop doors of nautical instrument
makers in taking observations of the hackney coaches”.
In Dickens’s day, this type of shop sign had already
been around for some considerable time.
earliest shop signs were painted boards, conveying the
nature of the business without use of the written word.
By the end of the 18th century, however, projecting
signs were becoming a hazard in London streets, and
were being prohibited by law. It was at this time that
the wooden model figure became a popular substitute,
first in England and then in the United States.
naval officer, in his epauletted coat and cocked hat,
holding his sextant ready for use, is a particularly
good example. The face is full of character, the hands
well modelled, and no detail is omitted - notice the
fob watch hanging below his coat. Standing about 26
inches high, this figure, rich in historical associations,
would make an unusual impact in a hall or study.
of 8 Wooden
you are looking for something really unusual to decorate
a study or office wall,
how about this group of model sterncastles, maximum
height 9 ins.. Nothing could more immediately evoke
the appeal of the great three-masted sailing ships than
these colourful painted brackets, showing the splendid,
wide windows of the state cabin.
who has visited the Victory at Greenwich, or any other
18th century ship open to the public, will be aware
that the ship’s stern was the part most decorated,
both outside, and in the interior, where the most spacious
accommodation was provided.
is difficult to know where and when these rare brackets
originated; probably they were commissioned for some
nautical setting, perhaps a shipping office or even
a waterside inn. They are likely to date from the late
19th century, and are probably Dutch. From their form,
they may well have been used to display examples of
blue and white china.
century, to the design of Hermann Knapp.
remarkable instrument was the invention of a pioneer of physiological
optics. Hermann Knapp was born in what was then Prussia in
1832, and studied medicine at Giessen University. He then
found his specialism in ophthalmology, and became professor
of the subject at Heidelberg. In 1868 he moved to New York,
where he lived until his death in 1911. He founded the New
York Ophthalmic and Aural Institute, and successively held
a professorship in two leading medical colleges.
instrument, 10 inches high, has a pillar stand of brass with
a horizontal bar at the top from which three brass rods project.
An earlier version, of which there are surviving examples
in museums, was made with a wooden framework. The two outer
rods hold the eyeballs, made from painted wood, and the central
bar holds the mechanism for the oblique muscles. The eyballs
are held in place by strings which represent the eye muscles,
kept taut by brass weights. The eyeballs are free to rotate
in all directions. The degree of shortening or lengthening
of the muscles is recorded on a millimetre scale at the back
of the horizontal bar.
ophthalmotrope was an simple version of the teaching device,
which later incorporated lenses mounted on the eyeballs. The
second half of the 19th century was a period when much fundamental
research was carried out in the field of optics, and the complex
operation of the eye was at last fully understood.
instrument, in excellent condition, would be a rare and important
acquisition for any collector of medical apparatus.
it’s not an angel trumpet, but a superb medical
instrument! The survival of this rare stethoscope (173/4
ins high) for over two hundred years is remarkable enough,
but it is also an interesting example of medical history.
technique of auscultation, that is, listening to the
body, usually the heart or lungs, to detect irregularities,
is an old one. Many different types of stethoscope were
devised and made, some, as in this case, with the intention
of keeping a safe distance between the patient and the
doctor, avoiding contagion.
splendid example of the glass-blower’s art was
also easy to keep sterile.
Gallery Offers an exclusive list of books on historic scientific
instruments, some out of print (marked with an asterisk) and
therefore difficult to obtain, others hot off the press. Below
is a selection of the titles available.
FIFTY ONE THIRTY.