Tag Archives: George Adams

No Mathematics!

Trouble erupted at the meeting of the Chapter House Philosophical Society in January 1785 when one of its members proposed reading a paper on astronomy. The club had been formed in 1780 to discuss ‘Natural Philosophy in its most extensive signification’, but the issue of whether ‘natural philosophy’ a.k.a. science extended as far as mathematical topics had never arisen. The Chair of the Society argued that discussion of topics that might lead to ‘mathematical disquisition’ were unconstitutional. The founding documents of the society were sent for, and finding that they did not exclude exact sciences, the chair next argued that the society should be governed by custom rather than law. Finally a resolution was introduced to ban astronomy in the future. The mathematical instrument maker George Adams Jr., who had just been elected a member of the society at the same meeting, must have wondered what kind of a club he had joined.

I thought this was interesting in light of Sorrenson‘s point about the lack of interest in mathematics at the Royal Society.

This account is taken from the delightful description of events in Millburn (2000), pp. 188-189.


Millburn, John R. (2000). Adams of Fleet Street. Instrument Makers to King George III. Aldershot: Ashgate.

On the Road Again

Joshua Kirby had a deep and abiding interest in mathematical instruments, especially those connected with architectural and perspective drawing, and he had close relationships with several of the instrument makers in London, including John Bennet and George Adams. He designed several instruments and, indeed, wrote a book on a sector he designed. I have been digging into the world of the London instruments and instrument makers, which was going through something of a golden period when Kirby was involved, and I am giving a talk on the subject at the Canadian Mathematical Society Winter Meeting in Ottawa on December 7. Here’s my abstract:

DUNCAN MELVILLE, St. Lawrence University

Dividing to rule: Precision mathematical instruments in mid-18th century England

Development of mathematical sciences in the 18th century, especially in the interwoven strands of astronomy, navigation, and surveying, was driven by measurements of ever-increasing exactness. The mathematical instrument makers who designed and reļ¬ned instruments of exquisite precision had to be experts in both theory and practice. In this talk I will explain some of the problems faced, and techniques used, by the leading practitioners of the day to produce such accurate measurements.

Campbell on Mathematical Instrument Makers

Campbell’s London Tradesman naturally does not include mathematician as a trade, but he does, in Chapter 55, get around to mathematical instrument makers. We will have occasion to look at mathematical instruments, and, in particular, sectors, later on, so herewith is his brief chapter on the subject.

CHAP. LV. Of the Mathematical and Optical Instrument, and Spectacle-Maker.

The Mathematics-Instrument-Maker makes all kind of Instruments constructed upon Mathematical Principles, and used in Philosophical Experiments: He makes Globes, Orrerys, Scales, Quadrants, Sectors, Sun-Dials of all Sorts and Dimensions, Air-Pumps, and the whole Apparatus belonging to Experimental Philosophy. He ought to have a Mathematically turned Head, and be acquainted with the Theory and Principles upon which his several Instruments are constructed, as well as with the practical Use of them. He employs several different Hands, who are mere Mechanics, and know no more of the Use or Design of the Work they make, than the Engines with which the greatest Part of them are executed; therefore the Master must be a thorough Judge of Work in general.

The Optical-Instrument-Maker is employed in making the various sorts of Telescopes, Microscopes of different Structures, Spectacles, and all other Instruments invented for the Help or Preservation of the Sight, and n which Glasses are used. He himself executes very little of the Work, except the grinding the Glasses: He grinds his Convex-Glasses in a Brass Concave Sphere, or a Diameter large in proportion to the Glass intended, and his Concave-Glasses upon a Convex Sphere of the same Metal: His Plane-Glasses he grinds upon a just Plane, in the same Manner as the common Glass-Grinder, mentioned Chap. XXXII, Sect. 4. He grinds them all with Sand and polishes them with Emery and Putty. The Cases and Machinery of his Instruments are made by different Workmen, according to their Nature, and he adjusts the Glasses to them.

It is a very ingenious and profitable Business, and employs but a few Hands as Masters. The Journeymen earn a Guinea a Week, and some more, according as they are accurate in their Trade. Such a Tradesman designed for a Master ought to have a pretty good Education, and a penetrating Judgment, to apprehend the Theory of the several Instruments he is obliged to make, and must be a thorough Judge of such Work as he employs others to execute. A Youth may be bound to either of these Trades any time between thirteen and fifteen Years of Age, and does not require much Strength.

From the dry text, I get the impression that he does not know much about this business, nor care very much. You might argue that he was just tired by Chapter 55, but he is back to form in the following Chapter, on shagreen, trunk, and box makers.

So, I hear you ask, who were these instrument makers? Fortunately, Mortimer’s Universal Director of 1763, has the answer: Optical and Mathematical Instrument Makers

  • Adams, George, Mathematical Instrument-maker to his Majesty. Fleet-Street.
  • Ayscough, James, Optician. Ludgate-Street.
  • Bennet, John. Crown-court, near Golden-square
  • Bird, John. Strand, near the New Exchange-buildings. This ingenious Artist has improved several Astronomical Instruments; and the new Astronomical Instruments in the Royal Observatory at Greenwich were made by him.
  • Dollond, Peter, Optician to his Majesty and the Duke of York, and sole Maker of the Refracting Telescopes, invented by the late Mr. John Dolland, who obtained his Majesty’s Royal Letters Patent for the said invention. Strand, near Exeter-‘change.
  • Gilbert, John, Tower-hill.
  • Gregory, Henry, Mathematical Instrument-maker. Leadenhall-street, near the East-India-house.
  • Heath and Wing, Mathematical and Optical Instrument-makers; inventors of the new Theodolite for Surveying of Land; and of the Pantographer for Copying of Drawings. Strand, near the Savoy-gate.
  • Hill, Nathaniel, Globe-maker and Map-engraver. Chancery-lane, Fleet-street.
  • Johnson, Samuel, Optician. Ludgate-street.
  • Lincoln, Charles. Cornhill, near the Poultry.
  • Manning, Charles. Wapping-wall.
  • Martin, Benjamin, Optician and Mathematical Instrument-maker; inventor and improver of several Mathematical Instruments, and author of “The General Magazine.” Fleet-street. This Artist reads Lectures on Experimental Philosophy.
  • Nairne, Edward, Optical and Mathematical Instrument-maker. Cornhill, opposite the Royal Exchange.
  • Scarlett, Edward, Optician. Near St. Anne’s Church, Soho.
  • Short, James, A.M. F.R.S. and Acad. Reg. Suec. Soc. Optician, solely for Reflecting Telescopes. Surry-street, Strand. The six-feet Newtonian Telescope, In the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, was made by this Artist.
  • Sisson, Jeremiah. The Corner of Beauford-buildings in the Strand.
  • Stedman, Christopher. Leadenhall-street.

Related Posts:

Campbell on Painting

Campbell on Education

Campbell on Book-Sellers