BULLETIN 142 – September 2019

We’re delighted to announce the publication of Bulletin 142. The Bulletin’s exploration of the life and times of John Cuff continues, and is dramatically represented on the cover. Johan Zoffany’s depiction of Cuff in his workshop is well known, but what is rarely noticed is that Cuff features in another of Zoffany’s works – or rather his microscope does. Here you can see Zoffany’s wonderful painting of a scene from Samuel Foote’s hugely popular ‘The Devil upon Two Sticks’, first performed in May 1768. The question remains: was the microscope an actual prop, or was this Zoffany’s invention?

In addition to Part 2 of Julian Holland’s impressive account of Cuff (Part 1 here), you will find an essay on the Elizabethan craftsman Humphrey Cole, announcing the discovery of his address, and a fascinating piece by Deborah Warner on Joseph Henry and the Smithsonian's first collection of scientific apparatus.

These latter two are available free to download, as is the editorial. The rest of the Bulletin is available only to SIS members. Not to mention that you will receive full online access to every article ever published in the Bulletin. Click here to join!

BULLETIN 141 – June 2019

Bulletin 141 has landed, and it’s a beauty. The cover illustration shows a micrometer by John Cuff, a nod to the first part of Julian Holland’s supremely important essay on the London optician, based on extensive new archival research. Until a full biography is written this will be the definitive statement on Cuff, and this part at least can be freely downloaded here.

The full table of contents is available here, or by clicking on the image to the right. Charles Miller’s ‘chairman’s chat’ is also available to download.

The other essay we’re offering free to download is Mike Cowham’s informative and well illustrated guide to Nuremburg sundials – enjoy!

For access to the complete Bulletin archive and to receive print copies of each issue as it’s published, join the SIS.

SIS AGM: Saturday 27th July 2019


SIS members are warmly invited to join the committee at this year’s AGM, on Saturday 27th July, 2019. Events will take place in Greenwich, at the National Maritime Museum and the Trafalgar Tavern.

Attendance at the AGM is free for members. There is also a rich programme of visits and talks. The programme and sign-up form for these is available here. The AGM agenda can be found here.

Presentations will be from Marcus Cavalier and Huib Zuidervaart.

Map showing the Trafalgar Tavern


International Study Tour to Sweden, Sunday 19th to Friday 24th May 2019

Uppsala Botanic Garden, also known as the Linnaeus Garden

Uppsala Botanic Garden, also known as the Linnaeus Garden

Join us for what promises to be a stunning line-up of museum, garden and palace visits in Sweden.

Sunday 19 May

  • Welcome reception at a hotel (evening).

Monday 20 May

  • Morning: Nobel Prize Museum, Museum director Olov Amelin will tell us how you start a museum from scratch.

  • Afternoon: Royal Palace, Bernadotte Library (not open to the public, if the venue is not required for official duties of the Swedish Royal Family, and they take precedence).

Tuesday 21 May

  • Morning: Coach visit to the storage facility of the Nordiska Museet at Tumba; opportunity to see Jost Bürgi’s Armillary sphere. Return to Stockholm.

  • Afternoon: Stockholm Old Observatory; opportunity to see some of the remaining displays and historic weather station, in use since 1756.

Wednesday 22 May

  • Whole day excursion to Uppsala by coach.

  • Morning: University Museum – Gustavianum, visits to the Augsburg Art Cabinet, the temporary exhibit “Aspiring to precision”, anatomical theatre, archaeological collections. Opposite the museum is the cathedral where Linnaeus and Swedenborg are buried.

  • Afternoon: Uppsala Observatory and a visit to the Celsius house; Linnaeus Garden and the Linnaeus Museum, if time permits.

From the collections of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ Center for History of Science.

From the collections of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ Center for History of Science.

Thursday 23 May

  • Morning: A museum in Stockholm city centre; exact choice TBC

  • Afternoon: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Center for History of Science. Introductioon to the history of the Academy and visits to the Center’s storage of instruments, photographs, drawings, maps and archives, including Berzelius chemical collection and the Nobel archives, to mention a few gems.

  • Evening: Gala Dinner Klubbvilla at the Academy.

Friday 24 May

  • Excursion by bus coach to Skokloster Castle, a magnificent baroque castle between Stockholm and Uppsala. Besides the excellent library and armoury there is the unfinished hall. 

Click here to download the booking form, or…

Click below to book now (Paypal)

BULLETIN 140 – March 2019

The wonderful cover illustration of Bulletin 140 relates to an equally wonderful essay: Simon Schaffer’s ‘Instruments and Ingenuity between India and Britain’, which was given in December as the 2018 Gerard Turner Memorial Lecture. As always there is much (much) more, including Galileo’s Jovilabe, equinoctial dials, burning mirrors and lantern slides. Join the SIS to receive copies of the Bulletin, or click here to see the table of contents and download the free essays.

BULLETIN 139 – December 2018

In time for Christmas, here is Bulletin #139, featuring a wealth of instrumental material. The cover story is Stuart Talbot’s essay on a fascinating 17th-century telescope. We also have Silke Ackermann’s Gerard Turner Memorial Lecture, on ‘Islamic Science’ in the museum, and Part II of Huib Zuidervaart’s monumental essay on the life and work of Johan van der Wyck (1623–1679) – both free to download. Join the SIS to receive copies of the Bulletin, or click here to see the table of contents and download the free essays.

Study Tour to Edinburgh, Thursday 21st and Friday 22nd February 2019

Royal Observatory

Royal Observatory

Join us for a two-day visit to the Scottish capital to see new displays of science and technology, go behind-the-scenes in museum stores and visit the historic Royal Observatory Edinburgh.

Thursday 21 February 2019

  • Meet at 1.15pm for a three-course lunch at the National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street

  • Curator-led tours of the new Science and Technology galleries

  • Transfer to the Royal Observatory Edinburgh to view the historic telescopes, handle meteorites and view rare astronomical books from the Crawford Collection

  • Transfer back to Chambers Street, returning 20.30 approx.


Surgeons' Hall Museum

Surgeons' Hall Museum

Friday 22 February 2019

  • Meet on Chambers Street at 09.30am to transfer to the NMS Collection Stores for tours and object handling session

  • Return to the city centre for lunch (own purchase)

  • Afternoon session at the Surgeons’ Hall Museums, Nicolson Street

  • Three-course dinner at a nearby Scottish restaurant at 19.00

The cost is £95 per person (£120 pp for non-members) which includes all meals (excluding drinks), visits and transfers outlined above.

Delegates are requested to make their own travel and accommodation arrangements. The 08.00–12.18 train from London King’s Cross is a good option for those wishing to travel on the Thursday morning.

Click below to book now (Paypal)

For other payment options please contact the SIS.

International Study Tour: Sweden, Sunday 19 – Friday 24 May 2019

The old observation room, Stockholm Observatory

The old observation room, Stockholm Observatory

Join us for a week exploring the diverse scientific heritage of the Swedish capital and the nearby university city of Uppsala where we’ll see artefacts associated with the prestigious names of Carl Linnaeus, Anders Celsius and Alfred Nobel.

We will publish the final itinerary in the March Bulletin but it will most likely include visits to the following venues, where possible:

Stockholm – venues reached by local public transportation/walking:

  • Stockholm Old Observatory

  • Nordiska Museet

  • Vasa Ship Museum

  • Royal Palace of Stockholm

  • Nobel Museum

  • Maritime Museum

  • Museum of Technology

  • Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences

Uppsala – excursion by coach:

Uppsala Anatomical Theatre

Uppsala Anatomical Theatre

  • Uppsala Observatory

  • Museum Gustavianum (Uppsala university museum)

  • The Anatomical theatre and medical history museum

  • The Augsburg Art Cabinet, a 17th-century cabinet of curiosities containing approximately 1,000 different artefacts.

  • Uppsala university history museum containing lectures note from the first semester of the university in 1477 and exhibitions concerning Uppsala scientists such as Linnaeus, Celsius and Nils von Rosenstein.

  • Linnaeus Museum with the recreated Linnaeus Garden and his house

  • The University Medical History Museum

  • Skokloster Castle collections and library (tentative, to be confirmed)

Stockholm – excursion by coach:

  • Nordiska Museet Stores at Tumba (35 mins south of Stockholm)

The cost will be £430 per person (£480 for non-members) to include all entrance fees, tour guide fees, lunches (where possible), public transport costs, coach travel for excursions and the gala dinner.

Delegates are requested to make their own travel and accommodation arrangements. We will start our visits from the underground station T-Centralen, on Vasagatan opposite Stockholm Central Station, with several hotels nearby to suit all budgets.

For more information and to sign up for the tour, please contact the SIS.

BULLETIN 138 – September 2018

Bulletin 138 is out! The two free-to-download articles show the range of the SIS’s activities: on the one hand we have a hugely important contribution to historical scholarship, namely Part I of Huib Zuidervaart’s essay on the life and work of Johan van der Wyck (1623–1679); on the other we have superbly detailed and illustrated account of a reconstruction of Humphrey Cole’s stunning 1586 theodolite, by Jeffrey Lock. As always there’s plenty more, including articles on sundials, and accounts of the SIS’s (many) recent trips and meetings.

Click here to see the table of contents and freely available articles for issue 138.

Public Lecture: Simon Schaffer, Friday 9 November 2018

Annual Gerard Turner Memorial Lecture

Inside the Madras Observatory; from the Madras Observatory Papers by John Goldingham, 1827.

Simon Schaffer, Professor of History of Science, University of Cambridge

Instruments and Ingenuity between India and Britain

Society of Antiquaries, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BE
5.30pm Tea, coffee and biscuits
6pm Lecture starts
7pm Drinks and nibbles
7.45pm Event ends
Free and open to all
No need to register, just turn up on the day

Abstract: Some influential spokesmen for British rule in nineteenth century India referred to the apparent superiority of their sciences to justify their claims to control. This appeal gave the instruments of science a salient role in colonial power. In demonstration experiments, survey schemes and engineering programmes, the hardware of the sciences were used to attempt to bolster European authority. Yet this account of scientific instruments' use in nineteenth century south Asia often neglects maintenance and repair to which instruments were subject when their fragility and vagaries became obvious. Crucial, too, is the indispensable ingenuity of Indian practitioners on whose labour these instruments' careers systematically depended. This illustrated lecture offers fascinating stories of ingenuity, adaptation and crisis which centred on scientific tools and their remarkable fate.


Simon Schaffer is Professor of History of Science at the University of Cambridge. He has been editor of British Journal for the History of Science and Trustee of the Science Museum. In 2005 he was co-winner of the Erasmus prize. In 2013 he was awarded the Sarton Medal of the History of Science Society, in 2015 the Caird Medal of the National Maritime Museum, and in 2018 the Dan David Prize. His research concentrates on the history of natural philosophy and the physical sciences between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. In 2005–10 he led a collaborative AHRC research project on the history of the Board of Longitude and of the navigational and astronomical sciences.

Highlights of the Bulletin Part I: The Mensing Case

Since 1983 the Bulletin of the SIS has published countless essays on the history of scientific instrumentation – the archive of the Bulletin is a treasure trove of information on all sorts of devices, makers, historical episodes and instrument resources. But as you'll have found if you click on that link, it's available only to members of the SIS (you can join here).

So we thought we would showcase some highlights of the Bulletin by making articles selected by SIS members available for free. If you're a member and would like to contribute to this project please get in touch!

Our first installment comes from Joshua Nall of the Whipple Museum, Cambridge. Josh was co-author (with Boris Jardine and James Hyslop) of the recent Bulletin essay on fake antique scientific instruments – which is also available for free here. Appropriately enough, therefore, Josh chose the important 'Final Report' on The Anton Mensing Scientific Instrument Project, co-authored by Stephen Johnston,Willem F.J. Mörzer Bruyns, Jan C. Deiman and Hans Hooijmaijers and published in Bulletin 79 (December 2003). This report brought to a conclusion one of the most thorough collaborative studies of the history of instrument collections ever undertaken, and is a model for anyone planning anything similar. And, as with anything Mensing related, it's a cracking story too.

Anton W.M. Mensing (1866–1936)

Anton W.M. Mensing (1866–1936)

Click the image to download the article.

Click the image to download the article.

Paper Instruments in the History of Ottoman Astronomy

Gaye Danişan Polat from the Department of the History of Science, Istanbul University provides us with an overview of her research which has been funded by a grant from the SIS. Full details to follow in a subsequent issue of the Bulletin.

The importance of using paper instruments during the Ottoman period remains unexplained because there are few surving examples to help us understand their role in the history of Ottoman astronomy. To date there are still several important questions that need to be answered: When were paper instruments first used by Ottoman astronomers? Which style of paper instruments were used? Who used them? Were they widely used across the Ottoman world? Were the paper instruments used for education or actual calculations?

This study aims to clarify the purpose of using paper instruments in the Ottoman world by assessing the following surviving examples in the astronomical literature: the first example is a calendar with the title of Ruzname-i Şeyh Vefa (replicated by Ibrahim Shahidi ibn Khoudaï Dede in 1676, BnF supplément turc 537). It includes a paper instrument with two moving circles (volvelles) representing the positions of the Sun and Moon (folio 6). Composed of a series of concentric circles, this instrument enabled the user to perform caluclations relating to the age and phase of the Moon, lunar mansions and eclipses (both solar and lunar). The second example (Fig. 1, below) is also a calendar in the Kandilli Observatory (MS 540, copied A.H.1134/1721-22 A.D) made of cardboard by Derviş Mehmed el-Hasib el-Mevlevi (d.1709) who was a muwaqqit (timekeeper). There is a gurrename on the top right corner, and also circles & semicircles featuring the names of planets, zodiac signs, fixed stars, and information about the climates, zodiac, and winds. The third example (Fig. 2) is an Ottoman book on navigation entitled Navigasyon (1857) which features a serko haritası which is equivalent to a quartier de reduction (sinical quadrant) used among French mariners. We can assume that this printed paper instrument was used for pedogogical purposes since the Navigasyon was written for students at the Naval School (Mekteb-i Bahriye). Finally, there are also a few examples mounted on wood that can be to use as surviving instrument like cylindrical sundial, qıblanuma, quadrant. This project will contribe to our understanding of the use and role of paper instruments within the history of Ottoman astronomy.

Note: For more detailed infromation about serko haritası in the Ottoman Empire see Danışan Polat G., “Osmanlı Denizcileri ve Serko Haritası (Quartier de réduction),” Osmanlı Bilimi Araştırmaları/Studies in Ottoman Science, XVIII/1 (2016), pp. 1-25.

2018 SIS Study Tour to Athens, Greece

2018 SIS Study Tour to Athens, Greece
13-18 May

Thiseio Observatory

Thiseio Observatory

Based in the Greek capital, delegates will have the opportunity to explore collections of historic scientific instruments at the following venues:

Sunday 13 May
Welcome Reception (evening)

Monday 14 May
Cycladic Art Museum
Museum of History of the University of Athens

Penteli Observatory

Penteli Observatory

Tuesday 15 May
Museum of the University of Athens, Zografou Campus
(Museums of Education, Zoology, Paleontology and Geology)
Penteli Observatory (Newall Telescope)

Wednesday 16 May
Full day excursion to Cape Sounion to see the Temple of Poseidon and the ancient metalworking sites of Lavrio.

Thursday 17 May
Byzantine Museum
Maraslios Pedagogical School
Thiseio Observatory
Museum of Geoastrophysics
Gala dinner (evening)

The Antikythera Mechanism

The Antikythera Mechanism

Friday 18 May
National Archaeological Museum (Antikythera Mechanism)
Delegates are free to depart in the afternoon

Approximate cost: £450 per person to include all excursions, coach travel, lunches and the gala dinner. Delegates will need to arrange their own travel and accommodation.

For further information and to book a place please contact the SIS Executive Officer, Sarah Cavalier sis@sis.org.uk. Delegates are requested to register by 23 March 2018 at the latest.

Research report: The Armsby respiration calorimeter

By Nicole Welk-Joerger (History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania)

The Armsby respiration calorimeter was the first of its kind in the world. Completed by 1902, and based on Wilbur Atwater’s human device, Henry Prentiss Armsby’s device was large enough to accommodate and calculate heat production in cattle. These calorimetric measurements not only helped determine the metabolism of these large food animals but determine the nutritive quality of the foods they ate. Through the first half of the 20th century, the device was converted to accommodate sheep, humans, and even used to measure the metabolism of microorganisms until its accession into a museum in the 1960s. With a generous travel grant from SIS, I was able to visit Pennsylvania State University’s (PSU) archives to research the device and visit the outside of the calorimeter building while the inside was undergoing repairs.

My visit proved that there is still much to learn about this device and its position in America’s nutrition science history. The archive holds over one-hundred detailed lab reports of experiments that were completed with the device. Many of these books contain loose sheets of paper outlining the tireless work scientists and their assistants spent on calculating not only heat, excrement, and emissions from cattle, but quality control of the device. The publications that resulted from these experiments were printed in English and German with worldwide circulation.  Scholars from around the world visited the device. And scientists that worked with Armsby and the Animal Nutrition Institute (the calorimeter its main feature) proved to be very involved in the early 20th-century political climate of the U.S.

Earlier this year while preparing the museum for repairs, staff found a treasure trove of new materials related to Armsby’s calorimeter and the Animal Nutrition Institute. They found a box of documents and photographs sitting within the calorimeter’s old, non-working freezer beneath a toppling pile of bulletin reprints. The items are currently being held at PSU’s Pasto Agricultural Museum until they can be properly processed with Special Collections. However, given my connections and the timing of my visit, I was able to get a sneak peak of the primary source material. They appear to highlight Armsby’s earlier publications with the Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station, his course materials as a professor at PSU, and photographs of the scientists who worked with the calorimeter after Armsby’s death in 1921.      

All images were used with permission from the Eberly Family Special Collections Library, Penn State University Libraries.

Archives consulted

  • “Science in Agriculture Vol. 23, No. 4, 1976,” Henry P. Armsby Article Reprints, 1892-1976. PSUA 75. Penn State University Archives, Special Collections Library, Penn State University Libraries.
  • ‘"Die nutzbare Energie des Timothyheues." Landwirtschaftliche Jahrbucher, 1904.’ Henry P. Armsby Article Reprints, 1892-1976. PSUA 75. Penn State University Archives, Special Collections Library, Penn State University Libraries.
  • “Calorimeter—Foreign Visitors,” Photographic vertical files, Physical Plant 1855-present. PSUA 1184. Penn State University Archives, Special Collections Library, Penn State University Libraries.
  • “Small photograph of Dr. Armsby,” William Frear papers, 1883-1922. PSUA 362. Penn State University Archives, Special Collections Library, Penn State University Libraries.
  • “Calorimeter Log Book,” Animal Nutrition Institute records, 1882-1960. PSUA 44. Penn State University Archives, Special Collections Library, Penn State University Libraries.

Visit to the Whipple Museum (Cambridge), 7th Feb

The Main Gallery of the Whipple Museum

The Main Gallery of the Whipple Museum

SIS members are invited to the Whipple Museum of the History of Science (Cambridge) on Wednesday February 7th, 2018, for an afternoon tour and object-handling session. Details are as follows:

  • (12.30pm: Museum open to visitors)
  • 2pm–3pm: Guided tour of the Whipple Museum’s new special exhibition, Astronomy & Empire, from the Curator of Modern Sciences, Joshua Nall
  • 3pm–4pm: Handling session led by Boris Jardine and Joshua Nall, giving SIS members the opportunity to examine some of the Museum’s special and curious objects
  • (4.30pm: Museum closes to visitors)

The Whipple Museum was founded in 1944 when Robert Stewart Whipple presented his collection of scientific instruments to the University of Cambridge. The Museum holds an internationally important collection of scientific instruments and models, dating from the Middle Ages to the present.

Members should make their own way there (see the map here), there will be no payment necessary, but donations to the museum from visiting members would be welcome on the day.  The address is: Whipple Museum of the History of Science, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RH. Website: www.sites.hps.cam.ac.uk/whipple 

BULLETIN 134/135 – September/December 2017

Owing to a delay in uploading issue 134, the SIS is delighted to present the online versions of BOTH Bulletin 134 and 135 – the contents and selected articles from Bulletin 134 are now online here, and from 135 here. These two issues feature plenty of SIS news (report of the AGM, account of our visit to the wonderful Combe Mill), as well as articles on John Cuff, Richard Long, Humfrey Cole and (many!) others...