A Catalogue of Instruments and Models in the Possession of the American Philosophical Society

A Catalogue of Instruments and Models in the Possession of the American Philosophical Society

A Catalogue of Instruments and Models in the Possession of the American Philosophical Society

A Catalogue of Instruments and Models in the Possession of the American Philosophical Society

Excerpt

Our ever-increasing distance from that period when science and technology underwent a spectacular development to assume their modern forms, and the selective character of the written record, tend to give that development a deceptive appearance of smooth continuity. Against this the occasional and more-or-less accidental survival of a few material objects from past science reminds us that it once enjoyed a real and not merely literary existence, and enables us to discover that much was going on which failed to leave a mark on "the literature." One can scarcely doubt that the history of science and technology would be better understood had more such survivals occurred.

The collection catalogued here, begun in the very childhood of American science, affords such a glimpse into its realities. The objects catalogued range from the crude work of badly educated mechanics to the elegant craftsmanship of some of the finest instrument-makers of the eighteenth century. Its value lies not only in its tangible documentation of early American science, but in the general picture it evokes of that era. The limitations of catalogues and cataloguers are such that it can only be hoped that the data given here will be suggestive of that picture.

Thanks are due to Dr. Derek Price, Dr. Edgar Wickberg, and to my colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution for assistance in areas of their specialties. I am especially indebted to Mr. L. C. Eichner for data generously furnished in connection with his restoration of the collection. They do not of course share the responsibility for errors. A word of appreciation is also owing to Mr. David Davies, for searching out evidence of these objects in the files of the Society, and to Mrs. Gertrude Hess and Miss J. A. Noonan for their unfailing response to my frequent requests for assistance in using the library and records of the Society.

Catalogue numbers are given at the end of the description of each item.

The specimens are numbered consecutively each year. Inasmuch as they were unnumbered prior to the preparation of this catalogue in 1958, all specimens on hand in that year are preceded by the number "58." Thus, a specimen marked 59-1 would be specimen number one from the year 1959.

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