Accession No


Brief Description

mercury barometer and thermometer, by Benjamin Martin, English, 1770 (c)


England; London; Fleet Street


Martin, Benjamin



Earliest Date

Jan. 1, 1770

Latest Date

Dec. 31, 1770

Inscription Date


wood (mahogany, cork); metal (brass, mercury, white metal); glass; leather


height 922mm; breadth 115mm; depth 45mm

Special Collection

Robert Whipple collection


Purchased from E. Thorpe (?), Winchmore Hill, London, England, on 10/07/1926.


‘B Martin in Fleet Street London’ (register plate)

Description Notes

Mercury barometer and thermometer, by Benjamin Martin, c.1770

Domestic stick barometer. Mahogany veneer on pine carcass. Domed head, glazed. Siphon tube, leather cap. Silvered brass plate with vernier, 27-31 inches, numbered by 1, subdivided to 0.1 and marked ‘Stormy’, ‘Mh Rain’, ‘Rain’, ‘Change’, ‘Fair’, ‘Set Fair’ and ‘Very Dry’. Semicircular head, waisted trunk and circular foot (cistern cover missing). Mercury-in-glass barometer tube, only exposed at the register plate; glazed cover to register plate.

Condition good; complete.


Allison Ksiazkiewicz; 'Design concerns and solutions'; Explore Whipple Collections online article; Whipple Museum of the History of Science; University of Cambridge:


A barometer measures the pressure of this air upon us and our surroundings. The precise pressure of the air depends upon the weather, so a barometer is useful for weather forecasting. It can also be used as an altimeter (see "how to use" a hypsometer).

Torricelli, a pupil of Galileo, invented the traditional mercury barometer in 1644. Torricelli took a long glass tube closed at one end and completely filled it with mercury. He chose mercury because of its heaviness. Without letting air into the tube, it was then turned upside down and the open end placed in a bowl of mercury. Surprisingly perhaps, the mercury does not run out of the tube into the bowl (unless the tube is more than 760mm long). In fact, the column of mercury in the tube will always settle at the height of about 760mm above the level of the mercury in the bowl, even if the tube is tilted. This height is where the weight (or pressure) of the column of the mercury is equal to the pressure of air above the bowl, and so the height of the column of mercury measures the pressure of the surrounding air.

It was soon found that the height of the column of mercury was not absolutely fixed, but could rise and fall between 700 and 775 mm, even at sea level. The precise height seemed to depend upon the weather. From the late 17th century, therefore, the barometer rapidly became popular in the home for weather forecasting and later as an aid to the preparation of shipping forecasts. From 1840 onwards other forms of barometer were devised that did not require cumbersome columns of mercury. Best known is the aneroid barometer, which depends upon the expansion and contraction of a partially evacuated metal chamber to register changes in external air pressure. In the late 19th century small pocket barometers of this type, which could also function as altimeters, were fashionable for mountaineers, balloonists and explorers.

Created by: Chris Lewis on 01/03/2001


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