Skip to main content

Science Museum

Exquisite Georgian clock becomes Science Museum's most precious acquisition

A rare Georgian clock, capable of recording changes in air pressure and used at the dawn of climate science, has been acquired for the nation by the Science Museum.

The acquisition of this exceptional clock was made possible by a grant from Art Fund and was purchased through Sotheby's.

Dated 1766, the barograph clock is one of only four of its type that highly-regarded London clockmaker Alexander Cumming is known to have constructed. It was used by renowned meteorologist Luke Howard to conduct some of the world’s first urban climate studies.

Following Cumming's death in 1814, Luke Howard purchased the clock and used it for observations of atmospheric pressure at his homes in London and Ackworth, a crucial project in the emergence of climate science. The data from the barograph traces, accompanied by notes on global weather events and descriptions of the clock, were published in the book Barometrographia in 1847. Howard's life's work has earned him the nickname 'the father of scientific meteorology'.

Inside the imposing 7ft 2in-high decorated case, thought to be made by famed London cabinet maker Thomas Chippendale, is a barograph mechanism used for measuring air pressure. The barograph comprises two tubes of mercury in which a float rises and falls as atmospheric pressure changes. This data is recorded on the clock dial, which rotates once a year.

A fine example of the technical innovations of the Georgian period, the clock was designed by Cumming using ideas first outlined by Royal Society founding member Robert Hooke. It has featured in previous exhibitions at the Science Museum as a loan, and curators are now planning a permanent display.

Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group, said of the acquisition:

"Nothing beats the marriage of an exquisite object and an enquiring mind. We are delighted to have been able to save the barograph clock so that we can share the story of Luke Howard’s contribution to climate science with future generations."

During the Georgian period, scientific practice was often presented in public as a high-status activity expressed through ornately decorated and very finely constructed instruments such as this, and in fact the first barograph clock that Cumming constructed was commissioned by King George III as a prime example of his pursuit of Enlightenment.

ENDS

For further information and images please contact Heather Morris in the Science Museum Press Office on 020 7942 4364 or at heather.morris@sciencemuseum.ac.uk

Notes to Editors

About the Science Museum

As the home of human ingenuity, the Science Museum's world-class collection forms an enduring record of scientific, technological and medical achievements from across the globe. Welcoming over 3 million visitors a year, the Museum aims to make sense of the science that shapes our lives, inspiring visitors with iconic objects, award-winning exhibitions and incredible stories of scientific achievement.

About Discover South Kensington

Discover South Kensington brings together the Science Museum and other leading cultural and educational organisations to promote innovation and learning. South Kensington is the home of science, arts and inspiration. Discovery is at the core of what happens here and there is so much to explore every day.

About Art Fund

Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art. In the past five years alone Art Fund has given £34 million to help museums and galleries acquire works of art. It also helps museums share their collections with wider audiences by supporting a range of tours and exhibitions, and makes additional grants to support the training and professional development of curators. 

About Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s has been uniting collectors with world-class works of art since 1744. Sotheby’s became the first international auction house when it expanded from London to New York (1955), the first to conduct sales in Hong Kong (1973) and France (2001), and the first international fine art auction house in China (2012). Today, Sotheby’s presents auctions in nine different salesrooms, including New York, London, Hong Kong and Paris, and Sotheby’s BidNow program allows visitors to view all auctions live online and place bids in real-time from anywhere in the world. Sotheby’s offers collectors the resources of Sotheby’s Financial Services, the world’s only full-service art financing company, as well as private sale opportunities in more than 70 categories, including S|2, the gallery arm of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art department, as well as Sotheby’s Diamonds and Sotheby’s Wine. Sotheby’s has a global network of 90 offices in 40 countries and is the oldest company listed on the New York Stock Exchange (BID).