Vavasseur Antiques - fine antique barometers, barographs and other scientific instruments


Image of Mark Jarrold, Vavasseur AntiquesMy formative years instilled in me a great interest in antiques, living in old houses full of the old, the very old and the curious…and that was just the people! Many of the items I marvelled at, and came to appreciate for what they were and are – a few were quite beyond my comprehension. To be surrounded by items of beauty, interest and association is great privilege indeed. I don’t believe in the term expert since it tends to convey an impression of perfect knowledge. We all learn a little more all the time, given application, and occasionally there may be a ‘eureka’ moment. Analysis of the more interesting pieces is completely compelling: the discovery of a name, a date, a variation in design or pattern is always a draw. One learns something of social demography, engineering and science, sometimes all in one hit. Unfortunately, I am old enough (just) to remember the first electronic calculator, the Sinclair Scientific. The impact these new devices had upon so many disciplines cannot be overstated – so, in the mid-19th century, had the aneroid barometer. A barometer that was without mercury, was light, portable and very accurate: it was the ‘had-to-have’ thing.

The 19th century is of fascination to many as it yielded up so many advancements in technology – an amazing blend of skill of hand, new machinery and ingenuity fuelled by imagination. Fine mechanical devices have always intrigued me, with a background in highly technical mechanical and electrical devices as a TV technician. Turning my attention to this amazing Victorian technology may seem a backward step – it isn’t. Tracing the evolution of technology is utterly fascinating, and serves to help explain many of the things we see around us today and probably take for granted. Membership of the Historical Breech Loading and Small Arms Association based at the Imperial War Museum allowed me a greater in-depth study of 19th century technologies. Consultancy with leading auction houses proved enlightening to say the least! And, as a sailor and former commercial diver, I have acquired a good knowledge of the physical properties of pressure, behaviour of gasses and navigation, so in this place you will find nautical items as well.


Most instruments that are antique require a little work, some a lot more. The essence here is to sympathetically conserve or restore and/or properly correct any defects. To introduce new parts or to re-finish a component or case is always a difficult question. Very careful consideration has to be given before any work is conducted. Conserving originality is always the prime objective, but if an aspect of the object has deteriorated to a point where it may be prejudicial to its long term survival, or has become so objectionable as to betray its original form, then there is the option to re-finish. In any event, it must be in absolute keeping and in almost all cases traditional materials and methods are employed. Many of the instruments I see have been in attics or spare rooms, neglected or simply forgotten. Years of grime and dirt, oxidation of silvered dials and other vagaries of time can, in most cases, be removed with careful conservation and no re-finishing. It is these instruments that always yield the best result as the original finish, texture, colour and appropriate patination are retained. To lose any of these is disaster, so it is very careful and painstaking work. Many of these items will also attract hours of research – this is part of the passion, holding in the hand a piece of history and the story it can convey. Changes to an item, e.g. re-silvering of a dial, and other conservation or restoration work will be detailed.

Primarily I buy for the collector, with a collector’s eye. My service to you is to filter out the less than worthy, and to supply the really good things in the condition and of a type you will want to own. Finding these things is not easy – many hours of searching, negotiating and conservation work may lie behind the items you see here.

Descriptions are intended to be objective and I strive for accuracy on all points. Dates are sometimes very hard to establish and often an approximation is given; where a date is stated precisely it will be based on good corroborative evidence. Many instruments may bear a name on a dial or part, but it should be borne in mind that this does not necessarily indicate the maker – it may just be the retailer or another agent and best efforts are made to make that differentiation. Barographs are a good example: the two most highly-respected manufacturers of these beautiful and functional instruments in the early 20th centuries were Negretti & Zambra and Short & Mason – many instruments are found with the names of opticians on the chassis or case or upon the dial, but the majority owe their origins to these two makers. However, even in the event that an item may bear the name of an established maker it does not necessarily mean that it was made by him. I have come across Short & Mason barographs with barometers that have “Negretti & Zambra” engraved on the dial.

There is little doubt that, with the huge shift in demographics and social attitudes, many antiques generally that once commanded eye-watering prices have probably had their day. Technology, though, is a field that is very much more readily understood and may easily be better appreciated. As things stand the market substantially undervalues many of these items but without doubt the fields of science, invention and manufacturing are set to make progressive gains in a widening market, and demand for the finest quality items will not only continue but strengthen.

On these pages I have a range of objects: many are commentators upon technological and scientific advancement, are made by some of the world’s finest craftsmen in their art, and have useful, practical function – and all combined with wonderful aesthetics. You will also find selected pieces of porcelain and furniture dating from the same era that have been chosen similarly for their beauty, rarity and condition.


We hope that the items shown on this site will be of interest – you might even choose to own one or two, or more. Acquiring any item without the benefit of an inspection implies a responsibility by the vendor to accurately and fully describe it. We seek to do just that, whilst also bringing to each item and its description a rather more personal and subjective commentary based on many years of experience, appreciation and research.

Any acquisition is on an approval basis and the purchased item may be returned within fourteen days from receipt. Please refer to the Orders & Returns page for more information.

Vavasseur Antiques - fine antique barometers, barographs and other scientific instruments

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