An extremely rare aluminium Watkin Patent extended scale barometer altimeter by J Hicks, London, No 934, scaled to 7,000ft, c1890

Watkin Patent Mountain Barometer Altimeter by Hicks No 934 c1890

Image of Watkin Patent Altimeter by Hicks No 934Watkin Patent barometer having finely engraved and silvered 3½” brass dial with tri-concentric altitude and barometric scales, reading indicator set at 6 o’clock, calibrations from 24-31 inches of mercury and from 0–7,000ft, “Watkin Patent” in an arc above the centre with “Compensated” and serial “No 934,” the lower dial signed by the maker “J. Hicks, 8, 9, & 10 Hatton Gardens, London.” Fine blued-steel index, the bezel with very fine telltale spring anchored to arbour. The plain aluminium case with turned pillar and suspension ring, the rear having compensation adjustment port set at 4 o’clock as viewed.

Aluminium-constructed instruments of this period are very unusual.  Aesthetically, they lack the visual attraction of those constructed in lacquered brass, and they were produced at significant additional cost and to special order only. Though aluminium offered the advantage of lower weight, it presented some problems to the maker. Normally the aneroid movement is held into the back of the case by three screws engaged in three corresponding ferrules with internal threads soldered into the back of the case. It is not possible to solder aluminium so a means of fixing the movement with dome-headed engineering screws was used – the domes of those screws are visible on the case rear. It is likely this Watkin Patent extended scale barometer was manufactured c1890 – it is an example of one of the earliest applications of aluminium in scientific instruments and must be viewed as of great significance in technological terms.

Major (later Colonel) Henry Samuel Spiller Watkin of the Royal Artillery was granted a British patent no. 3425 for a rotary indicator and dial scale on 11 March 1886.


Stock No: WP0235

Price: £375

Image of Watkin Patent Altimeter by Hicks No 934
Image of Watkin Patent Altimeter by Hicks No 934
Image of Watkin Patent Altimeter by Hicks No 934

James Joseph Hicks

James J. Hicks of London, England was a well-known manufacturer of scientific instruments in the latter half of the 19th century. Born in Ireland in 1837, James Joseph Hicks apprenticed as an instrument maker with L.P. Casella in London, starting in 1852. By 1860 he had risen to a position of foreman with the company. This date also marks the start of Hicks’ many patent filings principally relating to meteorological and clinical thermometers. In 1861 Hicks started his own company at 8 Hatton Garden, manufacturing a variety of scientific and medical appliances. He married Emma Sarah Robertson, a milliner, in 1862 with whom he had a son and two daughters.

By the 1870s, James J. Hicks’ manufactory was perhaps the most important supplier of barometers and thermometers in London at the time. He became the first major manufacturer of clinical thermometers and thermometers applied to meteorology and brewing. His company expanded to occupy 8, 9 and 10 Hatton Garden by 1878 catering to the developing science of meteorology, the growing use of industrial control instruments and to military needs through the manufacture of thermometers, barometers, pressure gauges, anemometers and many other types of apparatus. By the end of his working life, he claimed to have manufactured 13 million clinical thermometers, which he supplied throughout the empire. In 1911 Hicks’ company was sold to W. F. Stanley & Co., Ltd in London, and he died in 1916. Hicks’ instruments continue to be sought after for their quality and workmanship.


    Recent Portfolios