Object Itineraries and Tools of Knowledge

by Sarah Middle

One aspect of the data enhancement that forms part of the Tools of Knowledge project involves connecting the remodelled SIMON database with object data from partner institutions. Bringing in object data, as a first step, allows us to make more connections, undertake new kinds of analysis, and reveal new stories about makers, objects, and the relationships between them. However, these objects do not exist solely in relation to their makers; they have also been involved in fascinating journeys (or itineraries) of their own, which continue even within the institutions that hold them. Modelling these itineraries will allow more object-focused work and enable us to view the makers from different perspectives.

What is an ‘Object Itinerary’?

Cultural heritage objects are not static or inert; instead, each one represents a journey through space and time to reach its current context. This journey consists of a sequence of events, which might include its creation, use, alteration, movement, and acquisition, and may ultimately lead to its decay or destruction. Each of these events occurs in a particular place, at a particular time, and often involves the actions of a person or organisation. As such, these sequences are often referred to as ‘object biographies’, a term introduced by Kopytoff (1986) in a social anthropology context, and since adopted in archaeology (Gosden & Marshall, 1999) and museum studies (Alberti, 2005).

The term ‘object itinerary’ has a similar meaning but implies a more continuous trajectory without the fixed events of birth and death (Fontijn, 2013). An itinerary might therefore look back to the formation of the materials from which the object was constructed or look forward to its future receptions or remediations. Fundamentally, an object itinerary represents a network of relationships between that object and its interactions throughout space and time.

Modelling Object Itineraries

In a previous blog post, we introduced the idea of event-based data modelling, where people, such as the scientific instrument makers in SIMON, can be described in terms of events that occurred throughout their lives; the same approach can be applied to objects. To start to bring these ideas to life, I have developed some initial case studies using objects from Tools of Knowledge partner institutions.

Case Study 1: Shelton Clock

My first case study is on an astronomical regulator, a particularly accurate type of pendulum clock, which was made by John Shelton in 1756, and is now held at the National Museum of Scotland (NMS). Looking at its metadata (below), we can immediately see various ways in which connections might be made from this clock to other objects that share some, or all, of the following characteristics:

  • Made by John Shelton, in London, or during 1756
  • Part of the History of Science collection
  • Incorporates similar materials (wood, brass, glass, etc.)
A picture containing text, clock

Description automatically generated

The descriptive sections in the lower part of the catalogue record provide more clues about the adventures this clock has experienced, both before and after its acquisition by NMS.

A picture containing text

Description automatically generated

We might use this information as a starting point for more detailed data modelling to represent different stages of the clock’s itinerary and the places and people involved, as illustrated in the basic timeline below.

Table, letter

Description automatically generated

The timeline shows key events in the clock’s history, including its creation and inclusion in an expedition, observation, and experiment. A gap in its itinerary is then indicated by the broken line, before its acquisition by NMS and subsequent display. Substantial research has already been conducted on the itinerary of the Shelton clock that is not currently reflected in the NMS catalogue record, but which might be used to fill this gap as part of a more in-depth case study. On either side of this timeline, we can also anticipate how the clock’s itinerary might be modelled further into the past and future.

As shown in the above timeline, the Shelton clock was used in observing the 1769 transit of Venus at Tahiti. If we wanted to represent this usage of the object with an event-based data model, we can classify the event as an observation, pinpoint it to an exact date, and state that the Shelton Clock was used. We can also link the observation event to other entities and, implicitly, the information about them. These entities include the people who carried out the observation (e.g., Captain James Cook, Joseph Banks, Charles Green and Daniel Solander), as well as the places involved (e.g., Point Venus and the planet Venus). Each entity has one or more records in other authoritative sources (e.g., Wikidata, GeoNames, VIAF, or the Getty Vocabularies) that contain key information about them; linking to these records will implicitly link to this information, which might include geographical coordinates, or birth and death dates, for example.


Description automatically generated

We can also look at the observation event as part of a wider expedition event: Cook’s First Voyage started in Plymouth, travelled to Tahiti for the observation (with various stops along the way), then explored New Zealand and Australia before returning home. If a project on Cook’s voyages, for example, chose to use a similar event-based approach, the observation event on our original object’s itinerary might therefore be linked to a wealth of other historical information, to situate it in a broader context.

Case Study 2: Marine Timekeeper K1

A silver pocket watch

Description automatically generated with medium confidence

Continuing the theme of Cook’s voyages, the next case study focuses on marine timekeeper K1, which was made by Larcum Kendall and trialled on Cook’s Second Voyage. K1 is held at one of our partner institutions, the National Maritime Museum, with some sections of its catalogue record shown below. Like the Shelton Clock, its main metadata fields have potential for linking directly to other objects, places, and people, accompanied by descriptive information from which we can extract events.

Graphical user interface, application

Description automatically generated
A black screen with white text

Description automatically generated with low confidence

As with the Shelton clock, I have included some of the events from K1’s description on a timeline of its itinerary (below), focusing on its early years. In K1’s case, I started from the moment of its commission, rather than its creation, further demonstrating the need for ‘fuzziness’ when attempting to establish the beginning or end of an object’s itinerary.


Description automatically generated

Like the Shelton Clock, K1 is very well-travelled: as well as accompanying Captain Cook, it journeyed to Australia on the ‘First Fleet’ and was later retrieved from a shipwreck at Norfolk Island. While these adventures are intriguing, my focus will now turn to the early events in its known itinerary, to demonstrate how K1’s connections with related objects may be established.

As shown in the above timeline, K1 was not a completely new creation, but instead replicated a previous marine timekeeper, known as H4, which had been produced by John Harrison and achieved considerable success during Board of Longitude trials. Furthermore, having produced K1, Kendall was then asked to simplify its design, and produced K2 as a result. Modelling these replication and simplification events produces explicit connections between the objects themselves through the maker of both K1 and K2, the watchmaker Larcum Kendall.


Description automatically generated

Object Itineraries: Final Thoughts

Modelling objects in terms of events that occur throughout their journey across space and time increases the scope for connections to people, places and other objects to be described within the data model, as well as allowing greater specificity about the nature of relationships between them. Using the event as the central point of focus allows a richer representation of information and brings a narrative aspect to the data. Applying this approach in Tools of Knowledge, to combine existing datasets about scientific instruments and their makers, will support a rich visual analysis of the data and facilitate the discovery of new insights about the people, places and objects whose data we are modelling. Further blogs will detail some of those explorations.

Instrument Makers as Corporate Identities

Instrument Makers as Corporate Identities: The Cary Microscope and Patrick Adie’s Extensometer

Posted on 2 November 2021 by Matt Beros

This is the first of a series of posts written by members of the Tools of Knowledge project. Our blog will deal with both scholarly and technical questions we encounter and give regular updates on the project’s progress.

The project team has just completed disambiguating c. 11,000 relations from the SIMON dataset using a customised relational disambiguator tool. This is a critical task for producing a remodelled linked open data version of SIMON. Our next post will look at the disambiguator tool in more detail.

In this post I will be looking at instrument makers whose names are used posthumously by instrument-making businesses as a corporate identity. In the SIMON dataset the active years for an instrument maker encompasses both the working years of a maker and instances when a business has carried on in the founder’s name after his death. This raises questions both in terms of data handling and the attribution of instruments to specific makers.

A case in point is William Cary (1759-1825), an optician who was apprenticed to Jesse Ramsden (1735-1800) and later opened his own business at 272 Strand, London in 1789. Cary quickly became renowned for the quality of his astronomical and mathematical instruments which he sold in both the United Kingdom and Europe.

Shortly after Cary’s death on 16 November 1825, one of the instrument makers in his workshop, Charles Gould, designed a pocket microscope for a new market of amateur naturalists. Since William’s nephews, John and George Cary, continued the business under their uncle’s name, Gould’s new invention became known as the Cary-type microscope and early examples of this instrument c.1825-1830 are engraved with Cary’s name.

Signature on a Cary-Gould Microscope from a private collection.

Instruments continued to be manufactured under William Cary’s name as late as 1891. Alison Morrison-Low has examined a Cary-type microscope acquired by the National Museums Scotland with a near-complete paper record of its design, manufacture, and sale. However, despite the extant documentation it is difficult to determine which workshop manufactured this instrument. Morrison-Low notes that an accompanying leaflet stating that the microscope was manufactured by Alexander McKenize (active 1816-1822) is likely incorrect and suggests that the instrument was almost certainly sold by McKenzie but was probably manufactured in the industrial centres of the English Midlands and then sent by packhorse and subsequently by rail into the London marketplace.


Another notable case I came across in the SIMON database is the instrument-maker Patrick Adie (1821-1886). Patrick was the youngest son of the Edinburgh-based optician and meteorologist, Alexander James Adie (1775-1858). After working for four years in his father’s workshop Patrick sailed for London in 1844 and set up a business as an optician and instrument maker at 1A Conduit Street in 1846. Adie specialised in surveying instruments, barometers, and other meteorological instruments such as cistern thermometers and a sliding rule for hygrometrical calculations. Instruments continued to be sold under the name of Patrick Adie until 1942.

An interesting example of an instrument sold under the trade name of Patrick Adie is an extensometer designed by John Goodman which was recently auctioned from a private collection.

Patrick Adie’s exhibitor’s card, with his signature, from the 1878 International Exhibition in Paris. © Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library


Goodman’s Extensometer attributed to Patrick Adie from a private collection.

This instrument is constructed from solid brass with a bone engraved scale, steel claw clamps and housed in its original boxwood case with a stuck-down trade card: “Patrick Adie, Optician, Mathematical & Scientific Instrument Maker. Broadway Works, Westminster. London S.W.” The printed address on the trade card, “Broadway Works” is struck out and replaced with a handwritten address, “45 Horseferry Road.” The steel claw clamps on the instrument are also engraved, “Patrick Adie. 45 Horseferry Rd. Westminister. S.W.”

Steel claw clamp of Goodman’s Extensometer with engraved name and address: “Patrick Adie. 45 Horseferry Rd. Westminster. SW.”
Original boxwood case with stuck-on Patrick Adie trade card.

The extensometer was invented by Charles Huston in 1879 for the purpose of measuring the elastic strain of materials under tensions. This example manufactured by the Adie company was a later iteration of the extensometer which was redesigned to a more simplified form by John Goodman (1862-1935) of the Engineering Laboratory at Leeds University. A detailed description of this instrument is given in Ewart S. Andrews’ The Strength of Materials: A Text-Book for Engineers and Architects (1915) pp.371-2. In 1887 Goodman was appointed chief assistant to W. H. Stranger at the Broadway Testing Works and it is perhaps during this period that he collaborated with the Adie company at Broadway Works to produce the redesigned extensometer.

Clarke, Morrison-Low, and Simpson note that in 1874 Patrick Adie had a shop at 15 Pall Mall and also ran a workshop from Broadway Works, Westminister. The Adie firm used ‘Broadway works’ for several distinct addresses from c.1874-1918, including Broadway Works, 1 Broadway, Westminister and Broadway Works, 24 & 26 Tothill St, Westminister. The earliest reference I could find to the Adie company address at 45 Horseferry Road is in the Trades and Professional Directory (1914) where it is designated as a factory. An advertisement for Adie’s cement testing machines from the Directory of Manufacturers in Engineering and Allied Trades (1918) gives both his Broadway Works and Horseferry factory addresses. The address was later modified in reproduced versions of this advert to “Patrick Adie (formerly Broadway Works)”.

I was able to locate one other catalogued example of this same extensometer in the scientific instrument collection at the University College Cork, Ireland (see Charles Mollan’s Irish National Inventory of Scientific Instruments, 1441 MIS014). It is also housed in its original boxwood case with a pasted down Broadway Works trade card but Mollan’s inventory description of the UCC extensometer omits any reference to a Horseferry factory address on the instrument or on the case suggesting that these instruments were originally manufactured at Broadway Works. The auctioned instrument was possibly serviced or sold from the Horseferry factory address once the firm had ceased operations at Broadway Works after 1918.

Another question we might raise here is who were the instrument makers that took over the firm after Adie’s death on 18 May 1886? Clarke et al note that in 1858 Patrick Adie married Clementina Hellaby, and they had four sons and three daughters but none of them went into the business. According to family tradition, Patrick Adie’s foreman Llyod continued the business into the 20th century although the subsequent history of the business after Adie’s death has not been studied in any detail. After investigating I found several further clues about the later history of the Adie business. A notice in the London Gazette (30 April 1915) gives the identity of three instrument makers who traded under the name of Patrick Adie. Arthur Llyod (Senior), Arthur Llyod (Junior), and William Henry Llyod were makers of scientific and other instruments and partners of a business at 45 Horseferry Road who operated “under the style or firm of Patrick Adie”. The original partnership was dissolved by mutual consent on 30 September 1914 and the business was subsequently continued under the name of Patrick Adie by Arthur Llyod (Junior) and William Henry Llyod. As far as I can tell these three instrument makers who were active at the Horseferry factory have not been previously identified. Further investigation of the business history of firms that operated under the name of more well-known makers will likely uncover new trade connections and allow for a more comprehensive attribution of specific instruments to instrument-makers and workshops.

Further Reading:

Clarke, T.N., A.D. Morrison-Low and A.D.C. Simpson, Brass and Glass: Scientific Instrument Making Workshops in Scotland (Edinburgh, 1989).

Morrison-Low, A.D. ‘The Gentle Art of Persuasion: Advertising Instruments during Britain’s Industrial Revolution’, in A.D. Morrison-Low, Sara J. Schechner and Paolo Brenni (eds.), How Scientific Instruments Have Changed Hands (Leiden, 2017), pp.43-56.