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More WF Stanley catalogues online

While researching a couple of new W.F. Stanley finds this weekend, I happened upon a couple of very exciting early sources (well, exciting for me anyway) that had until now escaped my attention. Both of them were hidden inside otherwise unpromising sounding books – namely the Classed Catalogue of the Educational Division of the South Kensington Museum (1867) and Elementary and Practical Instructions on the Science of Railway Construction (1869) – and only surfaced as a result of very obscure search terms in Google Books.

The earlier and more important of the two is a full illustrated catalogue complete with title page and preface, which describes it as “a new edition of my catalogue” and signs off with “3, Great Turnstile, 1865.” This suggests not only that it was the current edition of Stanley’s catalogue at the time of the book going to print in 1867, but also that it was most likely the second edition, a hypothesis supported by Cecil J. Allen’s assertion in A Century of Scientific Instrument Making that “in 1864 [Stanley] produced his first catalogue of the scientific instruments made by his firm.”

As well as being the earliest illustrated catalogue I have access to, it is also the earliest price list, predating even the first edition of Stanley’s Mathematical Drawing Instruments which generally carried an abridged list at the back (those available online with price lists being the 1868 3rd edition, the 1873 4th edition, the 1878 5th edition, and the 1900 7th edition; I also now have a physical copy of the full catalogue for 1888 to round out the picture).

The second new source I found is an abridged price list for 1869. It does not elaborate on the 1868 price list, being only four pages long, but may be useful for pinpointing any changes to the product line that happened around this time.

Naturally, the first thing I looked for in the 1865 catalogue was any evidence for my aluminium Napier compass, not mentioned in any of the later price lists. Stanley had patented the use of aluminium in mathematical instruments in 1861, but by the 1868 third edition of his treatise was already dismissive about the metal’s potential for this purpose. From this I surmised that if Stanley had ever sold aluminium instruments, they would only appear in the catalogues issued in the four years between 1864 and 1868.

However, I was surprised to find that there was no mention of aluminium instruments in even the 1865 catalogue, leaving a very short potential window for their sale. Hoping to find an earlier source, I did another search of Google books and finally hit the jackpot with a description of Stanley’s contributions to the 1862 International Exhibition in the volume of Jurors’ Reports published in the same year. In addition to mentions of Stanley’s improved ruling pen, needle point, parallel compasses and scale dividing engine, the report also notes that:

“A few instruments of aluminium are also exhibited; one pair of Napier compasses weighing less than half a crown.”

This is certainly the same instrument, and narrows down the probable time frame for its manufacture to c.1861-4, leaving only the first 1864 edition of Stanley’s catalogue to check. Meanwhile, the 1865 catalogue also provides tantalizing clues to a number of other mysteries that I hope to discuss here before too long.

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