Late Victorian Cased Daniells Hygrometer by Negretti & Zambra London

Late Victorian Cased Daniells Hygrometer by Negretti & Zambra London


Late Victorian Cased Daniells Hygrometer by Negretti & Zambra London


H: 20 x W: 13 x D:7 cms



Country of manufacture

UK and Ireland

Categories: Scientific, Technology, Barometers & Meteorology, Office Antiques


For sale, an extremely rare late nineteenth century cased Daniell’s hygrometer by Negretti & Zambra, London.

This museum worthy instrument is complete with its original mahogany case with a small plaque to the lid with the initials UCSW denoting its previous use at the University College of South Wales, now Cardiff University.

It is comprised of a turned brass base engraved with the maker’s name, Negretti & Zambra, London and further stamped with the same initials, ‘UCSW’. The stand has a screw at the base which threads into the base, with attached thermometer to the shaft and a U shaped receptacle to the top to hold the glass tube.

The double right angled glass ether filled tube with a bulb at each end, as explained below contains a second thermometer.

The Daniel’s hygrometer was invented in order to record the relative humidity of the air and was notably used by Admiral Fitzroy during his famous explorations with Charles Darwin on HMS Beagle. Fitzroy himself had strong links with Negretti & Zambra.

Examples of the Daniell’s hygrometer can be seen in the company’s, ‘Treatise on Meteorological Instruments’ in 1864 and also their later catalogues of the 1880s so although it was considered somewhat troublesome, it’s enduring production confirms that it remained useful to scientists throughout the nineteenth century.

Negretti & Zambra’s later catalogue provides a description of its use:

“Daniell’s hygrometer for ascertaining the dew-point by direct observation invented about the year 1820 by the late professor Daniell, of Kings College London.

It consists of a glass tube, bent twice at right angles, and terminating, at each end, in a bulb. In the long limb of the tube is enclosed a delicate thermometer, which descends to the centre of the bulb, which is about three parts filled with sulphuric aether. All the other parts of the tube are carefully freed from air, so that they are occupied by the vapour of the aether. This bulb is made of black glass; the other bulb on the shorter limb is transparent and covered with a piece of fine muslin. The support for the tube has a delicate thermometer attached, to show the temperature of the external air.

This instrument gives the dew-point by direct observation, and is to be used at an open window facing the north in the following manner: Having fixed the tube on the stand, with the bulbs vertically downward, the aether is all caused to flow into the lower ball by inclining the tube. The temperature of the air is noted by the exposed thermometer. Then some aether is poured upon the muslin covered bulb. The rapid evaporation of the aether cools the bulb and causes condensation of the aethereal vapour in its interior. This gives rise to rapid evaporation of the aether in the lower bulb, whereby its temperature is greatly reduced. The air in the vicinity is deprived of its warmth by the cold bulb, and is soon cooled to the temperature at which it is perfectly saturated with the vapour which it contains. Cooled ever so little below this temperature, some aqueous vapour will be condensed, and will form a dew upon the black glass bulb. At the first indication of the deposit of dew the reading of the internal thermometer is taken; which is the dew point. In very damp or windy weather the aether should be slowly dropped on the bulb, otherwise the descent of the mercury in the thermometer is so rapid as to render it difficult to be certain of the temperature. Should this occur, the observation may be repeated by watching the temperature at which the ring of dew disappears, the mean of the two readings will be the correct point of precipitation. The greatest difference observed by Mr Daniell in the course of four months’ daily experiments between the external thermometer and the internal one at the moment of precipitation in the natural state of the atmosphere was twenty degrees. When Daniell’s hygrometer is required to act merely as a weather glass, to predict the greater or less probability of rain etc, the difference between the constituent temperature of the vapour (shown by the interior thermometer), and the temperature of the air (shown by the exterior thermometer), is all that is necessary to be known. The probability of rain or other precipitation of moisture from the atmosphere, is in inverse proportion to this difference”.

Regarding the company itself, Negretti & Zambra were a leading name in the production of meteorological and scientific instruments and had a company history dating back to 1850 although their parents were amongst those Italian emigres that bolstered the British meteorological instrument making industry at the turn of the century.

Throughout their long and esteemed history they exhibited at British industrial fairs throughout and became makers to both Queen Victoria and Edward VII. Owing to changes in the business, the firm ceased the public retailing of scientific instruments sometime around the late 1960’s and continued with a focus on the aviation industry in numerous guises until its eventual liquidation in the year 2000. They are today perhaps the most collected of the scientific instrument firms which bears testament to the quality of their work.

Circa 1883 – 1900. The University College of South Wales was founded in 1883 providing us with the earliest date for manufacture.


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