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probably made in Edinburgh

Postcard of Hydrometer.
© National Museums Scotland


A hydrometer is used to measure the density of a liquid and thus its alcohol content for taxation purposes, at a given temperature. This 'static hydrometer' (pictured here with its wooden case) was made around 1804, probably by John Miller and Alexander Adie, scientific instrument makers based in Edinburgh between 1804 and 1822, but moving from the address on the instrument case during 1804.

The portable hydrometer is permanently fixed in its wooden case. The ivory inlay on the box lid (not shown) is marked 'HYDROMETER/By MILLER & ADIE/ No. 86 South Bridge'. The instrument is constructed in brass. The float is gilded and is at one end of a pivoted beam, with two sliders. In use, the entire instrument swings out of the box with the gilded float suspended over its own brass container. The beam is calibrated on the float side of the pivot with a 'Thermometer Scale' from 30 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit; on the counterbalance side of the pivot is a spirit scale 'WATER' 100 to Proof to 65 'ALCOHOL' and a scale of 'Clarke's Strengths...' The beam moves against an ivory indicator, above or below a line.

With the Government interest in regulating excise duty, a number of the new designs of hydrometer were produced at the end of the 18th century and start of the 19th century. This example by Miller and Adie was not successful in winning the government contract.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-100-104-211-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0098: National Museums Scotland
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1925.57
Date: Around 1804
c. 1804
Dimensions: 11.50" x 2.75" x 2.88" deep
What: Hydrometer, portable / case
Subject: 22. PHYSICS, Hydrostatics (Departmental Classification)
Who: Miller and Adie, 86 South Bridge, Edinburgh (Instrument maker)
Where: Scotland, Midlothian, Edinburgh
Description: Portable hydrometer for testing spirits permanently fixed in a case, made by Miller and Adie, 86 South Bridge, Edinburgh, c. 1804
  • 'Mr Adie's Statistical Hydrometer' in the Edinburgh Encyclopedia. vol 9, Edinburgh: 1830, p 400 and illustrated vol 21, plate 314 fig 5 
  • Clarke, T.N., Morrison-Low, A.D. & Simpson, A.D.C. Brass & glass scientific instrument making workshops in Scotland as illustrated by instruments from the Arthur Frank Collection at the Royal Museum of Scotland. Edinburgh: NMS, 1989. p 31 
  • For the introduction of the new Government-approved hydrometer, see Tate, Francis G.H. & Gabb, George H. Alcoholometry : An account of the British method of alcoholic strength determination with an historical introduction. London: 1930, pp 1-13 
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