Tools for sale 

Collecting the Instruments of Excise

Richard Knight

When Parliament introduced excise duty in 1643 to pay for the civil war, no one can have forseen the rich seam of instruments to be laid down for the future benefit of collectors. Three and a half centuries later this seam is being avidly mined for rules, slide rules, hydrometers and a multitude of other artefacts. Some of these date from the earliest days and cost as much now as the annual salary of a Commissioner of Excise then. They satisfy a multitude of interests – historical, scientific and mathematical -and some of them occupy an important place in our knowledge of social, commercial and scientific progress.

For rule collectors there are many simple measuring devices diagonal rods, spile rods, head rods, calipers, to name but a few. Those with an interest in slide rules can look out for the earlies two-slide “thick” specimens of the Everard type, their three and four-slide successors and the “flat” rules of the 19th century. These latter are of many types and a few of them may be found to have the rare variety liens (marked YsV and HsV) devised by two eminent Fellows of the Royal Society: the physicist Thomas Young (1773-1829) and the mathematician Charles Hutton (1737-1823). Young, who was also distinguished in medicine and in Egyptology, is best known for experiments which led to maior advances in our understanding of the nature of light and the mechanism of the human eye. That such men were consulted bears witness to the abiding resentment caused by taxation and the need to make sure that the measurements on which it was based were not themselves a source of dispute. It has also ensured a plentiful supply of obsolete objects to enrich the seam.

Appeared 1997 – Toolshop Auctions Catalogue

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