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Burlington House

A Virtual Tour of the RAS Premises: The Display Cabinet

[Fellows Room Cabinet] The Executive Secretary's room contains a display cabinet holding some of the more interesting items that the Society has acquired. The cabinet itself was made by Mr Luke Hughes, a well-known cabinet maker and designer in London. The shape is loosely based on the building of the old Radcliffe Observatory at Oxford. The Society originally began to accumulate instruments mainly by gift or bequest, but sometimes by purchase in its earliest days, with the intention of practical observing use; but, as the decades passed, much of the collection became obsolete and eventually historic.
[Pearson Clock] The Pearson Clock A magnificent clock invented by, and made for the Reverend William Pearson. This instrument displays all sorts of useful information, such as the time of high tide at London Bridge. The black disc at the top is a visual presentation of the moon's phase. The clock also gives the time, at the bottom, and on the back is a unique model of the four Galilean satellites of Jupiter. [Pearson Clock]

[Butterfield Dial] Butterfield Dial This small portable sundial, with its carrying case, is one of the designs originated by Michael Butterfield (1635–l724), an English instrument maker who worked in Paris (signed 'Butterfield a Paris'). The instrument retains its compass needle; the gnomon, hinged for stowage and adjustable with a pivot to allow for the observer's latitude, is in the form of a bird. On the reverse is engraved a list of the latitudes 'of various cities in Europe'. (N.S. Heineken bequest, 1883)

[Speculum] Speculum Mirror Originally, many items in the collection were used for practical observing - for instance, this William Herschel 9-inch speculum mirror

[Nocturnal] Nocturnal for Both Bears This wooden instrument, of English make and late seventeenth or early eighteenth century date, was used on board ship to find the time at night. The stars used were Dubhe and Merak (The Pointers) in Ursa Major, or Kochab in Ursa Minor. Due to the slow change of sidereal time through the year the date had first to be set on the inner ring, using the pointers marked Great Bear or Lesser Bear, according to which constellation was to be used - the former has, unfortunately, lost its bevelled edge. The instrument was then held at arm's length and Polaris sighted through the central hole; the longer pointer was aligned through the relevant star(s) and the centre line of the instrument set as accurately vertical as could be managed on a heaving deck. The time could be read off from the calibrated ring, and skilled practitioners are said to have been able to find the time to within a quarter of an hour. The instrument would have supplemented time reckoned by hour glasses and recorded on log and traverse tables; it would undoubtedly have been cheaper and easier to obtain than a chronometer, but would have become obsolete as these spread. (Given to the Society by R.J.Lecky, 1874.)

[Diptych] Nuremberg Diptych Dial This ivory portable sundial in two parts is one of the many made in Nuremberg in numerous workshops. It is by Hans Troschel the Elder (1567–1612) and bears his mark of a thrush (Troschel Thrush) on the outside of the lower leaf. The instrument included a compass needle for orientation (now lost, as is the glass which would have covered it). The gnomon of the dial was a length of thread running through the holes at the outer edges of the leaves. There are several holes in the upper leaf so that the angle of the thread can be adjusted for the observer's latitude.

[Ballot Box] Ballot Box More a piece of furniture than an instrument, this box is a survivor of those used by the RAS and other societies to carry out a secret ballot for the election of new Fellows. The principle of balloting using balls is based on the practice of the ancient Greeks. This box is unusually ornate, with its turned urn-like top piece to contain the balls ready for use. The proposal form of the candidate would have been attached to a board and inserted in the slot in front of the urn. Fellows would go along the line of boxes, in each case taking a ball and inserting the hand in the sleeve, dropping it to one side or the other to indicate approval or otherwise. In many cases the door to the 'no' box was coloured black, hence the expression 'blackballed'. In some cases, on the assumption that a Fellow would not vote against a candidate unless he knew something seriously to his detriment, a 'black' ball required four 'white' balls to cancel it out. When all present had voted, the officers of the Society would open the drawer at the bottom and count the balls within, declaring the candidates elected or not, as the case might be.

As a matter of interest, a modified ballot box was used as recently as the 2002 Annual General Meeting (to determine the outcome of a vote to amend Bye-Law 38). A close vote was predicted, and to avoid any uncertainty, it was decided to use this antique instrument. In fact, the proposal was overwhelmingly passed (by 40 votes to 14).
[LMS Token] Mathematical Society Medal A medal or meeting token from the Spitalfields Mathematical Society. The SMS is a very interesting sort of early workers' educational association type of organization which was founded by the Huguenot Silk Weavers in Spitalfields in 1717 and finally was absorbed by the Society in 1846.

[Herschel Medallion] Herschel Medallion One of the most beautiful possessions is a Wedgwood Medallion of the first President, Sir William Herschel, that was sculptured by the great monumental sculpture John Flaxman and produced by the Wedgwood Company.