Gallery
Scientifica

Last update: 27 August 2017

The Scientifica Gallery displays objects and documents relating to the study of historic engineering marvels (Antikythera Mechanism, Babbage's Engines) and to the collecting of scientific devices (e.g., calculators) and study specimens (e.g., medical samples). Fields considered are fundamental sciences, engineering and medicine. For natural sciences, please visit the dedicated Halls of Minerals, of Life and of Meteorites. Several sections are dedicated to Allan G. Bromley, his work and collection.

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1. Antikythera Mechanism & Babbage's Engine models
Between Greece & London, via Sidney
1980s-2000s

An early version of the Bromley-Percival Antikythera Mechanism model, made of red cardboard gears, with some photographs of the real model during construction.

The scholarly work of A.G. Bromley on the two "Mona Lisa" of computing devices
A suite of documents from the Allan G. Bromley estate

Allan George Bromley (1947-2002) was an Australian historian of computing at the University of Sydney who became a world authority on early computing devices, especially on the most celebrated, Charles Babbage's computing engines and the antique Antikythera mechanism. He was also known for being one of the most avid collectors of calculators and early computers. The work on understanding Charles Babbage's calculating engines is Bromley's greatest legacy [1]. His studies of the Antikythera mechanism, in collaboration with Michael T. Wright and clockmaker Frank Percival, led to the first working model of this ancient calculating mechanism [2-3]. To be continued.

Figures (A.G. Bromley): [1] References & manuscripts on Babbage's engines | [2] Bromley (1986)'s research material | [3] Bromley-Percival model construction

Bromley, earliest private computer collecting?, manuscript, computer history, collecting hardware parts

2. The A.G. Bromley Collection of calculators
Sydney, Australia
Late 1970s-1990s

Three standard linear slide rules formerly from the Bromley collection. From top to bottom: by Albert Nestler (41 Z) with pouch, by Sun Hemmi (34RK), and by Relay (550).

One of the most avid collectors of calculators & early computing devices

As indicated above, A.G. Bromley was an Australian historian of computing at the University of Sydney who became a world authority on early computing devices. He is also remembered for being one of the most avid collectors of calculators [1-4]. Bromley started collecting mechanical calculators in 1979 [1]. A year later he already had sixty pieces. Eventually he was responsible for a collection of old computers which used to be displayed in the rear foyer of the building housing the University of Sydney Computer Science Department. At home, he had a large personal collection of mechanical calculators, slide rules, etc. (see newspaper photograph above) He was a generous donor of artefacts to museums in Australia, especially the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, and the Australian Computer Museum Society Inc. (source: Wikipedia). He had also a large library on the history and engineering of calculating and computing devices (including some early and rare calculator collection catalogues). Here is presented a selection of calculating devices: slide rules of different shapes (including Bromley's earliest catalogued slide rule, numbered 1979.12) [1], abacuses [2], and mechanical calculators such as the Addiator [3] and the Lightning Calculator [4]. To be continued.

Figures (A.G. Bromley): [1] Slide rules, linear, circular & cylindrical | [2] Abacus | [3] Addiator | [4] Lightning Calculator

3. Studying & collecting human brains
Great Britain & United States of America
Turn of the 20th century

Letters sent by G.E. Smith to E.A. Spitzka, about the brains of Babbage and Séguin. Smith worked on the British Museum brain catalogue before being appointed to Cairo.

The anatomical study of human brains: Abnormalities in notable individuals & murderers
An archive from the Spitzka estate

Scientists have been collecting human brains ever since preservation techniques permitted it in the mid-19th century. Brains were amassed to make correlations with race, sex and intelligence, or to find neurological abnormalities in notable individuals (e.g., C. Babbage and E. Séguin's brains then at the British Museum [1]) or in insane murderers. In this last case, an archive from the Spitzka family provides an interesting story. Edward Charles Spitzka (1852-1914) was an eminent alienist, neurologist, and anatomist in New York City, author of the landmark 1883 psychiatric manual "Treatise on Insanity, Its Classification, Diagnosis and Treatment" [2] and co-founder of the American Anthropometric Society (AAS), an organisation devoted to collect and study the brains of notable individuals. Spitzka was an expert witness at trials, testifying to the criminals' insanity, and became the attending physician at the first execution using an electric chair in 1890. Edward Anthony Spitzka (1876-1922), his son, was widely recognized as one of the world's leading brain anatomists, who performed post-mortem examinations of the brains of many distinguished American men hold by the AAS. He also examined the brains of criminals executed by electrocution to see how electrical current affected the tissue and for features to account for their criminal behaviour. He was additionally a proponent of death by electric shock [3]. It is unclear if the Spitzkas ever had a personal human brain collection since they could have directly used the ones of the AAS. However they formed a collection of newspaper clippings relating to insanity, effects of electrocution and attempts to kill presidents. Clippings were kept in a clamshell box and most clippings were dated (usually handwritten with the month in Roman character, otherwise stamped) [4]. It remains unclear who initiated the collection, the father or the son.

Figures (E.C./E.A. Spitzka, if not stated otherwise): [1] Letters about famous brains (G.E. Smith to E.A. Spitzka, 1903-5) | [2] E.C. Spitzka's manual on insanity (C.F. MacDonald) | [3] E.A. Spitzka's article on execution by electricity | [4] Newspaper clipping collection

4. The earliest calculator collection/exhibit catalogues
Western Europe
From mid-19th century to the First World War

Catalogues of the calculating machines at the Science Museum of London, Baxandall (1926) and Pugh (1975), formerly from the A.G. Bromley library.

Collecting mathematical tools from the Scientific Revolution to Modern Mathematics

The 17th century, in the middle of the Scientific Revolution, marked the discovery of the logarithm (Napier, 1614), which simplified arithmetic calculations and led to the design of new calculating aids, such as Napier's bones and the slide rule. In parallel, mechanical calculators were invented such as the Pascaline (by Pascal, 1642), but the powerful logarithm function impeded the use and development of such complex calculating mechanisms by two centuries. The first major collections therefore date back to the 19th century during the era of Modern Mathematics, when a variety of mathematical devices had become available. The first recorded exhibit catalogue dates back to the 1876 London exhibition. von Dyck (1892-1893)'s catalogue is the earliest recorded exhibition catalogue limited to mathematical instruments and calculating devices [1]. von Dyck was also instrumental in the creation in Munich of the Deutsches Museum of Natural Science and Technology, the first of its kind [Origins of Cyberspace 287]. The Napier tercentenary celebration, marking the 300th anniversary of the publication of Napier's Mirifici logarithmorum canonis descriptio, was held in Edinburgh from July 24 to July 27, 1914, just five days before the start of World War I [2]. The exhibition featured displays of many different types of calculating machines, as well as exhibits of other aids to calculation such as mathematical tables, the abacus and slide rules, planimeters and other integrating devices, and ruled papers and nomograms [Origins of Cyberspace 322]. With the Munich museum, the Science Museum of South Kensington formed the most complete collection of calculators. Its catalogue (Baxandall, 1926) [3] lists e.g. two machines built by the Earl of Stanhope and an original Morland calculator, all formerly owned by Charles Babbage. This catalogue remained the most useful and informative catalogue of early calculating instruments through the 1960s. An updated edition of the catalogue was issued in 1975 [Origins of Cyberspace 222] (Pugh, 1975) [3].

Figures: [1] von Dyck, 1892-1893 (K.G. Hagström) | [2] Horsburgh, 1914 (A.G. Bromley) | [3] Baxandall, 1926 (A.G. Bromley)

First scientific repository, Grew Royal Society Museum collection catalogue