Liverpool: 1818. Envelope or Cover. This two-page letter was sent from Liverpool to New York on 30 July 1818. After delivery to a ship’s agent, it was dispatched on the second voyage the Black Ball Line ship, the Amity, which departed Liverpool on 2 August and arrived at New York City on 3 September where it was sent on to Lebanon Springs. The cover bears a red straight line “SHIP” handstamp and a circular red New York transit mark. A “20½” cent postage rate mark was applied in New York City; 18 ½ cents for postage plus a 2 cent ship fee. (See Pullin, p. 175.) The letter is in nice shape. A transcript of the letter will be provided. Very good. Item #009384
Although John Harrison perfected a marine chronometer in 1760 that solved the problem of accurately measuring longitude at sea, his “sea clocks” were prohibitively expensive, so the quest went on to find a more economical method not involving the complex use of a quadrant. In 1795 during a trip from Georgia to New York City, Dr. Abbott fleshed out an idea suggesting it might be possible to measure longitude magnetically using a device containing a ball of mercury. He shared his theory with an unnamed, but scientifically inclined, traveling companion from Great Britain. In 1818, while Abbott’s friend, Dr. Hall was in Liverpool, he discovered that a Mr. Woods was garnering considerable recognition for creating a device almost identical to Abbot design. When Hall suggested that Woods credit Dr. Abbot, Woods denied that he had ever heard of the doctor and discredited his theory. Competing claims ran rampant on both sides of the Atlantic for several months in 1818 (e.g., see “Longitude” in The American Monthly Magazine and Critical Review, Vol, IV.) In this letter to his wife, Lucy, Hall reports: “I fear our uniting with Doctor Abbott will be attended with various difficulties in this country. . .. Mr. Wood has made some improvement in our machine and several are sent out on trial – there have been reports from two that are out one was from a Sea Letter a little more than 20 degrees from Liverpool said to be within a few minutes by accurate observation. . .. Doct. Abbotts theory is not acknowledged to be either original or correct. . .. Whatever may be the outcome of that part of the business, I have the satisfaction to find that we have put a machine in motion that has excited the attention & inquiry of the scientific men in this country and which is acknowledged to be the great desideratum . . . & which will be of immense utility for mankind. . .. What arrangements we shall make with Mr. Wood is yet uncertain – He refuses to acknowledge D. A. theory or to enter into any agreement wherein he is a party & so the matter rests for the present. . ..” Unfortunately for all concerned, Dr. Abbott’s theory and the devices didn’t work. A unique and fascinating first-hand report from within an ‘ownership’ tussle over an early 19th Century scientific theory that was carried on one of the very first packet ships from England to the United States.