Trade card for the Adams family
By ADAMS Jnr, George; Dudley ADAMS; and [? George ADAMS Snr] , 1775

George Adams, Mathematical Instrument-Maker to his Majesty … Makes and Sells all Sorts of the most curious Mathematical, Philosophical, and Optical Instruments, in Silver, Brass, Ivory or Wood, with the Utmost Accuracy and Exactness, according to the latest and best Discoveries of the modern Mathematicians.

Natural History, Science & Medicine
  • Author: ADAMS Jnr, George; Dudley ADAMS; and [? George ADAMS Snr]
  • Publication place: London
  • Publisher: at Tycho Brahe's Head, No 60. in Fleet-Street
  • Publication date: c1775 or earlier
  • Physical description: Printed letterpress broadside with engraved vignette of Tycho Brahe, manuscript bill in ink on verso, modern perspex cover.
  • Dimensions: 216 by 273mm. (8.5 by 10.75 inches).
  • Inventory reference: 14147


The Adams family were the pre-eminent British instrument makers of their day. The broadside lists instruments for use in astronomy, surveying, drawing, and navigation.

In the centre is a vignette of the Adams shop sign, a portrait of Tycho Brahe. Brahe (1546-1601) was a Danish astronomer, pioneer in the field of scientific instruments and observation, and eccentric. After losing his nose in a duel while a student at the University of Rostock, he returned determined to be a scientist,and made important observations of Cassiopeia. Frederick II of Denmark granted him an estate in Hven to set up an observatory, where he compiled a star catalogue, observed the comet of 1577, and elaborated his own theory of the structure of the universe, a compromise between Ptolemaic and Copernican views where the other planets orbited the sun, but the sun orbited the earth.

Of particular interest is the writing to the verso, where a bill has been made out to a “Mr Kennedy”. It comprises 4 pairs of spectacles, a pair of 12 inch globes, a box and pair of covers (possibly for the globes), and a book, totalling 8 pounds and 15 shillings. It is signed “Geo. Adams”, presumably George Adams jnr, as it is dated June 17th 1775. It is possible that the card was printed while George Adams snr was still alive, and it was used as a bill as a means of getting rid of outdated stock.

George Adams (c1704-1773) was a leading British instrument maker. Apprenticed in 1718, he set up his business in 1735 and began making scientific instruments for the East India Company from as early as 1735. He also supplied mathematical instruments to the Royal Ordnance from 1748 to 1753, and was later instrument maker to the Prince of Wales and King George III. He also supplied the instruments for Captain Cook to observe the transit of Venus in 1769. After his death, his sons George (1750-1795) and Dudley continued the business. George jnr inherited his father’s position as royal instrument maker, and also wrote widely on scientific topics.


  1. BM Banks 105.1