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Holtzapffel and Co: 1851 Great Exhibition

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Note: This is a sub-section of Holtzapffel and Co

Holtzapffel Lathes at the Great Exhibition.

Like many exhibitors, Holtzapffel and Co were late with some of their entries. Excitement about the exhibition was slow to develop, and the decision to build special machines was probably made rather late.

As well as the catalogued entries, a rose engine and a gentleman's library lathe were shown in the Machinery in Motion section, from some time in August.


In addition to the numerous beautiful specimens of turning contributed to the Great Exhibition by Messrs. Holtzapffel and Co., and which we alluded to in a former notice, this eminent firm has recently added a valuable rose engine, for ornamenting turned surfaces, and also a lathe for ornamental turning, both of which are now shown in operation in the Machinery in Motion Department. It is rather singular that there are no other machines at work in the Crystal Palace applicable to this peculiar branch of art. The rose engine is very completely fitted with a variety of apparatus, such as a compound sliding rest, segment engine, oblique motion, eccentric, oval, straight-line, spherical, geometric and many other chucks; which are employed either independently or in combination with each other, with or without the rose engine movement, which in itself is a prolific source of elegant embellishment. The results of these combinations present infinite variety of most curious and highly ornamental patterns, somewhat similar to those of ornamented watchcases, but of a much more elaborate description.

The lathes for ornamental turning exhibited by the same house are fitted in an equally complete manner, not only with the various chucks already mentioned, but also with other apparatus, as vertical, horizontal, universal, eccentric, and elliptical cutting frames. In this class of instruments the tools revolve, while the work under operation remains stationary; being the opposite condition to that usually observed in ordinary and rose-engine turning. In some instances a still larger amount of elaborate work is produced by putting both the work and the tool in motion at the same time. And when, in addition to these powers of combination, it is considered that the tools themselves are made in every variety of form, it will easily be conceived that the apparatus is capable of producing an unlimited number of different figures, applicable both to the production of forms and the embellishment of surfaces.

We especially call the attention of visitors to the Crystal Palace to the numerous beautiful specimens, exhibited by Holtzapffel and Co., of ornamental turning, as executed by various amateurs, comprising temples, mosques, pagodas, candelabra, vases, jewel-cases, work-boxes, and many other useful and ornamental articles, which illustrate at the same time the taste and skill of their respective authors, and the excellence of the mechanism by which they were produced.

Although of far less importance in a mechanical point of view, the compact arrangement of the several parts, and the general finish of the entire apparatus, is worthy of notice. The lathe frames are substantially made of polished mahogany, with nests of drawers, in which are placed the tools most frequently required for use; and when not required for use, the whole is secured by a cylindrical cover.

The Holtzapffel Register of Lathes[2] only has one mention of the Great Exhibition:

[No.] 1972 5in Screw Mandrel Exhibition 1851 [subsequently sold to] Lord Berwick 5 Nov 1851. Describing No. 1972, Ogden[3] says “The complete apparatus was superior and the lathe was mounted on a frame of bois de natte, commonly known as beef wood”.

A Society of Ornamental Turners member states “I have seen this lathe and can confirm that it has a cylinder top. It is also slightly larger than usual, as if H. & Co. were trying especially hard to impress.” The frame now looks like mahogany, but the red of beefwood turns browner with age.

No. 1972, was donated to Colchester Museum. Ogden says it was presented in 1960 by Mrs. G. F. Crawley of Colchester

A library lathe had a cylindrical cover which swung over the top, so it looked like a roll-top desk.

It's possible that the Company bought and renovated a second-hand rose engine (there were several on the market in the late 1840s - early 1850s), but it seems unlikely. There is only one new (known) machine which might have been finished for the show. The numbering of No. 1594 suggests that castings were made and part-machined in 1837, put into store, and forgotten. Presumably, when they were looking for something impressive to show at the exhibition, someone remembered it, and they finished it to a high standard. It appears that it was being demonstrated with a geometric chuck when the Illustrated London News reporter visited.

Ogden suggests the first owner was John Scurfield Esq. in the 1850s.

No. 1594 is still complete, in excellent working order, cared for by the Society of Ornamental Turners.

It seems unlikely that the ornamental turning lathe, listed in the catalogue, will be identified. Most of the lathes sold later in the year were quite cheap, and other possibilities have no recorded price or date. I guess that when they realised the special machines wouldn't be ready in time, they took a new lathe from stock, equipping it with a good assortment of chucks and accessories.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Illustrated London News, 6th September, 1851. The presence of the lathes is confirmed in a brief article in the Morning Post, 30th September 1851.
  2. Holtzapffel Register of Lathes, at London Metropolitan Archives, CLC/B/122/MS09475
  3. The Pedigree of Holtzapffel Lathes - Warren Greene Ogden Jnr. 1987 (copy at London Metropolitan Archives).