HSI no Microsoft not HIS

Short range air rifle

Todays blog comes to you from the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. I have officially started to blog about some of the things that I do at work. Historic Scientific Instruments (HSI) is one of the 11 division in the museum and where I currently spend some of my time. We are in the middle of emptying out the space where the HSI collection was being housed and moving it to a temporary space. Why you ask? Let’s back up.

The HSI collection has been housed in boxes, mostly cardboard boxes for a number of years and the museum hasn’t had the staff or resources to unpack it and make it accessible. In steps IMLS and gives us some money (thanks to a grant) and now we can afford beautiful sparkly new cabinets for all the funky wonderful things in the collection. Now all we have to do is move everything out, unpack it, and then when the cabinets come in, move it back in to its new home. Believe me it’s much harder than it sounds although it’s more FUN than it sounds too.

I am not a historian, nor do I know much about scientific instruments (apart from those I use). So, it’s a whole new experience to see what we pull out of every box. Will it be a craniometer, a galvanometer, or a scale? Could it be a microscope, an engine, or a lightbulb? Most of the time the ‘scientific instruments’ look more like pieces of artwork than an object used to demonstrate pullies and gear for a college engineering class.

There have been many, many objects that I’ve lamented about not blogging about so far in our unpacking phase but what has triggered the blog…. a gun.

Annette unpacking: some packages dont hold mysteries

This is a short-ranged air rifle probably from the early 1800’s produced by G. Wallis as etched on the gun. This gun was donated from the Physics department and was used for demonstrations in classrooms (doing what, I don’t know). The little bit of info I’ve been able to glean from the web indicates that George Wallis was a gunsmith from Hull England and died around 1803 although his gunsmith shop seems to have been sold after his death. Being a bit of a gadgety person I needed to find out how exactly these guns operated.

A small canister is pumped full of compressed air by a manual pump. This particular gun has a ball reservoir that attached to the bottom of the gun (it’s in the collection but we haven’t unpacked it yet.)  This air rifle is a muzzle loaded air rifle meaning that only a single bullet could be loaded into the barrel of the gun. You can see the rod attached under the barrel that is used to push the bullet in. Pull the trigger, compressed air releases and the bullet comes flying back out, with close to the same amount of force as a modern 9mm pistol.

Me demonstrating how not to hold a gun.

I can’t wait to see what’s packed away in the next box. Oh right the title, in case you haven’t figured out why I have titled the blog as I have, try typing HSI into word or excel and see what it does.


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