18 January 2007

Thanks to all contributors

. . . both online and private. If wish to continue discussion of George Berg, 18th century musician and chemistry student, and his relationship with fellow members of the Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, or any other theme raise here, contact me at the address below.

20 June 2006


"George Berg and the Society of Arts: Interest, Improvement and the Meaning of a Practical Engagement," is posted here as 16 sections. You can read the article using the navigation keys found with any Web browser. Alternatively, click on the section title at the right to go directly to that section.

Each section has an area for reader’s comments—about the paper and about other comments. To read the comments or to contribute your own, click on the word “Comments” found at the end of the appropriate section. This will bring you to a new page that includes instructions about posting.* It is my hope that you will use the comment features to discuss the details of the paper and its topic in general. The discussion will remain open for about six months.

I wrote this paper for presentation at a meeting of the William Shipley Group for RSA History; I have placed it here under the auspices of that group. I am grateful to Susan Bennett, Hon. Secretary of the William Shipley Group, and to Nicola Allen, Archivist and Records Manager for the Royal Society of Arts, for their enthusiastic encouragement of this project. I wish also to thank David Williams-Thomas for allowing me unrestricted access to the experiment book of George Berg.

One further note: The endnotes are not at present hotlinked. To access them, click on the "Notes" section at right, or page down to the bottom of the article.

* As discussion monitor, I will not edit your contributions, but I will remove any post I consider irrelevant or offensive.


George Berg (ca. 1720–1775) was a London-based musician—organist at the London church of St. Mary at Hill, teacher of violin and harpsichord, and composer of instrumental and vocal music. When remembered today, it is for his collections of songs, especially those he wrote for entertainments performed at the Ranelagh and Spring Gardens and other pleasure gardens (entertainment complexes) in London. Berg was a professional member of the Gentlemen and Noblemen’s Catch Club and of the Royal Society of Musicians as well.[1] But Berg’s professional life is of little importance here: This is a paper about a personal interest that he sustained, its foundations, its inspiration, and its consequences.

For at least fifteen years, Berg engaged in a project to learn chemistry, specifically chemistry related to glassmaking and especially glasses used to make fake gemstones or enamel colors. He kept records of the project, copying his formulas, often with comments about the results, into an experiment book.[2] Berg also transcribed relevant portions of chemistry texts and recorded his conversations with others about these and related subjects.

Berg’s experiment book chronicles his efforts to learn both chemical theories and glassmaking techniques. It provides extraordinary access to information about what Berg did and how he did it. What we do not fully understand is why. Was Berg interested in a contribution to public knowledge, personal intellectual satisfaction, an income, or something else entirely? We know that Berg solicited information from others as he worked to improve his products. What was the value of these social networks to his endeavor? Why did artisan glassmakers, enamelers, and goldsmiths advise and encourage Berg? What was his relationship with other experimental gentlemen who worked to understand or improve glassmaking? Answers to such questions are critical to better understanding Berg’s project. And, if Berg is a typical eighteenth-century gentleman, one eager to benefit himself while improving the world in which he lives, then these answers may suggest typical concerns, approaches, and capabilities.

This paper has five parts. In the next part, I describe the contents of George Berg’s Experiment Book. I then discuss Berg’s project, beginning with a brief description of glassmaking and related chemistry in the eighteenth century. This part also includes a discussion of print and human resources available to George Berg. The fourth part outlines the social relationships on which Berg relied and, in particular, his relationship to the Society of Arts (as the Royal Society of Arts was often called at the time). In the final section, I consider the consequences and broader meanings of Berg’s project and of similar endeavors.

George Berg’s Experiment Book: About Berg’s Notebooks

“George Berg’s Experiment Book” is actually six paper notebooks that were bound together, probably in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Each notebook consists of about twenty folded sheets enclosed in a crudely marbled cover. All but one are the same size; the other is slightly wider and longer. The current binding makes it impossible to see how or how well the notebooks were made, but they appear to be waste books made from leftover paper of the sort that any eighteenth-century printer or stationer might offer. And, in fact, bound into one of the notebooks is a billhead for a London tea merchant.[3]

The notebooks are numbered, and contain dated and continuously numbered (1 to 672) experiments. Notebooks 1 and 2 were written in two directions: To read the pages at the back of each you must turn to the back cover and then turn the notebook upside down. The reverse contains transcriptions from books or lectures about chemistry or glassmaking, and notes of personal conversations. Comparable types of information appear only on the inside of the covers and on the first page of the last four notebooks. I do not believe that Berg continued to write in the first two books as he recorded experiments and observations in the later ones, but as most of these entries are undated, there is no way to be certain.

All six notebooks include interleaved papers, now attached to the notebook pages. Some of the inserts include sequences of experiments that are transcribed into the experiment book. Other papers record notes from discussions, lectures, or publications, materials purchased and costs, and such miscellaneous information as the sailing dates of ships carrying goods used by Berg in his experiments. Some but not all of these interleaved papers are dated. A number are written on the reverse of papers from Berg’s other lives: a letter from someone at the war in Germany in 1763, a draft of the dedication letter included with his published sonatas, and mysterious lists of names that might be patrons, students, creditors, or colleagues.

George Berg’s Experiment Book: Berg’s Experimental Activity

Berg’s habit of dating his experiments allows us to track his periods of activity; the addition of information about his other pursuits contributes to our understanding of the place of Berg’s chemistry project in his life. More than 672 experiments over a fifteen-year period suggests approximately one experiment per week. While the image of patience and diligence this rate creates may be a view of the overall reality, Berg’s work patterns were more episodic. There were a few long periods with no activity. In contrast, he completed 157 experiments (about 25 percent of the total) during the final five months for which we have records.

There are several possible reasons for the periodicity of Berg’s experiments, including other work, family, and travel. For example, Berg recorded no experiments conducted between August 1760 and March 1762. Apparently he made a journey of several months to Italy during that time. Two experiments are dated from Florence, and there are references to activities in Rome and Leghorn.[4] Again, between early December 1762 and May 1765, Berg recorded no experiments. Inserted papers dated September and October 1763 suggest that he was reading and discussing chemistry at this time, and other notes indicate he tested formulas for mold-making, perhaps to create cameos and intaglios from his glass formulas. From May until late December 1765, Berg recorded only two experiments. This three-year hiatus (December 1762 to December 1765) could be due to either family or professional events, or perhaps both. Berg was elected organist at the church of St. Mary at Hill late in 1762, a part-time job but one with regular requirements. In February 1764 his opera Antigono was performed at Spring Gardens and lists of Berg’s published songs suggest that until 1765 he continued to compose for concerts at Spring, Ranelagh, and Marybone Gardens. Another factor may have been the death of his father, in December 1765.[5] Whatever caused these interruptions, Berg recommenced regular chemistry and glassmaking experiments in May 1766 and for the next eight and a half years continued with only shorter breaks.

George Berg’s Experiment Book: The Contents of the Experiment Book

The experiment book’s contents provide a variety of insights into Berg’s glass and chemistry activities. By tracing the ingredients and techniques included in the experiments, we can identify the kinds of glass Berg hoped to make or to improve. We can compare Berg’s comments about results with his subsequent experiments, to understand what he hoped to accomplish with the changes to his formulas. Within certain experiments such additions as a calculation of proportional gravity of the glass or explanations of results—sometimes entered days or weeks later—further indicate how Berg incorporated ideas about the chemical combination of matter into his work. Notes about discussions and lectures offer insight into Berg’s understanding of the problems inherent in reaching his goal, and the routes he chose to improve his comprehension and results.

Our examination of the information George Berg recorded in his experiments leads to several conclusions about the purpose of his project. First, combined with the notes at the back of the first two notebooks and similar comments in the remaining books and on the inserted papers, the experiments confirm that Berg was learning and using contemporary chemistry to improve his understanding of glass formulas. At the same time, he was creating these formulas for two very specific outcomes. He made gem-like glasses, either for the carved or molded “cameos and intaglios” that imitated antique stones or for the more prosaic false stones set into buckles, jewelry, picture frames, or other small metal wares. Berg also made colored glasses that could be reground and used to color enameled wares, probably small boxes, or other trinkets.

George Berg’s Experiment Book: Supplemental Information

While Berg’s experiment book is not the only source of insight into his life and work, most of the remaining sources concern his music. One exception is the sale catalogue from the auction of Berg’s effects, held at Christie’s auction house about a year after his death.[6] Most of the auction lots consisted of sheet music or musical instruments, notably a 1667 Amati violin that sold for fourteen guineas. There were however a few lots of miscellaneous books, including some relevant volumes not mentioned in the experiment books. As a result, we know that Berg owned several encyclopedias or dictionaries of the arts and sciences, and a number of books on chemistry, mineralogy, and drawing and painting.[7] While only a few of these books sold at auction are well known or well considered now, this assessment has no bearing on Berg’s collecting habits. It would be consistent with our notion of him as someone determined to learn both glassmaking and chemistry that he might want to own many different works available about those subjects.

Berg’s Project: Glassmaking and Chemistry

To understand the scale of George Berg’s project and the ways that his formulas and processes did or did not develop during the fifteen years’ work represented by the experiment book, it is important to know something about the creation of glass.

In theory, any substance heated long enough and at a high enough temperature will melt, fuse, and, on cooling, form a glassy substance. Modern definitions of glass describe formulas that incorporate silica with metal oxides and note that a feature of its formation is that glass does not crystallize as it cools to a solid. In most eighteenth-century descriptions, glass is a substance made from a frit (a combination of sand and borax or other alkaline substances that has been ground, melted and reground) plus certain other ingredients—including what we call metal oxides, known in Berg’s time as calxes. The additions to the frit controlled such desirable characteristics as color, hardness, and clarity of the glass. Other variables that affected the characteristics included proportions of ingredients used, the size of the ground particles in the mixture, and both the temperature and length of time of heating. Glass gems needed to be harder than glass made for enameling. Certain imitation stones, including some chalcedonies and beryls, required a milky opaqueness, while false rubies had to be clear.[8] A degree of transparency was expected in colors used in enameling, as the color of the support material, whether gold, silver, copper, or white enamel, should have an effect on the finished piece. Each enamel formula was calibrated to adhere to the substrate used. Berg’s attention to these variables is apparent throughout the experiment book.

Berg also recorded his use of several different furnaces or kilns. The Falcon and Whitefriars glasshouses, two of the commercial glassmaking firms where he worked, were known for their production of the relatively hard cut-glasses. Berg also mentions his use of muffle or wind furnaces. These were typically found in the studios of goldsmiths, watchmakers, and other artisans who might regularly use enameling colors.[9]

The first experiments included in Berg’s first notebook are attempts to make glass gems, and he began to work with enamel formulas not long after. Throughout his fifteen years of experimentation Berg worked on both types of glass, occasionally in alternating weeks. The last experiments in the sixth notebook, however, show that Berg’s interest by then was almost exclusively enameling colors, especially those created for gold or silver jewelry or other trinkets.

Berg’s Project: Presentation of Experimental Information

The information Berg presents in each experiment is consistent throughout the six notebooks. Each begins with a list of ingredients and the quantities used. The substances and combinations varied widely, but for most experiments Berg used fewer than seven ounces of ingredients in total. Typically, a sentence or phrase giving the place of firing and length of time in the furnace or kiln followed the listing of ingredients. Berg often used the furnace at Stephen Hall’s Falcon glass works or at Whitefriars’, identified as [Cary] “Stafford’s furnace” or the jeweler’s kiln identified as “Carter’s,” probably that of Edward Carter. Firing times varied from a half-hour for some enamel colors to a full day or longer. Berg’s records continue with one or two sentences about the result: appearance, consistency, weight, whether it could be worked and if so how well, and so forth. Important to our recognition of Berg’s understanding of chemistry is his inclusion of a chemistry-based explanation or mechanism for his finding.Controlling the quantity of phlogiston and balancing the affinities of ingredients are two concerns we would expect to find in a practical work about eighteenth-century colormaking: Berg’s concerns with both is irregularly expressed in his notes. His comments also recorded such failures as mixtures that ran over or could not be extracted from the crucible. And finally, Berg added comments to some experiments weeks or months later. These remarks might note that a formula effloresced, fell apart, or perhaps was given to a glassblower to make a small bottle or other trinket.

Berg’s Project: Berg’s Sources of Information

It is unusual to have so much information about the chemical formulas developed by an amateur chemist. It is equally unusual to have the quantity of information about sources that Berg’s experiment book provides. In his efforts to learn both chemistry and glassmaking, Berg read special and general treatises, he received advice from experts, and he examined the objects he made. He repeated experiments described to him and created new ones, relying not only on the knowledge of other artisans but also on his own developing skills.

Berg identifies many of his printed sources: the first page of the first notebook lists both Peter Shaw’s Chemical Lectures (first printed in 1734) and James Millar’s New Course of Chymistry (1754). Berg incorporated into his experiments a number of Shaw’s recommendations and comments about glassmaking; his use of Millar is less obvious. Other notebook entries record verbal transmissions of information, confirming Berg’s work with chemists, goldsmiths, color manufacturers, glass house proprietors, and glass merchants. Some of those conversations offer still other sources of information he used. For example, he notes, “Mr. More inform'd me that a French Author he had read, says that Iron may be fixed by calcining it with Common Salt.” The “French Author” is almost certainly Pierre-Joseph Macquer, whose Elemens de chimie pratique was published in 1751, and available in English translation within a few years. In this case, Berg’s note continues with a description of why iron oxide is made more stable by heating in a closed container with salt: the combination of salt with vitriolic acid from the iron forms “a kind of Glauber’s salt,” which will be dissolved in washing. Berg then incorporates that description into explanations of certain experiments, just as he describes his use of iron oxide prepared in this way.[10]

The collection of material in the experiment book suggests Berg’s reconciliation of the practical and the philosophical in other ways as well. In 1766, he calculated the proportional gravity (specific gravity) of several samples. This number is probably related to a study by Edward Hussey Delaval, presented to the Royal Society of London in January 1765 and published in its Transactions later that year.[11] In his paper, Delaval established a relationship between color and density, suggesting that a more dense substance would reflect more refrangible rays. Berg does not explain how he used this calculation, however. Perhaps it allowed him to compare different-colored results, or he may have used it to judge such characteristics as opacity—an important quality in glassmaking and one for which a regularized comparison method would have been helpful. Berg may have found that proportional gravity was not a useful calculation in his work, as after 1766 he no longer records this number.

Berg’s Project: Berg’s Working Methods

Although George Berg did not perform experiments every week, comments within the experiments and the dates he conducted them indicate a consistent work pattern throughout the fifteen-year period. When he planned to use the glasshouse furnaces, Berg would prepare the samples in time to place them in the furnace about midday on Saturday. He would return after twelve to thirty-six hours (or occasionally longer) to examine and discuss the results. Tests that used the enameler or goldsmith’s kiln often took place at midweek. Here again he would oversee preparations or prepare the samples himself. We do not know if he stayed at the workshop or returned later to retrieve the experiment and discuss the outcomes with the specialists. Berg’s other work, his conversations, reading, and the task of transcribing experiments into the notebooks took place at other unspecified times during the week.

Berg’s discussions with artisans and merchants were most frequently about the practicalities of improving his products. Berg’s use of only the last names of these sources or discussants makes definitive identification impossible, with a few exceptions. It is likely that this group includes the aforementioned glasshouse proprietors Stephen Hall (the Falcon) and Cary Stafford (Whitefriars), the glass merchant Colebron Hancock, the jeweler-enamelers Edward Carter and George Martin, and the goldsmith Richard Dovey. All are mentioned frequently in the experiment book. These men provided kiln or furnace space to fire samples, tested Berg’s results, and discussed failure and success. Other names appear more fleetingly: Vinet the lapidary provides encouragement in the first months of the project; a chemist named Townsend offers advice as well as materials; an enameler or goldsmith named Pickavey examines Berg’s results and suggests other ways to improve the results. The comments Berg recorded in his notebooks suggest that he discussed his work with the glasshouse workers as well as the proprietors. We have no names for these men.

How much of the work was completed by Berg himself and how much or what was done at his direction? There is no clear answer. Berg may have been so engaged in the process that he appeared at Hall’s, Stafford’s, or Carter’s with his preparations, allowing the man responsible for the kiln to place the crucible into it and returning later to collect and examine the result. But any glassmaking formula requires that its ingredients be finely ground, separately first and then together. Berg does not note information about this aspect of his experiments, nor does he mention the particle size of the ground materials he uses, a detail that would have an effect on the quality and color of the resulting glass and on the quantity of heat necessary to melt and fuse the ingredients. Berg visually examined his glass samples, and he describes them in such terms as “ropy” or “bubbly” or “good.” We do know that the goldsmiths and enamelers reground and painted with his enamel formulas and told him what should be improved: Perhaps Berg delegated other tasks as well.

On the other hand, the experiment book contains references to “Salt of Tartar of my own making,” “my preparation of Copper,” “my fine coloured precipitate of Gold,” and formulas for several metal oxides. These comments suggest that Berg had a laboratory, or access to one, and that it may have been separate from the glasshouses and enamelers’ workshops. It is clear that the proprietors and workers who specialized in glass or enamel assisted Berg in his project, offering practical skills and practical information, as printed works, lectures about chemistry, and discussions with chemists offered a background in contemporary chemical theories. Did Berg do his own work, or did he direct the actions of others? It appears to have been a combination of the two.

19 June 2006

Berg’s Project: The Choice of Investigative Topic

The subjects of Berg’s investigation—glass gems and enamel colors—are significant within the contexts of eighteenth-century art, production, and consumption. Throughout the eighteenth century, there was a strong demand for artificial gems as art objects worthy of collection and as colorful elements set into buttons, buckles, cutlery, jewelry, and other decorative objects. Techniques to make gem-like glasses were described in treatises on glassmaking dating from the early seventeenth century. For many years glass gems were included on the premium lists of the Society of Arts.

Investigators studied false gems, as they studied true ones, on behalf of scientific societies. Eighteenth-century philosophical examinations of gems emphasized the connections between these artificial stones and those of the natural world. The conceptual link was strong between the chemistry of glass gems and ongoing investigations of crystallization, undertaken through studies of minerals. Yet the interest was not only economic and scientific: Antiquarians and artists subjected ancient Roman carved stones to an equally intense scrutiny. This interest may have peaked in the 1780s, with the public exhibition of the Portland Vase and the ceramic copies made by the Wedgwood manufacture, but it continued into the nineteenth century.[12]

The glass-based colors used in enamel processes were also important in a numer of ways. Decorated ceramics are one obvious example of the fashionable items that needed such formulas. Berg’s experiments were probably connected to the continuing fashion for small enameled containers that included snuffboxes and etuis, jewelry items, watch or clock faces, and decorative enameled buttons. The creation of such objects would have required good formulas in fashionable colors, often capable of withstanding the wear resulting from the more active uses than those of a decorative vase or wall plaque.

Social Relationships

We can find meaning in George Berg’s glassmaking and chemistry project by looking to eighteenth-century concerns that combined social or public interest in the idea of “improvement” with concepts of personal enlightenment. Employing an interpretation such as this, we can add Berg to a long list of others known through their inventions and improvements, through letters to journals or newspapers, and through submissions for awards of patents or other gratuities. Attributing Berg’s endeavor to his desire to advance social and personal fortunes creates a precise position for Berg as a curious and dedicated amateur heeding the call to advance public life through a combination of intellectual and practical activities. Clubs and coffeehouse societies dedicated to investigation and recognition of useful information are well known as a feature of eighteenth-century social life, especially in London. Of these groups, the Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (the Society of Arts) was a leader in the dissemination of the paired concepts that the arts and sciences could be improved by anyone, and that the improved results should be available for all. Berg was a member of the Society of Arts, so it is reasonable to consider his connections to this organization as a way to understand some of the broader contexts of his project. It is all the more important because there is no evidence Berg submitted his formulas for recognition. Therefore, a closer examination of this relationship offers insight into the more subtle ways that the Society of Arts encouraged useful invention and the concept of improvement.

Social Relationships: Berg’s Relationship to the Society of Arts

It seems obvious that membership in an institution like the Society of Arts would appeal to George Berg for several reasons. As a member, he could contribute his expertise as a professional musician and his experiences as an amateur chemist and glassmaker to the public good. Such organizations might provide him with opportunities to discuss his findings in practical chemistry. If creating new or improved saleable glasses was one of Berg’s goals, membership in an improvement or investigation society might allow him to develop friendships with those better able to exploit his discoveries.

The verifiable aspects of Berg’s institutional affiliations negate our assumptions to some extent. Berg was elected a member of the Society of Arts in 1769—ten years after he began his project—and there is no evidence that he was a member of any other similarly oriented group. Even Berg’s connections to the Society of Arts are not as straightforward as we might hope. There is no record of his participation—no meeting attendance or letters—before April 1772. Between 1772 and 1774, Berg attended only a dozen meetings.[13] Committee records indicate his presence at meetings of the Polite Arts, Mechanical Arts, and Chemistry committees during those years. Berg’s participation was limited, however, and he contributed to the evaluation of only two submissions. One evaluation, in 1774, concerned a machine to teach music to the blind. Berg urged its rejection, finding it no better than devices already available.[14]

Berg was more actively involved with the Chemistry Committee, however. He attended seven meetings of that group during the first ten weeks of 1773, and he tested samples of white copper on its behalf. But this activity adds further confusion rather than clarity to his connections with the Society of Arts and to his own explorations of chemistry. White copper is a silver-colored alloy of copper and zinc or other metals. Initially a Chinese import, it was considered valuable as a less expensive replacement for silver. Berg was one of three supplemental examiners of a locally produced white copper. His report, included in the committee minutes, makes clear that he approached this assignment with a characteristic diligence.[15]

Why was Berg chosen to test this material, or why did he volunteer? We can conjecture that his interest in white copper was an outgrowth of his chemistry studies. My initial assumption was that white copper was used as a support or substrate for enamels, giving a luster to the colors similar to that of silver but at a lower cost. This use would be of interest to Berg, as the alloy might require adjustments to his enamel formulas. Yet there is no evidence that this was a common or expected use for white copper in the eighteenth century. Furthermore, as we know from the experiment book that Berg did not test the enamels he made, leaving this task to his artisan associates, discussion of the possibilities of white copper would seem to be a reasonable finding. In the experiment book, Berg’s sole mention of this substance describes dissolving a small portion to use in a formula for a dark-green enamel color.[16]

We must conclude then, that activities at the Society of Arts played an indirect role in George Berg’s chemistry and glassmaking experiments.

Social Relationships: George Berg and Other Members of the Society of Arts

Berg was not a diligent participant in the activities of the Society of Arts, but comments and discussions recorded in his experiment book indicate that he knew and worked with several prominent members. This group included the optician and instrument maker Peter Dollond, and the apothecaries William Lewis and Samuel More. Dollond helped Berg assess one experiment to make green glass, and their connection does not appear to have been close. Evidence in the experiment book, including a note from Lewis confirming an appointment and Berg’s transcriptions of their conversations, point to Lewis’s active role as Berg’s advisor and possibly chemistry teacher. Lewis suggested formulas Berg might try, and he recommended books about chemistry, mineralogy, and glassmaking.[17] But one of the longstanding relationships visible throughout the experiment book is that between Berg and Samuel More.[18]

The friendship between George Berg and Samuel More predates the membership of either man in the Society of Arts: More’s name first appears in the experiment book about a month after Berg began keeping his records. The acquaintanceship may have begun when Berg purchased materials from More’s apothecary shop or when he used special equipment More owned. Berg notes that More ground one of his “compositions,” and he records that he obtained sand from him.[19] Throughout the years, More continued to supply Berg with materials, formulas, and opinions about glass and glassmaking and about chemistry more generally. He helped Berg with an exercise to determine the composition and proportions of a good glasshouse frit through a destructive analysis.[20] The two men discussed the use of cobalt, the proportion of manganese necessary to keep a green cast out of the glass, and techniques to precipitate gold used to make ruby-colored glass. As the friendship continued, it became personal as well as occupational: In his will, Berg named More executor of his estate and left him the manuscripts and other materials relating to glass and chemistry. More and his wife also received several items that had belonged to Berg upon the death of Elizabeth Berg, his sister.[21]

The collaboration and friendship between George Berg and Samuel More that is evident from the experiment book raises another significant question. Who was helping whom? Samuel More also conducted experiments to make glass gems and twice won a premium for his collections of “pastes” submitted to the Society of Arts—the same cameos and intaglios that interested Berg. Did Berg discuss his experiments with More so that the latter could exploit that work, just as Berg exploited More’s deeper knowledge of chemistry and mineralogy? Did Berg assist More, or vice versa? The nature of this collaboration, if indeed there was one, is unclear from existing documentation, and these questions must remain unanswered for now.

Social Relationships: Other Connections

Another person closely associated with Berg’s project may have been linked to the Society of Arts through its award systems. “Carter” is a name that appears frequently throughout the experiment book. Berg often used Carter’s kiln to heat samples, and he recorded—if tersely—their many discussions of the results. Carter frequently assisted Berg with the colored glasses to be used for enamels. The comments that Berg transcribed suggest that Carter was a man with considerable practical experience in this realm. Therefore, “Carter” is almost certainly Edward or Edmund Carter, a jeweler who in 1765 won the same prize for cameos and intaglios as More had in the previous two years. Carter in 1764 also won a £10 bounty for finding a native substitute for borax. This latter prize is further circumstantial evidence of Carter’s connection to glassmaking, as borax (hydrated sodium borate) was an essential ingredient of high-quality glass. The best borax was imported, and so it was expensive; it was also subject to very high taxes. The identification of a substitute material would have served English glassmaking industries well.

But again, the nature of Berg’s collaboration with this man is unclear. Was Berg Carter’s student or amateur assistant? Did Berg employ Carter to teach or assist him? I have found no indication that More and Carter worked together, but it seems unlikely that Berg, More, and Carter pursued this mutual interest independently. Perhaps glassmaking for Berg was a means to learn chemistry so that his interest faced a different direction: This seems unlikely but there is no way to know definitively from existing documents. More’s own notebooks are lost, and the collections of glass gems given to the Society of Arts no longer exist.

Some aspects of George Berg’s connection to both Samuel More and Edward Carter cast Berg’s collaborations with other artisans and manufacturers in a new light. Again, why did these men help him? Were they compensated and, if so, how? Could it be that the sacks of charcoal Berg lists among his expenses were given to the glasshouse proprietors and enamelers? Should we accept this episode as an example of the principles of the Society of Arts, in particular that of sharing ideas for the common good? These are questions we cannot yet answer.

Another interesting aspect of George Berg’s project is that his interest in false gems and enamels continued long after the Society of Arts had ceased to offer premiums for them. This suggests that such recognition was not a goal of Berg’s work. Although Berg continued to solicit information from others as he worked to improve his products his experiment book contains no notes about patents or meetings with potential purchasers. Nevertheless, a two-line note reads, “Bolton [sic] and Fothergill at Birmingham/Taylor at Birmingham.”[22] Both firms—that of the the partners Matthew Boulton and John Fothergill, and John Taylor—manufactured goods that might have used his formulas for colored glass. Did Berg hope to sell to these men? Did he visit, or plan a visit, to ask advice? Or was this note a reminder to examine the wares for this or some other purpose? Again, we do not know.

Consequences: The Meaning of Practical Engagement

We can come to no conclusions about the success or failure of George Berg’s experimental project, because it achieved neither. The project has no clearly defined end, and so we cannot ascribe to it any local or national consequences. Nevertheless, if we accept Berg’s project as typical of those engaged in by the largely anonymous eighteenth-century gentleman, we can find a meaning for his practical engagement that extends beyond its own details. Berg’s project to learn chemistry and glassmaking takes meaning from its opportunities for intellectual engagement and its social interactions. This is true even as it remains a very personal project.

Berg records in the experiment book his discussions with many people. These people have different occupations, a variety of expertise, and different degrees of skill. In certain extended interactions, particularly those between Berg and Samuel More, George Martin, or Edward Carter, we can trace a friendship as well as an advisory relationship. Other more sporadic and formal-seeming interactions also provide Berg with an outlet to discuss information new to him. So, for Berg, we can say that one meaning of his practical engagement was social. It meant opportunities to work closely with people he might otherwise never have met. Nevertheless, it seems that Berg’s extended discussions were primarily with gentlemen; he refers to conversations with workers or assistants at the glasshouses, but these discussants are not named. We could see this omission as significant: Despite the enlightened rhetoric of the eighteenth century that places little value on social hierarchies, traditional deferential groupings remained. Or this lack of identification could be meaningless. It could be that Berg had no opportunity to learn the names of some of the men who helped him understand the way glassmaking materials combined to make glass. The truth probably lies somewhere between the two theories.

An important aspect of Berg’s project was his exploration of ideas. Berg combined the creation of new formulas for colored glass with chemistry (and to a lesser extent other sciences). Clearly Berg, like his colleagues Samuel More and William Lewis, was determined to incorporate scientific understanding into his practical goals. This notion is another one associated with eighteenth-century enlightened rhetoric. In Berg’s project it takes on additional meaning. Berg was not a practical person learning the sciences relevant to his work, nor a philosopher teaching himself practical skills to support arguments about the interactions of the natural and manufactured world. As a composer and musician, he was a skilled practitioner—but in an occupation that had nothing to do with either chemistry or the creation of colored glass. Because these two subjects were so far from Berg’s professional life, his project shows us the extent of the general belief that the practical and the philosophical could benefit each other. Chemistry suggested which combinations to use and why others might not work. It added a sense of consistency to Berg’s experiments even when such variables as kiln temperatures or the quality of the materials could remain beyond control.

We must assume that for fifteen years Berg sustained the hope of some ultimate success, however he defined that term: intellectual satisfaction, public recognition, new skills learned, economic concerns, or something else entirely. Without a clearly defined success or failure, we cannot identify any public consequences from Berg’s project. But this lack of clear success also suggests a meaning for his practical engagement. Berg’s combination of resources—his reliance on the expertise of others, on learning from books, and on his own developing practical skills—made his project a very personal one. Despite his apparent commitments to what we know were typical eighteenth-century beliefs, his project remained his alone.


[1] Roger Fiske and Gerald Griffith, “George Berg,” Grove Music Online at www.grovemusic.com (accessed 20 February 2006).

[2] George Berg, Experiments in Chemistry 1759-1774 (hereafter Experiments). Unpublished manuscript, privately held.

[3] Berg, Experiments, Notebook 2 after Experiment 107.

[4] Berg, Experiments, Notebook 1, Experiments 51 & 52. The latter is dated 10 April [1761].

[5] St. Mary at Hill Church Warden Records 1737-1800, Guildhall Library, Ms. 1239/4; Fiske and Griffith, Grove Music Online; Records of Foreign Churches: German Lutheran Church, Savoy, Strand (Lutheran): Deaths & Burials, National Archives, London, RG/4/4628.

[6] A Catalogue of the Valuable and Scarce Collection of Music, by the Most Eminent Composers, Fine Ton’d Instruments, Books &c, Late the Property of Mr. George Berg, dec., Christie’s, 8–9 March 1776 (London, 1776) [auction catalogue].

[7] Among the books Berg owned or consulted are Peter Shaw, Chemical Lectures, Publickly Read at London, in the Years 1731, and 1732; and at Scarborough, in 1733; For the Improvement of Arts, Trades, and Natural Philosophy (London, [1734]); James Millar, A New Course of Chymistry (London, 1754); Temple Henry Croker. The Complete Dictionary of Arts and Sciences . . . . (London, 1764–1766); Grosman, A Treatise for the Service of Chemistry in General . . . . (London, 1766); John Russell, Elements of Painting with Crayons (London, 1772); Godfrey Smith, Laboratory, or School of the Arts, 2 vols. (London, 1736); Axel Cronstedt, Essay Toward a System of Mineralogy, trans. Emanuel Mendes da Costa (London, 1772).

[8] Robert Dingley, “Some Observations Upon Gems or Precious Stones; More Particularly Such as the Ancients Used to Engrave Upon,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 44 (1746–47): 502–6.

[9] Harry J. Powell, Glassmaking in England (Cambridge, 1923), 150; Eric Benton, “The London Enamellers” Transactions of the English Ceramic Circle 8 (1972): 137–66.

[10] Berg, Experiments, verso of paper inserted into Notebook 2 after Experiment 106 (6 July 1765). An example of his use of this information is found in Notebook 3, Experiment 174 (27 April 1767).

[11] Edward Hussey Delaval, A Letter to the Right Honourable the Earl of Morton, President of the Royal Society. Containing Experiments and Observations on the Agreement between the Specific Gravities of the Several Metals, and Their Colours When United to Glass, ... Read at the Royal Society Jan. 24, 1765 (London: n.p., 1765).

[12] Wolf Mankowitz, The Portland Vase and the Wedgwood Copies [London, 1952]; Whitehouse, David B., ed., “The Portland Vase,” special issue of Journal of Glass Studies 32 (1990).

[13] Royal Society of Arts, Minutes of Committees 1771–1772 through 1774–1775 PR/GE/112/12/13–16.

[14] Minutes of the Committee of Polite Arts, 26 November 1774, Royal Society of Arts, Minutes of Committees 1774–1775 PR/GE/112/12/16.

[15] Minutes of the Chemistry Committee, 30 January 1773, Royal Society of Arts, Minutes of Committees 1772–1773 PR/GE/112/12/14.

[16] Berg, Experiments, Experiment 489, 9 October 1773.

[17] Johann Heinrich Pott, Lithogeognosia (Berlin, 1738); Johannes Kunckel’s Ars Vitraria ExperimentalisSol Sine Veste were appended to several translations of Antonio Neri’s L’Arte Vetreria and Orschall’s (originally published in Venice in 1612). Christopher Merrit translated this work into English in the late seventeenth century.

[18] For biographical information about Samuel More, see G. C. Mercer, “Mr. More of the Adelphi: Notes on the Life and Work of Samuel More, Secretary of the Society, 1770-1799,” The Virtuoso Tribe of Arts and Sciences: Studies in the 18th-Century Work and Membership of the London Society of Arts, D.G.C. Allan and John L. Abbott, eds. (Athens, GA, 1992): 307–35.

[19] Berg, Experiments, Notebook 1, Experiments 12 and 13, 28 and 29 [December 1759].

[20] Berg, Experiments, recto of paper inserted into Notebook 2 after Experiment 106 (6 July 1765).

[21] Will of George Berg, proved 4 May 1775, Records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, National Archives, London, PROB 11/1007; will of Elizabeth Berg, proved 22 May 1784, Records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, National Archives, London, PROB 11/1116.

[22] Berg, Experiment Book, Notebook 5, n.p. [2 v.], [ca. September 1770].