20 June 2006

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.


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