19 June 2006

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.


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