19 June 2006

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.


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