Collectibles

Original 300-year-old Fahrenheit thermometer drops in value at auction

Original 300-year-old Fahrenheit thermometer drops in value at auction
How did such an iconic, rare and important scientific instrument decline in value?
How did such an iconic, rare and important scientific instrument decline in value?
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How did such an iconic, rare and important scientific instrument decline in value?
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How did such an iconic, rare and important scientific instrument decline in value?
One of just three known thermometers made by Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, the man who invented the temperature scale that bears his name, and is still in use in the US, sold for just $93,750 at Heritage Auctions, America's largest auction house
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One of just three known thermometers made by Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, the man who invented the temperature scale that bears his name, and is still in use in the US, sold for just $93,750 at Heritage Auctions, America's largest auction house
There are considerable similarities between the engraving on the rear of the thermometer and Fahrenheit's signature, suggesting it was engraved by the instrument maker himself to be a signature. The "Amst" signifies Amsterdam, which was at the height of global prominence at the time of the making of this thermometer, experiencing the "Dutch Golden Age" of trade, science and art.
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There are considerable similarities between the engraving on the rear of the thermometer and Fahrenheit's signature, suggesting it was engraved by the instrument maker himself to be a signature. The "Amst" signifies Amsterdam, which was at the height of global prominence at the time of the making of this thermometer, experiencing the "Dutch Golden Age" of trade, science and art.
Purchased in 1991 for a then-record $50,000, this 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card is in the finest known condition of any of the 1,759 cards on the register, and is expected to sell for more than $10 million
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Purchased in 1991 for a then-record $50,000, this 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card is in the finest known condition of any of the 1,759 cards on the register, and is expected to sell for more than $10 million
One of just three known thermometers made by Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, the man who invented the temperature scale that bears his name
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One of just three known thermometers made by Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, the man who invented the temperature scale that bears his name
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Someone has scored a bargain at Heritage Auctions’ recent Historical Platinum Session Signature Auction and we’re quite astonished that in this age of information, such anomalies can still happen. On July 16, an extremely rare and historically important thermometer made by Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, inventor of the mercury thermometer and the temperature scale that bears his name, sold for just US$93,750.

The 300-year-old thermometer had been unknown by the scientific community until 2012 when a collector consigned it to a Christie’s auction, creating news across the globe, as it was (and remains) only the third thermometer made by Daniel Fahrenheit that is still known to exist today. The other two known Fahrenheit thermometers are owned by Museum Boerhaave, in Leiden, the Netherlands.

There are considerable similarities between the engraving on the rear of the thermometer and Fahrenheit's signature, suggesting it was engraved by the instrument maker himself to be a signature. The "Amst" signifies Amsterdam, which was at the height of global prominence at the time of the making of this thermometer, experiencing the "Dutch Golden Age" of trade, science and art.
There are considerable similarities between the engraving on the rear of the thermometer and Fahrenheit's signature, suggesting it was engraved by the instrument maker himself to be a signature. The "Amst" signifies Amsterdam, which was at the height of global prominence at the time of the making of this thermometer, experiencing the "Dutch Golden Age" of trade, science and art.

At the time of that sale, Christie’s Scientific Specialist, James Hyslop, commented, “it is very exciting to be able to offer at auction such an incredibly important scientific instrument, and one which collectors would never have believed would come to market. Inscribed on the back by Fahrenheit himself, this is an exceptional piece which has no precedent, and which I expect to cause a real buzz with connoisseurs and institutions on every continent around the globe.”

In 2012, the thermometer sold at Christie’s for £67,250 (US$107,620), and despite achieving top price at the auction, it had been expected to sell for up to £100,000 (US$120,800).

On the day, it outsold a three-rotor German WW2 Enigma electronic ciphering machine which fetched £58,850 (US$94,176). The world record for an Enigma machine was £133,250 (US$208,150) at that time. Since then, prices for Enigma machines have quadrupled, mainly thanks to the release of The Imitation Game, a 2014 movie about Bletchley Park, Alan Turing, cryptography and the Enigma Machine. Today that Enigma machine would be worth $400,000+, while the Fahrenheit thermometer decreased in price from $107,620 in 2012 to $93,750 in 2022.

One of just three known thermometers made by Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, the man who invented the temperature scale that bears his name
One of just three known thermometers made by Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, the man who invented the temperature scale that bears his name

The invention of thermometer was one of the most important events in scientific history, as it enabled mankind to measure temperature accurately for the first time, at the same time as revolutionizing medical science forever.

At a time when seemingly every major auction genre, from art to watches to cars to comic books and baseball cards are smashing records, a 300-year-old artifact of one of the fundamental scientific discoveries in history fell in price.

It would once more seem that historical gravitas is no longer a factor in framing the prices of scientific instruments that helped to change history and create the world we now know.

Purchased in 1991 for a then-record $50,000, this 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card is in the finest known condition of any of the 1,759 cards on the register, and is expected to sell for more than $10 million
Purchased in 1991 for a then-record $50,000, this 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card is in the finest known condition of any of the 1,759 cards on the register, and is expected to sell for more than $10 million

Another press release came from America's largest auction house today, announcing the online sale of a baseball card that is expected to break the $10-million barrier over the next month.

Such is life!

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6 comments
6 comments
TedTheJackal
This thermometer really was a big deal. It's difficult to imagine a world without temperature, where you just had to say something was "really cold" or "kind of hot". Quantifying something as fundamental as temperature was a fundamental step.
Robt
The Mickey Mantle card will be bought as an investment
A significant scientific instrument is bought for the radiated joy of what it represents
In dollars and cents, it’s (obviously) no contest
DJ's "Feed Me Doggie"
Oh, that Fahrenheit! Always a kidder. We all know how mercurial he was, in fact, his "thermometer" couldn't even tell time in celsius! What a kidder. Always a failure. If he had succeeded, his "thermometer" would have sold for way more than even Mickey Mantel could afford. He must have been a real card!
FB36
Fahrenheit temperature scale still being in use in USA is such a shame IMHO!
Metric System should have been global standard for all measurements long time ago!
USA etc need to make a law to fully switch to Metric System by a certain future date, like 10/20 years in the future (so everybody would have time to prepare)!
TpPa
if that was the first thermometer, who says 50 degree's is really 50 degree's? I guess the guy who invents it gets to make that distension like most inventions
Danock
It doesn't really matter what units we use for temperature, for we don't generally do arithmetic or conversions on them. 32 degrees for freezing is just as good as 0 degrees. Celsius degrees have a disadvantage of being too "big"--a change of 1 degree Celsius is a lot compared to 1 degree Fahrenheit--and thus require more use of fractional degrees. As for the rest of the metric system--bring it on!