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Joseph Merlin in London, 1760–1803: the Man behind the Mask. New Documentary Sources

  • Margaret Debenham (a1)


Joseph Merlin (1735–1803), ‘Ingenious Mechanick’, musical-instrument maker and flamboyant showman, is perhaps best remembered for his Museum in Princes Street, London, with its scintillating displays of automata and extraordinary inventions. Two newly identified sets of Court documents, Nicholl v. Merlin, 1779 and Merlin v. Celsson, 1779–81, now provide insights into previously unknown aspects of his business dealings and personal life. The former concerns a dispute over a house that Merlin commissioned to be built in 1776, the latter a violation of his 1774 combined harpsichord-pianoforte patent rights. Material relating to Lavigne Verel, his musical instrument foreman from 1773 to 1781, is also reported. Amongst other novel findings, perhaps the most surprising is Merlin's marriage in 1783. Contemporary primary-source material consulted includes original manuscripts held at The National Archives, UK, the Scone Palace Archives, Parish Registers, Land Tax and Apprenticeship records and numerous contemporary newspaper advertisements and notices.


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1 In all UK primary-source materials (including legal documents and advertisements) identified by the author, Merlin consistently refers to himself as Joseph Merlin, never as ‘John Joseph’. For this reason I have adopted this convention throughout this paper.

2 Anne French, ‘Merlin, his Friends, his Patrons, and his Portrait’, in John Joseph Merlin: The Ingenious Mechanick (London, 1985), 17–32. An extract from a newspaper report of a Masquerade Ball at the Pantheon, identified by the author, illustrates Merlin's penchant for self-promotion. ‘The company, about 900 in number, consisted of a more equal and agreeable mixture than usual, of Characters and Dominos: the most striking of the former, were, Mr. Merlin, the mechanic, as a gouty gentleman, in a chair of his own construction, which, by a transverse direction of two winches, he wheeled about himself, with great facility to any part of the room…’ The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser (1675), 4 March 1778, 2.

3 R.S. Kirby, ‘The Life of Mr. John Joseph Merlin’, The Wonderful and Scientific Museum or Magazine of Remarkable Characters (London, 1803), i, 274. According to Palmieri, (citing genealogical research by Pierre Bauens of Huy) Merlin's parents were Maximillien Joseph Merlin and Ann Levasseur; Robert and Margaret Palmieri, Piano: An Encylopedia (London and New York, 2003), 231. An online database of early marriages in Liège confirms that this couple did indeed marry in 1732. Ann must have died before 1743, since a second marriage of Maximilien Joseph to Marie Therese Dechesalle is recorded in 1743. Joseph Merlin mentions his half brother, Charles, in his will so it is reasonable to surmise that Charles was a child of this second marriage.

4 The date of Conde de Fuentes' arrival in London is confirmed by a newspaper notice on 28 May 1760 announcing that on 27 May 1760 the Conde de Fuentes had a private audience with his Majesty to present his credentials; The Public Ledger, 1 (118), 28 May 1760, 1.

5 Jerome Lalande, Journal d'un Voyage en Angleterre, ed. Helene Monod-Cassidy (Oxford, 1980), 70.

6 Lalande, Journal d'un Voyage en Angleterre, 106. According to Sir Ambrose Heal, Joseph Sutton was active 1754–84. Ambrose Heal, The London Goldsmiths, 1200–1800: A Record of the Names and Addresses of the Craftsmen, Their Shop Signs and Trade-cards (Cambridge, 1935).

7 City of London Record Office, Licence Book, 4, 349: Cox's licence valid for three months from 10 September 1765. Cited by Roger Smith in ‘James Cox (c. 1723–1800): A Revised Biography’, Burlington Magazine, 142 (June 2000), 353–6, quoting a list of workmen employed by Cox drawn from this source, as first reported in D. Roberts, Mystery, Novelty and Fantasy Clocks (Alglen, PA, 1999), 166. For additional information on Cox and his activities, see Clare Le Corbeiller, ‘James Cox: A Biographical Review’, Burlington Magazine, 112 (1970), 351–58 and Marcia Pointon, ‘Dealer in Magic: James Cox's Jewelry Museum and the Economics of Luxurious Spectacle in Late-Eighteenth Century London’, Economic Engagements with Art, ed. Neil de Marchi and Craufurd D.W. Goodwin (New York and London, 1999), 423–48.

8 The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Chronicle, 1 February 1771, 93.

9 Land Tax registers for Shoe Lane, 1770, 1771, 1772. London, England, Land Tax Records, 1692–93: London Metropolitan Archives; accessed via, 18 July 2012.

10 Evidence recorded in Lord Mansfield's judicial notebooks relating to this case (Merlin v. Celsson: Scone Palace Archives, MS. TD 80/52/487, 107–111). The author wishes to gratefully acknowledge Lord Stormont's kind permission to consult and cite these documents and to thank Sarah Adams, Scone Palace archivist, for her invaluable advice and assistance. In 1772 James Cox lapsed into bankruptcy and began to organise his lottery at Spring Gardens in an attempt to clear his debts; see Roger Smith, James Cox: a Revised Biography (2000), 357–8. Clearly this event provided the impetus for Merlin to strike out into business on his own account.

11 Merlin v. Celsson. Lord Mansfield's judicial notebooks, Scone Palace Archives: MS. TD 80/52/487, 111.

12 Patent No. 1032 for a new invented spring jack having a reflector to increase the heat (enrolled 10 April 1773), cited by Michael Wright, The Ingenious Mechanick, B6, 66.

13 Heal Collection 85, 194; cited in The Ingenious Mechanick, B7, 67.

14 The Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser (398), 7 February 1782. See Appendix 1 for more information on the activities of Louis Lavigne Verel.

15 Patents for Inventions. Abridgements of Specifications relating to Music and Musical Instruments A.D. 1694–1856 (2nd edn, London, 1871); see also Appendix 5.

16 Donald H. Boalch, Makers of the Harpsichord and Clavichord 1440–1840 (2nd edn, Oxford, 1974), 112. Frances Palmer provides an image of the original manuscript of the patent specification and drawing documents and a discussion of its features (Frances Palmer, ‘Merlin and Music’, The Ingenious Mechanick, C1, 97). For valuable observations on Merlin's design see also Michael Cole, The Pianoforte in the Classical Era (1998), 244 and Michael Latcham, ‘Pianos and Harpsichords for Their Majesties’, Early Music (August 2008), 362–4.

17 The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: Edwin M. Ripin Collection, Friends of the Collection Fund: Accession Number 1977.56. Images of this instrument, together with a detailed description appear in Palmer, The Ingenious Mechanick, C5, 100–1.

18 The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser (602), 9 December 1777.

19 Palmer, The Ingenious Mechanick, 95 and C2, 99. See also ‘Keilflugel (harpsichord) mit abwartsschlagender Stosszungenmechanik, Signierung: Jospehus Merlin / Privelegiarus Novi Forte Piano No. 80, London, 1780’, in Alte Musik aus view Jahrhunderten: Tasteninstrument im Deutchen Museum (1980); and Raymond Russell The Harpsichord and Clavichord: an Introductory Study (2nd edn, London, 1973), Plate 79. Michael Latcham reports that a second privately owned example survives in Switzerland. Michael Latcham, ‘Pianos and Harpsichords for Their Majesties’, Early Music, 22 (August 2008), 389–90. Latcham also gives a detailed description of this instrument in his article ‘Merlin’, Proceedings of the Harmoniques International Congress, Lausanne (2004), 293–5.

20 Michael Cole, The Pianoforte in the Classical Era (Oxford, 1998), 245.

21 Cole, The Pianoforte in the Classical Era, 245.

22 Percy A. Scholes, The Great Dr. Burney: His Life – His Travels – His Works and His Friends (Oxford, 1948) ii, 206. Scholes cites as his source Fetis, 1870, who in turn cited a notice in the Correspondence musical de Spire (1792), 398.

23 The Cornhill Magazine, 24 (1871), 556.

24 Baroness Pauline von Hugel, A Royal Son and Mother (Notre Dame, 1902), 12–16.

25 The Morning Chronicle and Daily Advertiser (1525), 13 April 1774.

26 The Case of Merlin v. Celsson, 1779–1781, Bill and Answer. The National Archives, UK. C 12_2119_49_001; C 12_2119_49_002.

27 … The daily increasing Demand for

Merlin's Patent Pianoforte, adding to the Encomiums

bestowed on it by the most eminent Professors and

Performers in that Branch of Music, will, it is sup-

posed, be with Justice considered as a sufficient Voucher

of its Excellence, as well as a Testimony of its Right

in claiming Superiority and Preference over any In-

struments of the like Nature ever yet invented and of-

fered to the Public. The Public Advertiser (14134), 18 January 1775.

The author has been unable to establish the date of his removal from 42, Little Queen Ann Street; however, it is now clear that he can only have remained at that address for a relatively short time since Land Tax records now confirm his address was 104, Shoe Lane, in 1772 and this January 1775 advertisement gives 61, Little Queen Ann Street.

28 … Orders by Letter from Town or Country, will be

Most punctually attended to, and may be addressed to

The Author, at his House, No. 61, Little Queen Ann-

Street, Portland-chapel; where will be found like-

wise invented by the same Author, his Patent Rotis-

seur Royal, which will roast any joint of Meat in two

Thirds of the Time, and with one Half of the Fewel

generally required by the common Method: an Ad-

vantage of prodigious Savings to Families.

* * Also his accurate Money-Scales on a new

Construction, &c, &c.…The Public Advertiser (14134), 18 January 1775.

29 The Ingenious Mechanick, C A1, 34.

30 Nicholl v. Merlin, The National Archives, UK. C12_1057_15_001; 002; 003. See also note 34.

31 Nicholl's Bill of Complaint against Merlin describes the premises in considerable detail, as will be discussed later. The National Archives, UK. C12_1057_15_001, 002.

32 See Appendix 3 for information on Balthasar Silberrad, mooted by the author as a possible backer in the initial stages of Merlin's business.

33 The National Archives UK, C 12_2119_49_001; C 12_2119_49_002.

34 The reason for Merlin's move to 66, Queen Ann Street, is made clear by the events described in the Complainant's Bill and Merlin's Answer in the case of Nicholl v. Merlin, discussed below.

35 The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser (1726), 30 April 1778; repeated (1730), 5 May 1778. See also p 16 for Louis Lavigne Verel's advertisement of 1782, in which he offers apparently similar instruments for sale.

36 The Public Advertiser (13562), 28 March 1778. For Peter Holman's thoughts on this instrument see: Peter Holman, Life after Death: The Viola Da Gamba in Britain (Woodbridge, 2010), 162.

37 The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser (2122), 3 August 1779. See Appendix 4 for other items offered in this advertisement.

38 The National Archives UK, C12_1057_15_001, 002, 003.

39 ‘Fronting towards the north on the south side of Duchess-street and abutting westwards on the ground and premises of Josias Dupre.’ Dupre died 30 September 1780 (family tree record, His will (name recorded as Josias Du Pre), was proved 27 October 1780; The National Archives, UK, PROB 11/1069/320.

40 London Land Tax records for Portland Place in 1781 (accessed via, 18 July 2012). Portland Place was later re-numbered and No. 2 became No. 22 – but it appears was later demolished to make way for a new building.

41 The lease was contracted to begin after completion of the house at Michaelmas 1777, subject to the usual covenants stipulated by the Duke of Portland. The work was to be supervised for Merlin by Benjamin Pujolas, a surveyor and William Cadwell on behalf of Nicholl.

42 Alan Cox has described this type of brick thus: ‘Malms tended to have a more pronounced yellow colour, as can be seen, for instance on No. 30. Portland Place, built about 1778’. Alan Cox, Construction History 13 (1997), 58. Nicholl stated that he had eventually persuaded Merlin that it would be just as effective to use common bricks finished with Liardet Adams compound. This material was a novel type of stucco patented in 1773 by John Liardet. Interestingly, Liardet had entered into a business arrangement with Robert Adam and his brothers to develop use of this material in 1774 and an alleged breach of their patent rights later led to a court case heard by Lord Mansfield in 1778. John A. Dunlap ‘Liardett [sic] and Adams v. Johnson and Another’, Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the English Courts of Chancery, 20 (1849), 526–8; also reported by James Oldham, The Mansfield Manuscripts and the Growth of English Law in the Eighteenth Century (Chapel Hill and London, 1992), i, 749–57.

43 Merlin's answer to Nicholl's Bill of Complaint, 17 August 1779. The National Archives, UK C12_1057_15_003.

44 See also Figure 8, Parish Register of St Saviour, Southwark – entry recording the marriage of Joseph Merlin and Ann Goulding, 17 September 1783. City of London: London Metropolitan Archives, P92/SAV, Item 3044.

45 The house had cost £3,500 to build, according to Nicholl Senior.

46 In a wily attempt to force him to accept ownership, Nicholl had sent a messenger round to Merlin's house purporting to have come from Lord Rochfort to leave a box containing the keys to the house with a servant. Merlin immediately returned them to Nicholl Junior, who was by then held prisoner for debt in the Kings Bench Prison.

47 The London Gazette (11966), 5. In 1781 the Land Tax records show the occupant as Lord Sandys.

48 The Bills of Complaints themselves however were often signed by the lawyer acting on behalf of the Complainant.

49 Joseph Merlin's signature on his sworn Answer to Thomas Nicholl's Bill of Complaint. (The National Archives UK, C12_1057_15_003)

50 Bill of Complaint filed by Merlin and Answer of Ephraim Celsson. The National Archives UK, C12_2119_49_001; 002: Court of Chancery: Six Clerks Office: Pleadings 1758 to 1800. Reynardson and Edmonstone Division. Merlin v Celson [sic].

51 The spelling of Celsson's name varies; in some newspaper advertisements and parish registers it is given as ‘Celson’. However, his signature is clearly ‘Celsson’ on his sworn Answer to Merlin's Bill of Complaint. Philip James identified a newspaper advertisement for an instrument made by Celson [sic], placed in October 1778: ‘To be sold by Christie and Ansell…(Earl Ferrers decd's effects)…A remarkable fine toned Harpsichord by EPHRAIM CELSON, an instrument of a most extraordinary construction and justly esteemed the most compleat Harpsichord in the Kingdom; it contains a double Bass, two Unisons and an Octave, the Welch Harp, Piano Forte and Celestial Harp: a matchless Cabinet inlaid with Tortoise-shell and ornamented with Or boule [sic]…’ The Public Ledger, 2 October 1778. Philip James, Early Keyboard Instruments from their Beginnings to the Year 1820 (London, 1970), 65.

52 Lord Mansfield's judicial notebooks. Scone Palace Archives, MS. TD 80/52/487, 107. The author gratefully acknowledges the kind assistance of Professor James Oldham, who has suggested possible reasons for this change of venue: ‘Factual disagreements ordinarily had to be resolved by a common law jury, and when it became clear in a Chancery case that a factual question required resolution, the case would be referred to the Court of King's Bench so that a jury could be impanelled for that purpose.…The case, then, that came before Mansfield and the jury was a patent infringement action calling for fact-finding about the exact nature of the instruments produced by the defendant, measured against the plaintiff's patent specification. This was resolved by the jury verdict for nominal damages (one shilling). The one-shilling verdict meant that the plaintiff's claim was viewed as valid by the jury, and that the defendant would be responsible for costs of the proceeding. The procedure then would be to send the case back to Chancery to be concluded there, with factual issues settled. But often cases would be settled at this point and no further proceedings would occur – this may be what happened in the Merlin [Martin] case.’ James Oldham, Georgetown Law, private communication.

53 The National Archives, UK, C12_2119_49_002.

54 In January 1778, shortly after his dismissal by Merlin, Celsson's wife Mary gave birth to twins, Ephraim and Christian. Eighteen months later a daughter, Ann Elizabeth, was born to the couple. Parish register, St Marylebone Church, 26 January 1778 and 24 June 1779. In these circumstances it is scarcely surprising that the family found themselves in penury.

55 Unfortunately Celsson fails to name the Master under whom he served his apprenticeship.

56 No firm information about the nature of Merlin's early training has been previously identified. Celsson's testimony suggests though that his apprenticeship must have been in an area other than musical-instrument making.

57 Merlin v. Ephraim Celsson. Lord Mansfield's judicial notebooks, Scone Palace Archives, MS TD 80/52/487, 107–12. Lord Mansfield's notes, made during the court proceedings, consist of brief jottings recording his understanding of the evidence given. The notes are perhaps best described as an aide mémoire, clearly intended primarily for his personal use; his handwriting is quite difficult to decipher in places. In some instances his spelling of the names of witnesses and other individuals referred to during the course of the trial is inconsistent (no doubt written down from the spoken word at the time) – a fact that only becomes readily apparent when considered in the light of the names of musical-instrument makers and others known to have been active in the musical scene during this period. In the transcription of his Lordship's notes of this case published in Oldham (1992) the names of the Plaintiff and Defendant are shown as being ‘Martin’ and ‘Calfson’ rather than ‘Merlin’ and ‘Celsson’. James Oldham, The Mansfield Manuscripts (1992), i, 760–6.

58 James Oldham, The Mansfield Manuscripts (1992), i, 735.

59 That Dr Burney played Merlin's instrument in the courtroom is confirmed by a later newspaper advertisement in February 1785 which positively identifies this instrument:

‘A FINE BRILLIANT TONED DOUBLE BASS HARPSICHORD, by MERLIN, with FORTE PIANO, and other Stops, the property of A LADY of FASHION. And the identical Instrument that was played upon in the court of King's Bench, by Dr. Burney; at which time Merlin's patent for his invention was established…’ The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser (3758), 24 February 1785.

60 Merlin nominated Sylvanus Jenkins in his will as one of his executors and left him a substantial bequest of £500, stating that Jenkins had worked for him as his assistant for many years. The National Archives, UK, PROB 11/1394. See Appendix 2 for more information on Jenkins.

61 The spelling ‘Christy’ here is that given by Lord Mansfield in his notebooks. The likelihood is that the person referred to is in fact the well-known auctioneer, James Christie (1703–1803) and that the spelling has been recorded incorrectly from the verbal testimony of the witness.

62 This suggests that he may have contracted work out to Celsson, so considering him to be self-employed rather than an employee.

63 From this evidence, it would appear that Cox himself was working as a contractor for Merlin at this time.

64 Robert Falkener is best remembered today for having been accused of faking instruments purporting to be by Kirkman. Active as a harpsichord builder from 1761 – several years earlier than had been previously reported – even at this early stage of his career he held strong opinions on the importance of allowing the quality of a craftsman's work to speak for itself: ‘Notwithstanding it is usual for Purchasers to have the Opinion of Music-Masters upon Instruments, no Fee or Bribe will be given for the Praise of this Instrument; Mr FALKENER being determined not to encourage such base Practices.’ The Daily Register of Commerce and Intelligence, 2, 14 August 1761. For further information on Falkener see Michael Cole, ‘Fakes, Frauds and Forgeries’, in The Pianoforte in the Classical Era, 311–13; and Lance Whitehead, ‘Robert Falkener: An Eighteenth-Century Harpsichord Builder, Music Publisher and Malfeasant?’ The Galpin Society Journal, 55 (April 2002), 310–31.

65 Americus Backers was active in London as a musical-instrument maker from 1763 and in 1771 designed and introduced a novel pianoforte action, termed the ‘English grand action’. For more information on Backers' activities see Cole, The Pianoforte in the Classical Era, 114–128; and ‘Americus Backers’ on Michael Cole's ‘Square Pianos’ website:

66 Charles Crole is listed in Bailey's British Directory, 1785 as an organ builder at 11, Wells Street. A bureau organ restored by Lammemuir pipe organs, previously attributed to John Snetzler (1710–85) is signed ‘No. 2 Charles Crole’ on the underside, suggesting he may have trained or worked as a journeyman for this distinguished maker; see and also note 127.

67 Cole, The Pianoforte in the Classical Era, 248.

68 Michael Latcham also includes an image of the drawing accompanying Stodart's patent specification (TNA 210/15), held at The National Archives, UK. Latcham, Early Music, 36, no. 3 (2008), 364.

69 Michael Latcham, ‘The Combination of the Piano and the Harpsichord throughout the Eighteenth Century’, in Instruments A Claviers: Expressivite Et Flexibilibite Sonores: Actes Des Rencontres Internationales Harmonique, ed. Thomas Steiner (Lausanne, 2002), 145; see also Cole, The Pianoforte in the Classical Era, 248.

70 That Celsson must have resumed activities as a maker at some time following the court case is indicated by two further advertisements for pianofortes, the first placed in 1789: ‘To be Sold, a Brilliant Toned Pianoforte, with three stops and two pedals by Ephraim Celson [sic], in an elegant mahogany case, neatly inlaid: a capital instrument. To be seen at No, 23, New Street, Carnaby Market.’ The World (665), 14 February 1789. The second in 1790 is for an even more elaborate instrument: ‘TO be SOLD. A brilliant-toned grand PIANO FORTE, with three stops, and two pedals, made by CELSSON, richly inlaid, in a purple and Satin Wood-case; a capital instrument, finished in a most exquisite Manner. To be seen at No. 13, Stephen-street, Rathbone-place, Oxford-street.’ The Public Advertiser, 24 May 1790. The author has also located a later advertisement placed in 1804 by auctioneers Williams and Son for a ‘grand piano-forte in an elegant inlaid case by Celson’ [sic]. The Times, 24 March 1804.

71 The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser (2365), 24 May 1780.

72 The Public Advertiser (14450), 31 January 1781.

73 Frances Palmer cites a description of an instrument included in one of Merlin's catalogues (E2) c.1789, which appears to concur with that of this newspaper advertisement, but minus the hautboy (oboe]. It is difficult to envisage how a keyboard instrument could possibly be made to imitate a woodwind instrument of this type and most likely the newspaper advertisement is an example of hyperbole, designed to attract the attention of the reader.

XVIII. A Curious Patent Piano-Forte-Harpsichord, having Kettledrums and a Trumpet-stop, so constructed as to play together or separately with great Facility. Frances Palmer, The Ingenious Mechanick, 90.

For further information including detailed descriptions of Merlin's extant instruments, see Palmer, The Ingenious Mechanick, Catalogue section D, 111–22.

74 R.S Kirby, The Wonderful and Scientific Museum (1803), 274, cited by Frances Palmer, The Ingenious Mechanick, 13. Further evidence to support a change of his working practices is found in an advertisement placed by Merlin in 1784, in which he advertised for experienced makers to assist him in making musical instruments, suggesting he had changed his manufacturing arrangements. The Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser (102), 4 February 1784.

75 See Appendix 1, note 126 for information on the incoming occupants of 7, Gresse Street – Thomas Francis Prussurot in 1781 and John Prussurot, active as a carver and gilder, 1783–91.

76 The Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser (398), 7 February 1782 (see also p.4 and note 14).

77 The Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser (398), 7 February 1782.

78 An Inventory of the possessions of the late Louis Lavigne Verel, 5 July 1783, prepared by his administrator and creditor, Jean Baptiste Verel. The National Archives, UK, PROB_31_718_001- 004; see Appendix 1 for a transcription of this document.

79 The Morning Chronicle, and London Advertiser (4676), 12 May 1784.

80 Parish register, St Olave, Southwark. See Appendix 3 for information on Charles Merlin and his family.

81 See Appendix 3 for information on Balthasar Silberrad.

82 The Morning Post (756), 1 April 1783. Land tax records for Princes Street in 1782 show Merlin's name listed adjacent to an empty property No. 2 (on a blank page to the right of the entry), presumably as an incoming tenant.

83 The author has been unable to positively identify Ann Goulding's parentage. Given that her marriage to Joseph took place on 17 September 1783 at the church of St Saviour, Southwark, one possibility is that she was the Ann, daughter of John (a cabinet maker) and Ann Goulding, baptised at St Saviour, Denmark Park, on 7 April 1754.

84 Parish register of St Saviour, Southwark, 17 September 1783. Witnesses to the marriage were John McHarg and Sam. Swift (the latter being parish clerk of St Saviour's at this time, as is confirmed by a report of his witness evidence in a case dated 1784, reported in the London Lives database): Joseph's half-brother, Charles, had been married and resident in Southwark in the previous year, providing evidence of the existence of a family connection with this area of London (see Appendix 3).

85 Merlin's Answer to Nicholl's Bill of Complaint, The National Archives, UK, C12_1057_15_003 – see p 9

86 One of the chief beneficiaries of Merlin's will in 1803 was named as his ‘niece’ Ann Merlin. It now seems almost certain that she was in fact his legitimate daughter. Also named in his will was Elizabeth Hazell, whom he identifies as her aunt but whose background remains a mystery. Possibly she may have been a married sister of Ann Goulding. That Ann Johanna survived into adulthood is evidenced by a notice of her marriage to Joseph Griffin at Christ Church, Southwark, on 10 December 1820, the same parish in which Ann Merlin was buried in 1793. It is worthy of note that one of the witnesses to the marriage was Mary Ann Hazell – the same surname as the aunt named in Merlin's will. It seems likely that Ann Johanna's brother Joseph died in infancy since Joseph does not mention him in his will.

87 The Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser (1171), 28 July 1784.

88 Lockie's Topography of London (1810), 181.

89 James Cox was still resident in Shoe Lane at this time and one possibility is that he may have sheltered Ann Merlin and her children.

90 Daily Register (328), 12 January 1786.

91 The Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser (102), 4 February 1784.

92 An example of a grand pianoforte by Merlin, dated 1786, which appears to accord with this description is described by French, The Ingenious Mechanick, C6 102–3. In 2013 this instrument was sold at auction by Christie's, London for £67,875: ‘A George III Holly and Wenge-Inlaid, Satinwood and Tulipwood-Crossbanded Mahogany Grand Piano, with Ivory and Ebony Key Coverings, incorporating Merlin's Patent “Four Unison” Stringing and Down-striking Action.’ The Collection of Professor Sir Albert Richardson, P.R.A., Christie's, King Street, London – Sale Catalogue for Sale 1186, Lot 130; 18–19 September 2013.

93 Daily Register (328), 12 January 1786. This lengthy advertisement also lists many other items on sale, including:

‘a new invented machine, which may be added to any harpsichord, that by turning a winder, will play seven different tunes in one barrel; new violins made equal to the best Cremonas, and tenor and bass viols, with his new invented pegs and tail pieces, which prevent slipping…New improved music desks, which will hold four books at a time with receivers for candles and are very stable and others made to answer for a writing or reading desk and is made to rise or lower at pleasure; sanctorious balance, a machine for weighing to find the increase or decrease of the weight of any person; it will balance from four ounces to six hundred pounds weight, easy mechanical chair for gouty and infirm persons to wheel themselves about; Morpheus sleeping chairs, made to fall back and form beds at pleasure: are intended for the repose of infirm persons…’

The description of the winder mechanism mentioned above fits that described by Frances Palmer as included in one of Merlin's catalogues (E22): ‘XVI A new invented Machine which may be added to any harpsichord and by turning a winder will play seven different Tunes on one Barrel. Price 35 Guineas.’ Palmer, The Ingenious Mechanick, 94.

94 Cited by Clive Edwards, Turning Houses into Homes: a History (London, 2005), 14. Longman and Broderip were selling ‘new invented Quarter and Upright Desks’ at this time, which seem to fit the above description.

95 The World (266), 20 November 1787; repeated (287), 14 December 1787.

96 Extract from Patent No. 1637 granted to Samuel Bury, 15 January 1788. Specifications relating to Music and Musical Instruments A.D. 1694–1896 (2nd edn, London, 1871), 20–2. In 1788 Bury was listed in Lowndes London Directory as a musical-instrument maker at the above address – and in 1790 as a pianoforte maker at an additional address, 61, Old Bailey (Wakefield's Merchant and Tradesman's General Directory for London). Bailey's London Directory (1790) lists him as an organ builder.

97 George Dettmer is listed in the Land Tax records as the occupant of 7, Gresse Street, (Merlin's former workshop) commencing 1799.

98 The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser (4663), 28 February 1788.

99 MR MERLIN respectfully informs the Nobi-

lity and Gentry, that he has invented a variety

of curious articles, and, in particular, a light and ele-

gant two-wheel chariot for one horse only. On the

shafts is placed a hand-rail, or balcony, for the purpose

of ascending and descending with safely, and in the mid-

dle of the balcony is the Harp of Apollo, in the center

of which is fixed a double dial, which accurately shews

the several parts of a mile. An aperture is made through

the carriage, to enable those who travel in it to guide

the horse, without exposing themselves to the inclemen-

cy of the weather, and on the imperial is placed a pavi-

lion which gives a brilliancy to the whole. The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser (4935), 21 January 1789.

A plate that illustrates this chariot appeared in R.S. Kirby, The Wonderful and Scientific Museum (1803) i, 74, reproduced in The Ingenious Mechanick, 111.

100 The World (931), 30 December 1789. This advertisement also announces that he had ‘added to his Circus of Cupid a beautiful figure of Venus in a Car, drawn by Doves that flutter their wings and sail together with the other figures upon the surface of the still water’.

101 Palmer, The Ingenious Mechanick, 91 and catalogues C6, c.1786 and E27, c.1803.

102 Palmer, The Ingenious Mechanick, C11.106; Catalogue descriptif & analytique du Musée instrumental du Conservatorie Royal d Musique de Bruxelles (1900), iii, 201–3.

103 The Times, 5 December 1811. George David Fontaine is listed as a cabinet maker, upholder and undertaker at 23, Great Russell Street, 1800–12 and in Dorking, Surrey in 1826. Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660–1840, ed. Geoffrey Beard and Christopher Gilbert (Leeds, 1986), 308.

104 Ann Merlin was buried in the same area in which she and Joseph had married, ten years earlier (though in the burial ground of a different church) and where Charles Merlin was resident at the time of his marriage in 1782.

105 The Morning Post and Fashionable World (7226), 30 March 1795.

106 The Morning Chronicle (7963), 22 April 1795.

107 The Morning Post and Fashionable World (7437), 21 December 1795.

108 The True Briton (1286), 7 February 1797

109 ‘…a REFLECTING MIRROR, which operates in a stile entirely new, and must cause a risibility in the countenance of every spectator from the variety it displays in the transfiguration of the human face, and must cause infinite merriment to the polite assembly who honor him daily with their Company’…The Observer (302), 17 September 1797.

110 ‘MR. MERLIN being very desirous to finish his

GRAND MECHANICAL ORGAN, which is to display a

CONCERT, but being prevented owing to his last long illness of more than

two years, and since his recovery he has been very busily employed in

making some curious pieces of Mechanism, which he is now finishing

and which requires so much of his attention as to oblige him to work per-

sonally himself: the great encouragement which he has received from

the Nobility and Gentry makes him anxious to complete the above Grand

Organ for their amusement; he therefore would be very happy to employ an

organ builder qualified to assist him in the Workmanship…’ The Observer (394], 14 July 1799.

111 The Courier (2673), 7 March 1801.

112 Bells Weekly Messenger (354), 23 January 1803.

113 8 May 1803, Burial register, St Mary's Paddington Green.

114 R.S. Kirby, The Wonderful and Scientific Museum, or Magazine of remarkable Characters (1803), i, 274; French, The Ingenious Mechanick, 15.

115 The National Archives, UK, PROB 11/1394; reported by Anne French, The Ingenious Mechanick (London, 1985), 14–16.

116 An index of Liège marriages shows the marriage of Jean Gerard Toussaint to Marie Elisabeth Merlin in 1770. The details for this lady appear to tally with those of Joseph Merlin's sister. Province de Liège – Mariages:

117 French, The Ingenious Mechanick, 15.

118 The Morning Chronicle (10,860), 10 March 1804.

119 Sun Fire Insurance record for John Wigley, 11 Princes Street, Hanover Square, 10 October 1804. The National Archives, UK, MS 11936/431/767829; and Sun Fire Insurance record for John Wigley and John Weeks, Princes Street, Hanover Square, proprietor of the museum, late Martins [sic – a transcription error for Merlin's], 11 February 1805. The National Archives UK, MS 11936/431/772616.

120 The Courier (4,496), 28 September 1809. The lots included a ‘valuable organ, which cost 16,000 l in building’.

121 See Appendix 2.

122 Sun Fire Insurance record, 27 July 1812. The National Archives, UK, MS 11936/459/873092; and The Post Office Directory, London 1814.

123 From 1 January 1810 the lease was taken over by Wilkinson and Wornum, according to the testimony of H. Broadhurst Wilkinson when writing of his family history. H.B. Wilkinson, Souvenir of the Broadhurst Wilkinsons, Privately published (1902) 24.

124 Wilkinson, Souvenir of the Broadhurst Wilkinsons, 25; Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Chronicle, 112 (July–December 1812), 38.

125 Possibly a scribe's error for Prussurot – see note 126.

126 The author's investigations have revealed that a Thomas Francis Prusserot of 7, Gresse Street, took out a Sun Fire Insurance policy for £400 in 1781, the year in which Verel left this address. Between 1783 and 1791 this was the workshop of John Prussurot, (presumably a relative of Thomas), a carver and gilder who undertook prestigious commissions, including much work for the Prince of Wales at Carlton House and Lord Howard of Walden at Audley End; Dictionary of English Furniture Makers, 1660–1840, (1986), 729–30. Prussurot is also listed in the Land Tax records at George Street, Camden in 1782. In a simple will proved in September 1791, he left his estate in its entirety to his wife, Jane. The National Archives UK, PROB 11/1209. It seems likely that the Prussurots also had business connections with Merlin.

127 Possibly Charles Crole, a witness in the case of Merlin v. Celsson, 1781; see note 66.

128 Presumably Joseph Merlin.

129 The National Archives, UK, PROB _31_718_001; 002; 003; 004.

130 UK, Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices’ Indentures, 1710–1811. Board of Stamps: Apprenticeship Books, Series IR 1; The National Archives of the UK; accessed via Ancestry UK, 1 September 2012. Examples of Spiller's surviving long-case clocks command substantial prices in antique emporia today.

131 Merlin v. Celsson. Lord Mansfield's judicial notebooks, Scone Palace Archives, MS.TD 80/52/487, 109–10.

132 According to Horwood's Map of London 1792–1799, Ogle Street ran north from its intersection with Queen Ann Street East, almost opposite No. 66 where Joseph Merlin had been based from 1778–83.

133 Sun Fire Insurance record, 27 August 1792. The National Archives, UK, MS 11936/389/604227.

134 The National Archives, UK PROB 11/1580.

135 Samuel Bishop is listed in Bailey's British Directory at 53, Great Pulteney Street, London in 1784–5 and at 83, Portland Street in Wakefield's Directory in 1790. His death in Great Portland Street is recorded in The New Monthly Magazine (London, 1814), 291, from which we learn that he was the father of Samuel Bishop ‘the celebrated musical composer’.

136 ‘St. James's Square: No 33’, Survey of London: volumes 29 and 30: St James Westminster, 1 (1960), 206–10: (Accessed 23 September 2012). James Gaynor and Nancy L. Hagedorn report that in 1773 Hewlett senior sold a neat mahogany chest.

‘Two gentlemen's toolchests sold by a London ironmonger survive. One, purchased by an unknown customer on Feb 13 1773, is constructed like a fashionable piece of London furniture and is covered with mahogany veneer. Hewlett probably obtained it from London cabinet maker.’ James M. Gaynor and Nancy L. Hagedorn, Tools: Working Wood in Eighteenth-Century America, 1994.

In 1791 he is listed as a contributing member in Transactions of the Society Instituted at London for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, 10 (1792), 409 and Kent's Directory for 1794 gives his address as 460, Strand, occupation: ironmonger and brazier.

137 The National Archives, UK, PROB 11/1418.

138 The London Gazette (15998), 7 February 1807, 164.

139 The London Gazette (16431), 1 December 1810, 1935.

140 The National Archives, UK, C13_128_001; 002. The case concerned a loan made to William Hewlett and Thomas Fletcher Hewlett, both of whom who had mortgaged property as security for this purpose some years before the death of the former.

141 Description des Machines et Procedes specifies dan les Brevets D'Invention, de Perfectrionnement et D'Importation, dont la duree est expiree; Tome Quatrieme (Paris, 1820), 321

142 London and Surrey, England, Marriage Bonds and Allegations, 1597–1921 DW/MP/115/053. City of London; The Metropolitan Archives; accessed via, 27 April 2012. Charles was required to state that he had lived in the parish for ‘the Space of four Weeks last past’.

143 Birth of Marguerite Elisabeth Merlin (France, Births and Baptisms, 1546–1896’, index, FamilySearch: // (Accessed 25 September 2012). FHL microfilm 757104. A second daughter, Adelaide Caroline was born to the couple on 13 January 1794, also in Strasbourg. She is said to have married Pierre Antoine Marcel Perrin on 20 August 1822 and died 24 October 1867 at Levallois-Perret, Hauts-de-Seine, France. Family tree site: (Accessed 5 October 2012).

144 ‘France, Births and Baptisms, 1546–1896’, index, Marguerite Elisabet Merlin in entry for François Charles Adolphe Edmond Pelletier, 15 October 1823; ref: 1657, Family History Library microfilm 757104.

145 Maisons de Strasbourg: (Accessed 5 October 2012).

146 Balthasar Silberrad is said in a family tree on to have been born in 1724 in Temple Neuf, Stansbourg, Bas-Rhin, France. The author has been unable to confirm this information and the date of birth given does not tally with that indicated by his age at date of death (90) given in the burial register of St Katherine Cree in 1823.

147 Both Kent's Directory (1771) and London Westminster Directory (1774) list his address as No. 4, Maze Pond, Southwark. A second address, 5, Crosby Square, London, perhaps refers to his domestic residence. An insurance record in 1779 gives his occupation as Bluemaker. SUN 1 270 22\08\79: BN, policy No. 408406; insured value £700, London Lives database (Accessed 28 September 2012).

148 City of London Apprenticeship Indenture, 20 August 1791. The Metropolitan Archives, City of London, (Accessed 27 September 2012). The Post Office Directory of London, for 1808 and 1814 both list Charles Silberrad, optician at 34, Aldgate Within.

150 See note 96.

149 Many of these items are listed in two surviving Catalogues of Merlin's Museum, reproduced in the Appendix of The Ingenious Mechanick (Morning Amusement, Merlin's Mechanical Exhibition, 1787–9 (Princeton University Library) and 1803 (The Wellcome Institution, 138–14). The newly located newspaper sources cited here provide a concise summary of more accurate dates for their first appearances for sale or to view. Digital sources consulted during the course of the author's research include, The British Library 17th and 18th Century Burney Collection Database and The Times Digital Archive.


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Joseph Merlin in London, 1760–1803: the Man behind the Mask. New Documentary Sources

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