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    Re: Early use of chronometers in the Royal Navy
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2014 Apr 8, 12:02 -0700

    Don Seltzer, you wrote:
    "Checking Dava Sobel's book, Longitude, there were 5000 chronometers in use in 1815."

    That sounds about right. Baron de Zach's Letters for 1818 includes a brief note where he says that the use of "montres marines" or "chronometres" has greatly expanded in the merchant marine of England beyond "vessels of State" (naval) and vessels of the "great commerce companies". According to Zach: "Mr. Earnshaw, the famous horologist of London, the most skilled artist of this type, says, in an article recently printed, that up to 15 May 1818, he has produced, and sold more than a thousand marine watches of all types, with prices from 40 up to 130 guineas."

    This fits with other evidence I have encountered, but I have not seen a more comprehensive history of the question. I would also love to see a history of the trade in second-hand chronometers. We've often discussed the issue of chronometer prices during the 19th century, and Geoffrey has pointed out that the nominal prices for top-line chronometers were stable, even fixed, for many decades. But I'm convinced there's much more to be found in the mundane details of commercial ledgers.

    You also wrote:
    "The great majority of chronometers were privately purchased, by captains and by the East Indies Company. Possibly, it was the HEIC that was most responsible for the growth in chronometer use."

    In a process that lasted for something like fifty years, I suspect you could make a solid case for that theory during at least some fraction of that time. Eventually, we're looking at a basic economic question: what persuades customers to buy expensive tools? There are rational reasons and non-rational ones, too. For a little non-rational thinking, at the beginning of the chronometer adoption period, how many British navigators bought them for status ...for bragging rights? And towards the end, how many acquired them so that they would not be perceived as "old-fashioned" or "lunarian oddballs" or, worse yet, "cheap Yankees"? And on the American side of the Atlantic, how many navigators in this same period could claim their own bragging rights for the opposite reason: because they did NOT buy chronometers?

    -FER

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