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The Elusive Ortellis of Macclesfield

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The Elusive Ortellis of Macclesfield
circa 1805-1820


Given a barometer with a Macclesfield signature, and a desire to find out more, where should one start? Arguably with the work of the late Edwin Banfield who catalogued far more makers and retailers than the previous published expert in the field, Nicholas Goodison. It is great pity that he rarely gave any actual citations, but we know from his prefaces that he used auction catalogues, contacts with dealers, trade directories and newspapers. Unfortunately, although the Ortellis were listed in his indispensable Barometer Makers And Retailers 1660-1900, he never discussed them. He lists Ortelli barometers with signatures from several towns including Macclesfield. And so it was time for the Births Marriages and Deaths research, as well as the local directories etc.

    Let me begin with the bad news. I have, so far, found no trace in any births, marriages or deaths records of any Ortellis in Cheshire in the period from 1790 to 1840. I have found one directory covering Macclesfield at this time, the 1811 edition of Holden's Annual London & County Directory of the United Kingdoms and Wales, but no Ortellis were listed. There are no Macclesfield newspapers before  1811, but I have started work on those that exist; it will take time, and so far nothing has come to light. One always hopes to find a notice along the lines of "Mr X thanks the people of Y for their custom and begs to inform then that he has a new stock of  excellent Zs at most reasonable prices ..." Or, in the case of itinerant sellers, a notice that the seller has a room in a local inn from where he will be selling his wares on market day etc. 

Given the economic history of Macclesfield, the hope of finding some documentation was more than just wishful thinking. You could reasonably say that Macclesfield was crying out for a barometer seller beween 1796 and 1815 and that, to judge by the number barometers signed Ortelli of Macclesfield, the Ortellis had answered the cry. 

Plenty of Macclesfield Ortelli barometers exist, but the one Italian resident of Macclesfield at this time was Giovanni Maria Verga, who arrived in England in 1805 and was settled in Macclesfield by 1812 as he married a local girl and had a business as a carver and gilder. It is possible that he was selling barometers made by the Ortellis. Verga spent the rest of his life in the town, and signed barometers - including the very handsome example illustrated below. His barometers are all later than those signed by the Ortellis, which may or may not be significant.

A late 1820s barometer signed I. Verga, Bath.
Courtesy of Hg-Barometers, Ashbourne


At the moment I have catalogued 22 Macclesfield Ortellis; the number keeps rising, and  Macclesfield vies with London as the most popular town as far as Ortelli barometers are concerned.  They are varied in style, signature and quality, though they are easily among the best of the Ortellis, and there’s no doubt of their having been made and (certainly for the most part) engraved in London. The quality variation is not an issue: just like today, their makers had to generate a profit, and if that meant catering for new customers with less disposable income, well and good. Not every customer was a mill owner with deep pockets. Some of the barometers are very run-of-the-mill. The signatures are: "Ortelli & Co", "P. Ortelli & Co" and "N. Ortelli & Co" -  with occasional variation in the spelling of Ortelli - Ortelly is a not-uncommon anglicisation. And a possible mystery has emerged regarding the dating of some of them.

MACC1: Stick barometer Ortelly & Co, Macclesfield
Courtesy of P A Oxley Antique Clocks and Barometers

    MACC1:  Stick Barometer by Ortelly & Co of Macclesfield. "A fine quality mahogany antique stick barometer. The rectangular silvered brass scale calibrated from 27" to 31" with sliding vernier. The thermometer calibrated from 20º to 100º Fahrenheit. The mahogany case with exposed mercury tube and turned cistern cover to the base. The glazed access door with broken architectural pediment above with central brass finial." That is from the online showroom of P A Oxley Antique Clocks and Barometers who sold the barometer in 2012. It is a good example of how attractive the herringbone veneer can look.  And they added: "This barometer appears to have the actual date of manufacture [1805] on the scale which is a rare feature to find on barometers. Height 39" .Note the careful use of the word ‘appears’.

    MACC2:    A mahogany stick barometer with Vernier, by Ortelli and Co, Macclesfield (private owner, Macclesfield area.) Probabky datable to the second decade of the 19th century. I haven't seen an image of it, but have spoken to the owner.

MACC3: P Ortelly & Co 1805, Register plate
Courtesy of Andrew Foott

MACC3:  A mahogany stick barometer with vernier, engraved on the register plate: P.Ortelly & Co Macclesfield, Warranted 1805. Glazed door, broken pediment. (Sold by Andrew Foott and present whereabouts unknown.)

MACC4: A round top partridge wood wheel barometer, boxwood strung, and fitted with thermometer, hygrometer and level.  Sweetly engraved 10 inch dial with floral and foliate theme echoed on the other plates. Flat glass, set hand adjusted from beneath the main dial. Level plate signed Ortelli & Co Macclesfield. 102cm/40ins, Circa 1805, based on style, thickness of the veneer and the dating of  a Tagliabue and Torre, see the link in this paragraph. The scale is divided into inches and 80th of inches. Partridgewood, which takes its name from its resemblance to the wing of a partridge,  is an exceptionally rare veneer to find on a barometer. It would be interesting to find the whereabouts of the Barelli wheel barometer said to be in the same wood, especially as the two families came from the same village and were related by marriage. 
Compare the barometer, shown below,  with  that in the  following link - which cost prevents me from reproducing: It is by Tagliabue and Torre and has to be datable to 1800-1807 when, according to Goodison, they were in partnership. It is slightly shorter, at 99 cms, differently veneered, but the shape is identical. And the della Torres also came from the same village as the Ortellis, with whom they regularly intermarried.
Restored by Andrew Firth; private collection.

MACC4: Ortelli & Co Macclesfield Round Top
MACC4. Ortelli & Co Macclesfield
detail of main dial engraving
MACC4: spirit level with signature
and detail of partridge wood veneer

MACC5: A mahogany wheel barometer with a 10 inch dial and swan neck (or scroll) pediment , signed Ortelli & Co Macclesfield, is recorded by Nicholas Goodison in his book English Barometers 1680-1860. I have not seen an image of this instrument but I include it because for a time it was the only Macclesfield specimen with a swan neck pediment to which I had found a reference. Goodison gives no idea of the date, but, given the other Macclesfield instruments, it is not unreasonable to attribute it to the period before 1825.

MACC6: Ortelli & Co Macclesfield, Sheraton
Courtesy of Ho Ho Bird Antique Clocks and Barometers

MACC6 Mahogany Sheraton wheel barometer signed Ortelli & Co Macclesfield, Warranted, with very attractive round floral and traditional shell paterae, eight-inch dial, boxwood stringing and broken pediment.  43 inches high. Currently for sale at HoHo Bird Antique Clocks and Barometers. The side veneers are laid horizontally, a mark of quality, and the veneer has acquired a rich patina. At 43 inches and with a short shoulder between pediment and neck, this example is sufficiently different from typical Sheratons to support the dealer’s estimate of circa 1810

MACC6 Ortelli & Co, Macclesfield, detail
Courtesy of Ho Ho Bird Antique Clocks and Barometers

MACC7: Ortelly & Co Macclesfield, dated 1805
Courtesy Garth's Auctions Inc Delaware USA

MACC7: detail of thermometer engraving
Courtesy of Garth's Auction, Delaware, USA

    MACC7 A mahogany veneered shell wheel barometer marked Ortelly & Co. Macclesfield Warranted 1805, with broken pediment and shell inlay, 39". The case appears to be strung with ebony and has pale line inlay. Auctioned by Garths in the USA. The foliate engraving above the top of the thermometer register echoes that of No. 9 and No.4 . From the image, it has an eight inch dial which was standard for the ‘Sheraton types, but doesn’t have the top and bottom floral motifs. . The only images that the auction house had on file are not very hi-res, so the detail of the main dial engraving is not sharp. However, the the date is engraved below the spindle, underneath 'Warranted'. The indicating hand is broken and the set hand is not original.

MACC8: A mahogany wheel barometer by P. Ortelli & Co., Macclesfield, inlaid with shell and star decoration, with broken pediment and measuring 39 inches. Auctioned by Mallams of Oxford in 1995. Unfortunately, they have no image of it but it appears to conform the standard Sheraton type.

MACC9 : N Ortelli, Macclesfield, Sheraton style
Courtesy of Andrew Foott

MACC9: A Sheraton type, ebony strung and crisply engraved with a spiky sunburst at the centre of the main dial and a pretty leaf design at the top of the thermometer, like Nos 4, 7, and 10. Shell and flower paterae. Dial engraved N Ortelly & Co Macclesfield. The thermometer bulb   is not smooth - proof of hand-blowing! Private collection, Cheshire

MACC9: N Ortelli Macclesfield: thermometer detail
Courtesy of Andrew Foott

MACC9N Ortelly Macclesfield, Shell inlay and bulb
Courtesy of Andrew Foott

MACC9: N. Ortelly, Macclesfield, Sheraton
Courtesy of Andrew Foott

MACC 10Beautiful and striking four-dial mahogany 8" wheel barometer, with architectural pediment, rope stringing , shell inlay, signed N.Ortelli Macclesfield. What points to an early date of about 1810, maybe earlier, is the short shoulder at the top beneath the pediment, as well as the word ‘Change’ being engraved in uppercase Roman, added to the fact that the dial is close to the case edge. The short shoulder gives it a gorgeous, sensuous shape.
The design at the centre of the dial is small in diameter but the engraving within is actually quite detailed. There are pretty foliate motifs to the thermometer plate that are echoed in MACC9, 4, and 7. Restored by Andrew Foott and present whereabouts unknown.
MACC10: N Ortelli, Macclesfield. Composite image
Courtesy of Andrew Foott


MACC11: Shell and the thermometer bulbl
Courtesy of Andrew Foott

MACC 11: Ortelli & Co Macclesfield, 1805, Sheraton style. The fourth Macclesfield Ortelli to be engraved 1805.  Eight inch dial with ebony stringing and pale line inlay. The name, town and date are prominently engraved on the main dial and framed on three sides by foliate engraving. The veneers are laid horizontally across the sides, a mark of quality that isn't reflected in the rather crude conch shell inlays.  (Private collection, Cheshire).

MACC11: P Ortelli Macclesfield 1805
Courtesy of Andrew Foott
No. 11: Floral patera
Courtesy of Andrew Foott

MellorsKirkOrtMacc.jpgMACC 12: Sheraton style, engraved on the silvered dial Ortelly & Co Macclesfield Warranted, with alcohol thermometer, the broken-line inlaid case with pairs of shell and flower paterae beneath an open triangular pediment, 98cm. Auctioned on 4th March 2011 by Mellors and Kirk, Nottingham, lot 861. 

MACC12, Ortelli, Macclesfield, Sheraton style
Courtesy of Mellors & Kirk auctioneers
MACC13: 4-glass with shell inlay
Courtesy Stride & Co Auctions

    MACC13:  Mahogany and line-inlaid, four-glass wheel barometer by "S Ortelly & Co Macclesfield". The "S" is probably a misreading of a florid P. Apart from the broken pediment this is identical in shape to the round-top instrument. Shell inlay. Probably post-1810 because of the depth of the shoulder immediately below the broken pediment.  Auctioned 2012 by Stride & Co, Chichester. Lovely dial engraving that is very similar to LON1, see the next page. Looks in serious need of some TLC, but could be a very handsome barometer if restored.

Sheraton seen on Nov2013

Macc 14
A Sheraton signed Ortelli & Co Macclesfield. Hands look newer. The vendor who tried to sell it with on  Ebay Switzerland in November 2013 put the signature in inverted commas and then added a tilde symbol in front of 1806/ I am assuming this indicated 'approximately 1806' (though the style of the barometer is more like 1816)) rather than an indication that 1806 was engraved on the dial.

MACC15:  Deleted when found to be a duplicate.

MACC16: P Ortelli & Co Macclesfield 1806 Mahogany Sheraton, 97cms, shell and flower inlay. Auctioned by Bonhams 15 Oct 2007, Lot 770. Unfortunately, Bonham's have no image of this, which is a great pity as there is a good chance that the 1806  date is a misreading of 1805 or just a typo. However, Macc22 is definitely engraved 1806, so the date on this one could well be correct.  If anyone reading this can trace their barometer to Bonhams in 2007,  I would be really grateful to you for confirmation.

MACC17: An Ortelli Macclesfield, 1805, was seen at a restorer's workshop. It cannot be one of the instruments already listed; enquiries being made by third party.

MACC18: P. Ortelli & Co Macclesfield dated 1805
Courtesy Antik Pjot
MACC18: Dial engraving, and rope stringing
Courtesy of Antik Pjot

MACC18: A  very handsome mahogany Sheraton  with conch shell and floral inlay and lovely rope stringing. The side veneers look to be laid horizontally but it's not entirely clear. The dial has similiarites with that of MACC11, being  engraved with a floral and foliate  motif that embraces the signature;  "P. Ortelli & Co, Macclesfield, 1805", with "Warranted" below the centre of the dial. 97cm tall.  Currently for sale at Antik Pjot, Rødovre, Denmark.

Macc19 crossbanded 4-glass
Signed P Ortelly on level plate

MACC19: Mahogany wheel barometer with mercury thermometer, hygrometer, main dial and spirit level, mahogany veneered case tulipwood crossbanding and swan neck pediment with rosettes. Signed P Ortelly & Co Macclesfield Warranted.  One of the loveliest Ortellis. Sold by Neales, Nottingham (Now Dreweatts) Lot 343 24 Feb 2005

MACC20: Mahogany stick barometer, signed P Ortelli Macclesfield. Broken pediment, inlaid cistern cover, glazed door to thermometer and vernier, Lot 405 Shanklin Auction Rooms 2001

Macc21 N Ortelly, stick c.1810
Private collection
Macc 21 Inlaid cistern cover
Private collection

Probably the most distinctive of the Ortelli stick barometers. Signed N.Ortelly & Co., Macclesfield and datable to circa 1810.  Mahogany veneer laid in herringbone pattern, with rope inlay to shaft  and around door - making it less common.  Vernier and  (replacement) alcohol thermometer, brass finial; original cistern cover most unusually inlaid with floral motif. 99cm. Sold May 2013 by Frank Marshall Auctioneers. The engraving is unusual because while the town name  is elegantly engraved in cursive script, the Ortelli name looks somewhat more crude.  

MACC22 '1806' Sheraton
Courtesy of The Weather Store
MACC22 '1806' Sheraton
Courtesy of The Weather Store
Details of dial
Courtesy of The Weatherstore
Details of dial
Courtesy of The Weatherstore

An extremely handsome Sheraton, 39 ins long, with lovely rope stringing which, for once, seems to have reproduced well in one of the four images above. Original spirit thermometer, replacement tube, crisp paterae. A pretty leaf  engraving sprouts above the thermometer. The central engraving of the dial is unostentatious.  Yet again there is dating:  Ortelli & Co, 1806, Warranted, Macclesfield. Absolutely no doubt about reading 1806 clearly: the engraving is sharp. Currently for sale at The Weather Store, Sandwich, Maine, USA.

Stick barometer signed N. Ortelly & Co. Macclesfield, broken pediment, glazed door, brass vernier, exposed tube. Quartered veneer inlaid surround. Although I was wary of listing this as it was auctioned as far back as  19 October 1994 by Boardman Fine Art, it doesn't appear to duplicate anything - the other N, Ortelli stick has an inlaid cistern cover.

Another barometer auction in 1994, by Sheffield Auction Gallery, but not corresponding to anything obvious already uploaded.  It is a mahogany Sheraton with harewood ground shell and floral paterae, and it is sighed P Ortelli & Co Macclesfield 1805 Warranted. I am writing to ask if they have the image or the catalogue which seems to have contained an image of the instrument.

THE  1805/1806 QUESTION

       What is exceptional about this group of barometers is that eight of them are engraved with a date, and that date is, in six cases, 1805 and in two cases, 1806.   In the next section you will find  another  Ortelli with a date, but that is 1817 and it's signed Ortelli Buckingham. It is, as Oxleys noted above, very rare to find any barometer with an actual date; most have to be dated by reconciling the style with the records that prove or suggest when the maker was working at a particular address.  And that is not an exact science for even the experts. To find so many dated barometers, all signed Macclesfield and all by one family of makers is amazing. But not everyone is convinced that 1805 or 1806  refers to the date when the instruments were made, and I have to share those doubts.

Why would a maker engrave eight barometers with any date that was not the date of making? Logically, the barometers were engraved at the time they were made, perhaps even before they were sent or taken to Macclesfield. So they should all date from 1805 or 1806.  Once sold, they would have gone to separate homes and never come together again.  That rules out a later conspiracy to forge the date.

If  dating a barometer by a maker is so unusual, why date this particular batch, and why 1805 or 1806?
It could be that 1805 was the first year in which the Ortellis made/sold barometers under their own name in Macclesfield (or anywhere else, for that matter) and they wanted to mark it by dating the first batch 1805.  Moreover, 1805 was a very significant year: Battle of Trafalgar and death of Nelson. That had a huge effect on people, not unlike that caused by the death of Princess Diana almost 200 years later, and Nelson didn't have anything like the same media to whip up hysteria.  If the barometers were all made late in the year, engraving 1805 would be a little way of marking this great event. Owners could say "I bought it in the year of Trafalgar". End of story, surely?  

If only...

Apart from the fact that 1806 doesn't have the quite the same resonance as 1805, the doubts initially hinged primarily on the inclusion of the dated Sheratons illustrated above - Nos. MACC 7, 11, 16 18 and 22. 1805/6 falls into a period of experimentation in the design of wheel barometers - not in the inner workings but the in shape and decoration of the cases. The typical Sheraton  shell barometer became popular from 1810 and dominated from 1815 into the 1820s.  You might  argue about  two of them, but not all.  MACC7 and MACC22, for example, are very much from the very early 1820s  with their longer shoulder (the part of the case between the bottom of the pediment and the start of the slender neck)  where, in the Sheraton, the upper  flower inlay was positioned.  It's noticeable that the length of shoulder increases during the first three decades of the 19th century; the early ones have very little shoulder and  it often flares harmoniously into the pediment.  The bezels of early 19th century barometers go much closer to the edge of the case than they do even just a decade later. If 1805/6 really  is the date is the date of making of all six, it completely overthrows the accepted wisdom regarding the dating of Sheraton shell barometers. But if you accept that argument, you would have a problem with known working dates of other makers. The 1805 date of the cistern-tube stick barometers, many of them very standardised instruments, has also been questioned stylistically and could be brought forward towards 1815. 

So, if not the date of manufacture, what could 1805 mean? Could it refer
  the Ortellis themselves, giving a slightly later message to potential clients that "we, the Ortellis, have been in business making/supplying good barometers since 1805 (or 6!)  and we are not one of those new arrivals who want to sell you inferior instruments."   (Modern dealers may also state when they were founded, in order to reassure clients  about their expertise and honesty). So why aren’t more extant Ortelli instruments signed with  that date?  Maybe the family was not that organised! Maybe it was the idea of one of the business partners, not of all of them.  Maybe the idea failed. If you, as the customer, have just bought a new barometer, you wanted it to look new, not give the impression it was not  merely old-fashioned but might even be second-hand.   Only now is antiquity a desirable quality and most of us would love to have a date on our barometer!  Especially if the style matched the date!

The easiest solution to the problem is based on a piece of information that you will find on the next page, where you'll read that in 1813 Peter Ortelli sold up his business to move to a 'distant' but unnamed county. So one could  date all the Macclesfield barometers, dated and undated, to around the 1813-1815 period and assume that the 1805/6 dates refer to the establishment of one or more of the Ortellis in the business.
 However, a caveat is thrown up by a couple of the 4-glass instruments (undated).   Because of its likeness to the Lanhydrock House barometer owned by the National Trust,  Macc4 may have to be dated to around 1805. I get very conflicting views on whether a four-glass barometer could be as early as 1805. Banfield has a number of examples of such instruments, all  by quality makers,  which are dated to circa 1805-1807. Some experts put such instruments into the late 1810s-1820s period.

Comments on the dating puzzle on a postcard, please. Or, this being 2014, via the email contact form on my homepage.  They really will be gratefully received and  incorporated.


As we know the barometer making community was based in London, and Banfield recorded Ortellis in London. It was time to see what could be gleaned from the various records there. So click on the link below to the next page:The slightly less elusive Ortellis...                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  


Go to: The slightly less elusive Ortellis of London, Buckingham etc

Go to: the later Ortellis of Reading, Oxford and the London Colony

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