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Exceptionally Rare & Historically Important Micrometer by PALMER


Oct 25, 2002
Kansas City, Mo.
I think the best way to start this post off is with a little story... about a month ago someone was in my house and saw my micrometer collection and asked what it was... I proceeded to tell them it was a collection of antique micrometers that contained about every important patent except for the first one... the PALMER!.... I don't have to say that anymore.

For those that don't know, the micrometer as we know it today was invented by Jean Laurent PALMER of Paris in 1848. He was given or shall we say bought a patent no. 7518 on Sept. 7 1848 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Trade. The original idea was use this tool to measure a stack of thin pieces of metal to determine the count.

I have seen no reference to this tool until Messrs. Brown and Sharpe attended the Paris Exposition in Aug. of 1867.... they were trying solve a problem of finding a accurate way to measure the gauge of sheet brass for a customer. This proved the answer and B & S brought out their Pocket Sheet Metal Gauge (the tiny micrometers we see from time to time) based on Palmer's design.... 10 years later they bumped it up to 1" and the development of the micrometer took off like a wild fire.

Back to the originals by PALMER himself....... these are rather rare...... actually rarer than I first thought.... as a matter of fact the example at the Science Museum in London is a replica..... I have only been able to confirm (as in I seen or have photos of them) 3 known examples .... there are few more unconfirmed examples which I'm chasing and I am sure there a bunch out there just never identified so check what is lurking in your junk box. Now for the fun part.... you have to understand that to this day in France ALL micrometers are called Palmer's....... I will define the early ones as being stamped by PALMER and having these other stamps "Brevete, S. Gar. du Gouvt"........ by the way this means Patented, without guarantee of the Government........ which is a quirk of the French patent law of 1844 which basically said we trust the patentee and are not even going to bother looking at the invention to see if it works.

Now when one gets something like this how do you start to date it and see if it is real....... well you go to a example that has provenance... in this case the one owed by the Smithsonian, item 313,691.... this gift was offered to the museum in 1951 by a Mr. Bisson.... it was brought to the USA in 1857 by his Grandfather. One thing to take note of is the way it is stamped.... there is a chip in the letter "A" of Palmer and the "V" in Brevete... my example has those same features, it also appears from what we can see in the old poorly reproduced photos the B & S on brought back in 1867 also has these faults, hence they came off the same bench. Now the most obvious thing is the shape of the frame, the Smithsonian one, mine and one in a private collection all have a rounded frame, I believe this to be the earliest style.... while the drawing on the patent shows a squared frame as is the B & S example. It would have most likely been the newest model at the exposition in 1867 from which B & S brought theirs back from. You don't take your old stuff to a trade show.

Now think how many micrometers have been made in the world.... I would think a million or more.... and this is one of the FIRST!




Here is the example in the Smithsonian........


And from Brown & Sharpe's booklet "The Micrometer Story 1867 - 1902"

This example may be preserved in RI..... I am waiting to confirm that.....

Thanks for the history lesson Rivett608. I think it is cool that stuff like this, which about 99.99999% of the population (including most machinists) would consider old scrape iron, can still find it's way into the hands of someone who can recognise it's true historical value, and put it into a collection which shows its importance.

Have you made long term plans for your collection?
For those that don't know, the micrometer as we know it today was invented by Jean Laurent PALMER of Paris in 1848. He was given or shall we say bought a patent no. 7518 on Sept. 7 1848 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Trade. The original idea was use this tool to measure a stack of thin pieces of metal to determine the count.

It struck me that this date is actually quite late in the history of measuring instruments; I wonder why is took so long to 'invent' such a simple device and wonder how many other other devices there are, pre-dating the patent, that use the same basic mechanism?


Great find, an important find, and a super descriptive post! And, by my recollection it has taken you over 30 years to track down what is truly the Holy Grail of us collectors of antique machinist measuring tools.

Of course I am jealous. But, that Palmer couldn't have attached itself to a better collector and steward than you! And, I don't think either I or any of the rest of our competitive, collector crazy community would have "found" it.

I often tease you about your 'idiot savant' capability to recall parts and patterns. But, it is really a genius capability - which I think won you some money in your teens and 20's after a couple of beers identifying any Camaro part (and all the places it was used on a Camaro) which someone showed you! Based on the description (really lack of any detail and only one side showing) from where you bought the Palmer, I don't think any of the rest of us would have touched that 'seemingly crude old junk mic'.

Since I don't know anyone else with your instant part and pattern recognition, I bet because of your post here, all those crappy mics with the word "Palmer" on them will now fetch large sums. Remember the brass version we saw at Renninger's in Adamstown in the early 1980's (for $76, I think). I bet it would now fetch $300! And, it is not worth $25!

However, you have left us with some other mysteries, like the difference in shape of the B&S image and the known examples. For example, is the difference really Type-1 versus Type-2 or is there a modification to the B&S example. Like, was the rounded area filed to square below the word Palmer. We won't know for sure until we find another square example or two. And patent drawings are notoriously inaccurate depictions of the actual item.

It will be interesting to see if Rick in RI posts about what (if any) Palmer may be in the Rhode Island museum...........

What are the thread pitch and thimble divisions on the original Palmer? What is the maximum opening? I wonder if it simply counts the number of sheets of metal of a fixed thickness, is a common metric measuring device, or is calibrated in lignes.

This information is needed in order to make a 1/12 model. Or have you done that already?


Larry asked some good questions. But, adding to his questions, sort of based on what we talked about, I think you should add to this thread more about Systeme Palmer leading to today's micrometer, such as why it did not meet the immediate needs of the Brass manufacturers, what Brown & Sharpe saw in the Palmer that they had been looking for and what modification to the concept they made to make the sheet metal mic and later the #1 mic.

If I remember correctly, there are a couple of different ways to make the moveable thimble mark against the stationary frame part. Until Palmer it was, how shall I describe, "opposite?" These types of measuring devices had been around for 50 years or so before Palmer. In typical "reinvent the wheel" B&S experimented with that "other" pattern first and found it not to their liking. On seeing the Palmer setup, they had the "AHA" moment and took it back with them.

One of the concepts they try to teach you in engineering school is to "examine the possibilities." "Inversion" is one of these possibilities and what makes the Palmer systeme work better than its predecessor.

I had one of these AHA moments while working with my son on a Senior High School Physics project of a mousetrap powered car. We had tried the four wheels powered by the string pulled by the mousetrap loop and found the losses to be extremely high. I did a little off the cuff energy study and found only about 60 percent of the energy of the trap was actually making it into the wheel/motion. How to improve this was the question.

I first imagined doing away with the string and wheels and instead made the trap loop connect directly to the wheels. The active arc of the mousetrap wasn't enough to get the necessary distance with the wheel so I said "what if we made the wheels bigger." Bigger wheels, to the tune of 2' in diameter worked well, but there was still the problem of the two extra wheels out front which were a loss. "Well, eliminate them" my son said. And it was done. Except, how to keep the mousetrap from flipping over since there was no longer outboard guidance from the extra wheels. Gravity can serve the same function so we weighted the mousetrap so one side HAD to remain up. This was the key. By now the "car" had morphed into two large diameter wheels with a small rather heavily weighted mousetrap between them - but it worked.

And got my son an A+ in Physics - and the only "car" in the class that would meet the criteria set by the teacher.

Yup. Proud Dad. Although I think he learned more on that project than he had bargained for - such is life. But so did Dad. Son is now endearing himself to the Profs at RIT. (Or visa versa.)

Thank you for all your interest....... sometimes posters wonder why they take the time to post something when there are few comments. I like to share, educate and learn. I try to do a lot more than just buy cool stuff and put it in a drawer..... I try to make it "talk" to me and tell me about itself. So please add any of you're thoughts....

When we start to look at these a lot more questions come up. One that a friend named Hunter has been working on is how were these made. We have spent hours on the phone talking about it. Also I want to add a plug for a up coming project he has been working on for years that when published will be of interest to all that are reading this post and many more. Anyway back to how these are made...... one feature they have as do the two Elliot Bros. mics in the other post and most 19th century European mics is from the end they are "key-hole" shaped. Any theories as to how they made these? I believe they were pretty much bench made..... basically a guy with a saw and file slaving away at his bench.

Larry I think this is metric but have to check.... wish I had a metric set of gauge blocks......

Bill TODD, William Gascoigne (1612 – 2 July 1644) was an English astronomer, mathematician and maker of scientific instruments from Middleton near Leeds who invented the micrometer.


The question you asked is why did it take so long????? I think this is a age old question, in this case even more so. Why did it take B & S 10 years from 1867 to 1877 to bump it up to 1" ? ,which as we know today is a million times more useful. In this case it was in the hands of both a knowledgeable maker and users.... surely somebody should have thought of that? What I want to find now is something about this in French between 1848 and 1867..... The list of similar things goes on.... Maudslay is credited with the invention of the slide rest on the lathe in 1800 yet Peter the Great had them on his lathes and he died in 1725?

Again thanks for you're interest in things I loose sleep over.....
Well, the simplest answer is that hindsight is 20-20. Like most answers, it's an oversimplification.

I think we some times forget about the differences between what was possible at a certain time and what was common practice. Means of communication were much slower and less reliable. New ideas did not propagate as quickly and were frequently hidden as trade secrets, rather than being displayed as patents. (A patent protects your product, but it reveals the principles of operation. If you have a revolutionary idea that can be applied to multiple products, you may feel more secure keeping it secret.)

When Peter the Great took the throne in Russia it was a place as far away and exotic as the orient. One of the things that earned his title was establishing trade and communications with the rest of Europe. We credit Maudlay with the cross-slide because our cross-slides are direct linear descendants of Maudslay's. There seem to be competing British and Continental claims for almost every invention or discovery. (The Americans tend to enter the fray on the British side, if anyone is keeping score. ;) )

Do not underestimate the human resistance to change. We like to individually think of ourselves as open minded, but the principles of bureaucracy apply to even very small groups of people.

It is actually a huge jump to go from a sheet metal gage to an all-purpose measuring device. It is another jump to go from the one size offered in the B&S catalog to a bigger size. However, once you open up the multiple size box it is only a small step to realize that a micrometer can be mounted in other configurations and create depth and inside mics.

Sounds to me like the questions that keep you up at night are the sociological ones.
I think part of the reason is that dimensioned drawings were not the modus operendi of machine shops was the type of machines being built. Machine shops grew out of woodworking shops - which is one of the reasons for Ed Battison's interest in the Harwinton, CT clock shop which he was instrumental to save and bring to the Smithsonian. That shop respresented that "transition" in manufacture, having first made clocks using wooden gears and later making the transition to brass clocks.

But the way they did it differed from today and was more similar to an 18th century mode of creation. Back then, a talented craftsman would make a singular thing using the tools he had at hand. Then using a pair of calipers and the original as his model, he would make "copies" ad infinitum - or at least until the next improvement, or the market demand for the current design ran out. This use of "prototypes" and "copies" is what kept micrometer and precision out of general use - at least until the rise of more complicated machines such as sewing machines and guns, where greater interchangeability was demanded.

Today, of course, products are "engineered" from the get go: in the case of mechanical component, a drawing is prepared of the assembly and then used to create more drawings of the dimensioned parts. The whole assembly is done is someone's mind long before steel is ordered, or a tool goes to part. Thus the need for greater precision than was capable using calipers and rules. The greater precision also brought about the possiblity of "interchangeability" although this is more a side benefit.

In the case of guns interchangeability was for service possibly on the battlefield, but at least for after battle repairs and conservation of national resources. Arms were long lived in that era, cost a lot, and it was not unusual for certain arms, like the Brown Bess, to last for 100 years or more. And since for most countries and states, they had a virtually infinite source of money (taxpayers) they could afford the extra investment to create interchangeability.

In the case of sewing machines and typewriters it was more a matter of service and repair. And only the market demand and production volume justified creating these products with interchangeability.

Of course with interchangeability comes standardization. And with standardization comes conformity. And with conformity comes declining market interest and sales. Which is why most products today are "consumer products" which are designed to serve a market need, but are not designed to be used beyond a generation - or even less. Today with integrated circuits taking the place of mechanical arrangements, and repairs to integrated electronics virtually impossible for anyone but the most technically capable, its to a producers advantage to engineer in failure points, just to be sure of a continuing market. Hence the rise of the $7 telephone at the Drug Store nearest you. (Compare a $7 phone from Walmart to the 1950s Western Electric Black Bakelite office standard and you have it in a nutshell.)

I am convinced that the 'boom boxes' available today use a laser to read the disk that "ages" in time. Every $100 boom-box on the shelf will be in the dump within 5 years simply because they're engineered with a life to that critical laser LED. Meanwhile, back in the day, my wife and I bought a "high end" CD player of Yamaha brand. Probably cost over a grand then for the entire system. That system is still plugging along today and gives fine sound and service. We've had it "aligned" but once. But those plastic pushbuttons on the dial front seem to be the "weak point." But I don't think those were an engineered failure point.

Have you made long term plans for your collection?


I think this is a question that I hope you have addressed. While the details of such a plan have no need to be disclosed in public here on PM. I would urge you to put a plan in place if one is not.

The stuff in my collection can be found at just about any machinist swap meet. You, AntiqueMac, and a few others have shown some historic instruments that need to be in a place to live for eternity. As you and we will not, unfortunately... :(

oh....and BTW keep on showing us stuff like this. Thanks! ;)
This just came to me in a email....... I think it is wonderful that there a few folks out there with a interest in this stuff and Thank them so MUCH!!! It would so great to put what we all know in one place..... I guess the PM is about as close as that gets for now.....

When Joseph R. Brown and Lucian Sharpe
returned home from the Paris Exposition of 1867, they brought with them at least one example of the Palmer micrometer. The evidence for this is an April 7, 1931 letter written by Luther D. Burlingame, company historian, that talks about the “Systeme Palmer” micrometer and says that “the ones we have in our possession were purchased in 1867 at the Paris Exposition.” Luther Burlingame worked at Brown & Sharpe from 1884 to 1932. He started as a draftsman, worked his way up to Industrial Superintendent, was the company’s patent specialist, and for many of these years served as the company’s official historian. In 1932, he completed a 92 page unpublished history of the Brown & Sharpe company. A careful researcher, his observations should be given great credibility. Burlingame, in the April 7, 1931 letter, says “the ones we have in our possession,” indicating more than one Palmer micrometer was brought back in 1867. In my research in the company archives (now at the Rhode Island Historical Society), I found two photos that show a Palmer micrometer. The first is a photo that dates to c1930 and shows many historically important micrometers, including the Palmer micrometer brought back in 1867. The second photo is much earlier, c1900, and shows the same micrometer, but here the image is larger and clearer. The image in the Brown & Sharpe booklet, “The Micrometer Story 1867-1902,” is taken from this second
photo. The two images are identical.
The historically important small precision tools at Brown & Sharpe were kept in what was called the company’s museum, basically just a room in the factory. The Palmer micrometer would have been kept in this room. Regrettably, at some point the company’s example disappeared. A May 28, 1964 letter by Marshall W. Allen of the Brown & Sharpe Patent Office states that the company at one time had an original Palmer micrometer, “but more recently it has been lost.” In 2005-6, when I was given the opportunity to survey the historically
important precision tools that survive today, I did not find a Palmer micrometer.
I should add that I found an internal company note dated Jan. 25, 1934 that says that “two models of the ‘System Palmer’ micrometer
were made, one for the Kensington Museum in London, England and one for the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois.”

And here are some more photos of it...... how, as in step by step would you think they might have made these? Forged, machined, filed, cast?


Who is Jean Laurent PALMER and what did he do????? and why did he invent the micrometer? So far nothing is in print in the English language that I know of (and I have been looking) about Palmer. In talking to a friend who called while I was vacuuming my book shelve we discussed this and other things about this micrometer for 1 1/2 hours..... in the process I said I have a bunch of books on French trades in the 18th century.... maybe I should take a look? So I put on some Edith Piaf, poured a single malt (I know it should have been cognac) and started my search.....
In “Dictionnaire des Fabricants Francais d’Instruments de Mesure du XV au XIX siècle” by Franck MARCELIN, this is a privately published list of makers, I never thought to look for Palmer here because I never thought of it.... this was with my books on drafting instruments, another of my collecting interests. Here is what it had in! This is more than I think has been known about Palmer in a 100 years!

Palmer De 1837 à 1854
Gendre et successeur de LAC, Fabricant d’ Instruments de Mesure Linéaire.
Paris, 26 rue des Gravilliers de 1837 à 1841
Paris, 16 rue de Montmorency 1842 à 1849.
Palmer & Cie même adresse de 1850 à 1853
Paris, 64 rue Amelot en 1854
Cité dans les annuaires

The translation according to Babelfish
Micrometer caliper From 1837 to 1854 Son-in-law and successor of LAKE, Linear Manufacturer of Measuring instruments. Paris, 26 rue des Gravilliers de 1837 to 1841 Paris, 16 rue de Montmorency 1842 to 1849. Micrometer caliper & Co even addresses of 1850 to 1853 Paris, 64 rue Amelot in 1854 Cité in the directories

Now the first kind of funny part we see is the name Palmer translates to the word micrometer, A friend had been searching French Ebay for Palmer Micrometré, I told him that is the wrong search.... no one would list something as “micrometer micrometer”. The next piece of information is he was the SON IN LAW of the instrument maker LAC and TOOK OVER his business! Then we see the different addresses they were working out of... next I will dig into those. He changed the name to Palmer & Co. in 1850. What we don’t know is what happened after 1854, did he die, I don’t so, somebody was at the Exposition in 1867. Did he move out of Paris? Did he stop paying for a listing in the directory or did they stop publishing this directory? Every time you answer one question you create a few more.

Now here is what it says about his father in law.

LAC De 1823 à 1836
Fabricant d’Instruments de Mesure Linéaire.
Masion reprise par Palmer
Paris, Passage de Rome de 1823 à 1834
Paris, 63 rue de Beaubourg de 1835 à 1836

Not much here other than the business started in 1823, here is the translation.

LAKE From 1823 to 1836 Linear manufacturer of Measuring instruments. Masion taken again by Micrometer caliper Paris, Passage of Rome of 1823 to 1834 Paris, 63 rue de Beaubourg de 1835 to 1836

So just using guesses as to apprenticeship this might have Palmer being born about 1810-1815? and he would have in his late 30’s when he invented the micrometer and in his 50’s when he met Messers. Brown & Sharpe. More to come....... and that $100 for a obscure book of makers was sure worth it!!!!! Thank You Franck MARCELIN

I just checked all these address on the map...... most still exists however it looks as if the buildings are from the later 19th century... but it is hard to tell...... I guess I better go and check in person. 3 of the addresses are just a few blocks from the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, one of the best technical museums in the world.... how fitting however I have told of the possibility that this major museum does not have a Palmer Mic in it's collection.... can you imagine that.... something this important made just blocks away and you don't have one......... another thing is just a few blocks away is an area with wonderful shops.... I was in a metal supplied years ago that was pretty much unchanged (they since messed it up by remodeling) for at least a hundred years.... they sold old stock of Peter Stubs steel (drill rod to us) and had 6 different alloys of nickel silver up to about 3" bar stock...... I spent a fortune and boy was my suitcase heavy!

So after this night we know a little about Palmer and where he worked! Can you imagine the talk at the cafes in the neighborhood at that period?????
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Google Mistranslations...confusion.

Obviously relying on "Google" or other "Babelfish" type translators gives rise to many inaccuracies and even non-sensical interpretations, especially in dealing with specialised technical translations in all areas...you should see some of the translations of European names for some gun parts....

The Word "LAC" (in Capitals) is an Abbreviation or Acronym; In this situation, it does Not mean "Lake (body of water)" but probably "L...A... et companie".

If the word had been spelled normally, ( ie, Lac or lac) it would have translated correctly as "lake".

Also, the descriptor of the Company "Fabricant de Instruments de Mesuration Lineare" translates as " Maker of linear measuring instruments" which means a whole lot more than just "micrometers," but a whole line of length measuring instruments, such as rulers, dividers, calipers, sliding depth gauges, etc.and so on.

Now the name "Palmer", which is an English derived word; coming from both medieval English and probably also Norman French..."one who palms" ( collects money etc). " it can also mean one who uses his Palms for some working process, such as working hides or cloth, etc. The exact etymology is unclear.
English-based names are not uncommon in France, due to the interchange during the 1600s and 1700s of both Soldiers and Businessmen...General MacMahon ( late 1800s) was the descendant of a Scottish soldier at the time of the exile of the Stuarts to France ( 1640-1660s); many English entrepreneurs came to France after the Napoleonic wars to set up industries ( France had lagged behind in the Industrial revolution...one of the causes of the 1789 Revolution--unemployment).

Now the term "palmer" meaning "Micrometer"...same as the Term "Le browning" means any small, pocket sized, automatic Pistol in France and belgium, due to the introduction of the M1900 and M1910 FN- Browning (Pocket) autos in .32ACP and later ,.380 ACP cartridges. Read the "Maigret" novels by Georges Simenon.. "le browning" is mentioned regularly; and not only when referring to the FN product.

French, like other languages, has adopted the original term from a product to cover all the similar products in the field..."le hoover" is a generic name for all carpet sweeper and vacuum cleaners in France ( and Italy as well); "hoovering" is British terminolgy for cleaning the house...

Just like "le Coke" means not only "Coca Cola" , but any cola-based drink on the market. ( alternately, "la Coca" indicates cocaine...).

Obviously, the apprentice married the owner's daughter, and took over the firm when the owner died or retired.

There will certainly be more information with regards "Palmer et Cie"..which basically means a "private firm" ( maybe not even incorporated, but a partnership or other business association, as was common in the 1800s...and still today.) One needs to research French Wikipedia, etc as a starting point, then go to the encyclopedias produced at the time of the Exposition of 1867, and so on. Even records of the Chambre de Commerce or the mechanical institutes etc of the times.

Doc AV
AV Ballistics

And learn French, not use Babelfish...
I know the translation is full of errors, I just put it that way because it shows how messed up things can get especially with names. In France a micrometer is simply called a "Palmer", not Systeme Palmer. Even in some catalogs it just says Palmer and the rest of the description such as "Palmer A Tambour à friction au 1/100" (this BTW is the description for a strange looking mic Phil sent me a link too). When going around to flea markets you ask for micrometer you get blank stares, ask for a "Palmer" they know what you want. It is just like the term Hoover, it means vacuum cleaner not a brand over there. I thought it was funny babel-fish picked it up this way.

Here is what is important about this information.... we now know that;

Palmer was in the business of making instruments, so it was not like he was in the sheet metal business and had the idea then farmed out the manufacturing. These more than likely came from his shop.

This also explains why he could see many other uses for the instrument that he describes in his patent. He was in the business of making measuring instruments!

We now have some dates of when he was working so we can guess how old he may have been.

We know how he got into the business and where it started.

and we know where he was working.

As far as I can tell this information has never appeared in English before. Now for the next question, how popular were these micrometers in France? This was invented in 1848, it appears to be produced in some quantities. It was usable enough to go through design changes, if it didn't work why bother. It was still considered important enough to be taken to a International Exposition 19 years after it was introduced. Was Palmer still around then or was it successor? Still more questions.....

All this is fun! and I know I should learn French but my brain is just not wired that way....