22 January, 2010

Correction: The Vanderzee-Deakin Æther III

Devon Gillroy, Firearms Curator at the Victorian Mechanical Museum has contacted us about our recent post that featured Item 254 (Geoffrey Hawkins cabinet card):

My congratulations on the launch of the online exhibition.  I applaud the efforts of both yourself and my colleague Archer Bowens.  I just wanted to pass on a correction to your post dated 20 January.  You noted that Hawkins was holding a Saunders Æther Pistol. That is in fact not true, but it is a very understandable mistake on your part.  Hawkins himself and a number of his colleagues perpetuated that very misconception whenever possible.

(Curator's note:  Indeed, we identified the firearm based on an inscription Hawkins wrote on the back side of the cabinet card:  Dearest, I stand ready to embark with new coat and "Saunders" latest pistol.  - J.)

Gillroy continues:

Æther-related weapons technology was almost exclusively in the possession of a select few individuals during the Victorian era, Hawkins being among them.  These scientist-inventors manufactured various æther firearms for their own personal uses and pleasures but adamantly refused to share them with the public at large.   Only one gunsmithery attempted to produce an æther firearm for public consumption and that was the London-based Saunders and Sons.  The accidental death of Kenyon Saunders in 1882 abruptly put an end to their efforts.

Although Hawkins and his associates wished to keep æther weaponry a secret, they were often careless in exposing such items in very public arenas.  To deflect the resulting inquiries, they would simply identify the pieces as Saunders models manufactured prior to the tragic 1882 accident.

The pistol Hawkins is holding in the photograph is a Vanderzee-Deakin Æther III or some variation thereof.  As the photograph was taken at the Deakin Brothers studio, it is likely that Timothy Deakin provided the pistol as a prop for the occasion.

Only three of the Vanderzee-Æther III are known to have survived into the 21st century.  Two are in private collections, the third is displayed here at the Victorian Mechanical Museum.  (I have attached a copy of the file photo record should you wish to use it for online display.)

Again, my sincerest congratulations on the the launch of the online exhibition.

4 Observations:

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that your so-called "Vanderzee-Deakin Aether III" bears an almost exact resemblance to a digital rendering model offered for sale at the web site Runtime DNA.

Devon Gillroy said...


You seem to be implying that either Jeffrey or I have used this particular commercial digital model to fabricate the Vanderzee-Deakin Aether III. Although, Jeffrey has elected to generally not acknowledge these types of accusations, I feel compelled to respond as it was I who provided the information and photograph of the Vanderzee-Deakin Aether III.

This particular item was acquired by the Victorian Mechanical Museum in 1964. It was found in a London estate sale by a museum curator who was able to trace its ownership back to relatives of Berkley Vanderzee. Our records indicate that it has been on display at the museum since May of 1967.

Items on display at the Victorian Mechanical Museum have served as inspiration for many creatives endeavors. I personally worked very closely with one of the art directors of the 2004 film "Van Helsing" to provide access to items that were ultimately recreated on screen. Although I am not immediately familiar with anyone associated with Runtime DNA, I am guessing that the designer in question simply created the product based on the VDA-III. As I noted, the VDA-III has been accessible to the public for over four decades. And frankly, designs similar to the VDA-III are rather common throughout the so-called "steampunk" genre.

Anton Pickerwill said...

Although I am loath to be found concurring with an associate of the VMM, I must here state that the firearm presented is not some type of digital fabrication.

But it is most certainly a fabrication on other levels. I have no doubt that the Vanderzee-Deakin Aether III pictured is indeed an antiquity from the late 19th century, but an actual working firearm? Mr. Gillroy fails to mention that in the four decades since acquiring this item, no one at the VMM has ever succeeded in making the damn thing work. Yes, yes, we know that the science of aether mechanics has been tragically lost to the ages and that the dedicated scholars at the VMM have been for the last century tirelessly trying to rediscover its principles and restore its credibility.

It is all part and parcel of the Hawkins pseudo-science mythology that this online exhibition is now sadly endorsing.

The Vanderzee-Deakin Aether III is nothing more than a clever theatre prop.

David H said...

I had not realized that Timothy Deakin had experimented in anything other than optics. One of my grandfather's prize possessions were his Deakin VI night goggles. They were stolen from him while he was stationed in London during World War II.