SNOW CRYSTALS
INTRODUCTION

At the same time as making her photogenic drawings of ferns, Cecilia Glaisher was working with her husband, James Glaisher, superintendent of the Meteorological and Magnetic Department at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, on a study of snow crystals.

Their observations, made through lenses of different power, resulted in an important scientific paper, 'On the Severe Weather at the beginning of the year 1855; and on Snow and Snow-crystals'. It was read by James Glaisher at the Fifth Annual General Meeting of the British Meteorological Society on May 22nd, 1855, and was subsequently published by the Society in their 5th Annual Report.

The paper was illustrated by 151 reproductions of precise schematic drawings of snow crystal forms which, Glaisher wrote, 'were executed by Mrs Glaisher from rough sketches of my own.' 1 These illustrations have been described as 'the most accurate observations published before the development of photomicrography.' 2

Falling snow usually consists of snow crystals clumped together into flakes. Although individual crystals may fall at the same time as snowflakes, they can also fall on their own, as a rain of very fine crystals.

While their work began as observations for scientific purposes, the underlying geometric structure the Glaishers saw in snow crystals led to a second paper, 'On the Crystals of Snow as Applied to the Purposes of Design', published in The Art Journal in March and April 1857. This paper was reprinted fifteen years later as one of four essays in Art-Studies From Nature, As Applied to Design: for the use of Architects, Designers, and Manufacturers (1872).

The Museum's holding consists of preparatory material for these papers, and includes early annotated sketches, schematic drawings, photographic copies, printed-paper proofs, and coloured artwork for designs.


1. 'On the Severe Weather at the beginning of the year 1855; and on Snow and Snow-crystals' by James Glaisher in British Meteorological Society 5th Annual Report (British Meteorological Society, 1855, p. 17).

2. 'For instance, the sketches by Doi are very nearly equal in quality to the illustrations of snow crystals by the English meteorologist James Glaisher, published in 1855 (in other words 23 years later than the Sekka Zusetsu), which are considered to be the most accurate observations published before the development of photomicrography.' Snow Crystals, Natural and Artificial by Ukichiro Nakaya (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1954, pp 2-3).


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The Fitzwilliam Museum : Snow

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