Wilson and Steward’s Sight Elevator

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Written by: David Minshall

The gauge pictured below carries the mark “Wilson and Steward’s” and a London address for J.H. Steward. When seen, the intriguing questions were what was it for and how was it used?

Wilson and Steward's Sight Elevator
Wilson and Steward's Sight Elevator

Some brief examination of J.H. Steward lead to the solution.

Established in London in 1852, Steward’s were opticians and scientific instrument makers. The family business had a long history, surviving into the 1970s, but given that J.H. Steward became J.H. Steward Limited in 1913 it was assumed that the gauge pre-dated 1913.

From the early days of the Volunteer Movement and the subsequent formation of the National Rifle Association (1859), Steward saw opportunity to market his instruments, and telescopes were of particular relevance to the rifleman. By way of example, the following letter appeared in the Morning Post on 4 March 1863:


Sir, – In your report of the result of the trial of small-bores at Woolwich in your impression of Friday last you state that the council of the Rifle Association have accepted my offer to give three of my “Lord Bury telescopes” as prizes to be shot for at the next Wimbledon meeting which is not quite correct. What I have done is, given them three telescopes of the value of 25 guineas, and offered to lend them 40 of my best telescopes for the use of the competitors at the next Wimbledon contest, which offer they have done me the honour to accept. By the insertion of this you will much oblige your obedient servant, J. H. STEWARD. 406, Strand, March 3.

J.H. Steward tent

In 1862 at a Gloucester Rifle Association meeting an “improved rifle telescope handsomely mounted in German silver, with a tripod stand to match, value five guineas” made by Steward was offered as a prize. The Bristol Mercury reported that Steward had a tent with a large collection of telescopic glasses of every description at a rifle competition in Bristol in 1863. By the mid-1860s Steward was advertising himself as “Optician to the National Rifle Association.” His instruments were also used to record weather conditions during the NRA’s Annual Rifle Meeting on Wimbledon common. The accompanying picture of a Steward tent at Bisley, Surrey, demonstrates the longevity of their association with rifle shooting – the NRA did not move their rifle meeting from Wimbledon Common to their new home at Bisley until 1890.

Given that Steward’s had a long standing relationship with the National Rifle Association (NRA) the gauge was thought to be associated with rifle shooting. It is marked “Prov. Patent”, but without date or number. However, based on the background above and research of patent information under Class 119, Small-Arms, the puzzle has been solved.

The abridgement of Patent 7638, dated 16 April 1895, identifies the function and use of the gauge as an elevator for a rifle back sight.

Patent 7638, dated 16 April 1895