Print (stipple engraving). Engraved by R. Page, London, 1815. Titled ‘BENJ. MARTIN.’. The print is a bust-length portrait of Benjamin Martin, shown against a plain background in a simple oval frame. Facing to the right, he wears a wig, coat, waistcoat and cravat. A small, framed, rectangular vignette below the portrait shows a globe and a telescope, both mounted on tripods. Lettered underneath the composition with title.
Benjamin Martin was a self-taught man who hoped to make books and scientific instruments accessible for people with modest incomes. He taught natural philosophy and made instruments in Sussex and the West Country before establishing a shop on Fleet Street, London in 1756. Many of Martin’s instruments can now be found in the Science Museum Group’s permanent collection. He was also a prolific writer, penning over 80 textbooks, many of which are held by the Science Museum Library and Archives.
A tenacious self-advertiser, Martin became well-known in scientific circles. Although his aggressive marketing techniques drew criticism from competitors, his well-stocked shop attracted many customers. Martin’s signature products were his spectacles. Their thick rims and violet-tinted lenses were initially ridiculed but proved so popular that he adopted them as his trademark. He was also renowned for the quality and affordability of his microscopes.
Martin ran his business with assistance from his wife and daughter, but passed it to his son when he reached his seventies. Joshua Lover Martin lacked his father’s business sense and the firm was declared bankrupt in 1782. Benjamin, devastated, committed suicide that year.
This portrait of Benjamin Martin was published as a colour print in the ‘Encyclopaedia Londinensis; Or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature’, vol. XIV (London, 1816), between pp. 438-439, alongside a short biography and a list of his key publications. This multi-volume series can be found in the Science Museum Library and Archives (call number 03 WILKES).