Wooden turning key for a stringed instrument, by James Watt, Glasgow, 1758-1769
This item is part of the contents of the workshop that Scottish engineer James Watt developed at his home, Heathfield, at Handsworth, Birmingham. Although Watt is best known for his work on the steam engine, his workshop contains a wide variety of objects from many different projects, from chemistry to sculpture-copying.
The description of the item was written by Edward Collins, the land agent responsible for Heathfield when the workshop was given to the Science Museum in 1924. Collins could not always identify what he was looking at, but always described what he saw clearly. This has allowed his descriptions to form the basis of subsequent research.
This peg would have been used to tune the strings on a small stringed instrument, such as a viola or violin - it is too small to be from a cello. Despite his known aversion to music - he once described it as 'the source of idleness' - Watt sold instruments while trading in Glasgow, and this peg may come from one of the instruments he sold, or have been a spare. It is a possibility that he (or one of his team of workmen) made it, but equally it may have been purchased from a specialist maker in the way that those engaged in making scientific instruments might specialise in particular components rather than complete finished items.