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Noted Edison Chief Engineer Charles Lorenzo Clarke Draws and Describes “Prismatic Halo” Vision Problem
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Fascinating small archive from the man who, during his long collaboration with Thomas Edison, drew the now familiar horseshoe filament for the light bulb and became Chief Engineer of Edison Electric Light Co. The topic here is not the lightbulb, but Clarke’s vision problems. The archive’s highlight is a beautiful watercolor illustration of a “prismatic halo.”


Inventory #23325       Price: $2,950

1. CHARLES LORENZO CLARKE. Watercolor. Depiction of the dramatic “prismatic halo,” hand-painted, signed and dated. Ca. August 1923. On cold-pressed watercolor paper.

With CHARLES LORENZO CLARKE. Retained carbon copy of Autograph Letter Signed, to Dr. Myles Standish, President of the American Ophthalmology Society (and a descendant of the Pilgrim captain).  Schenectady, August 3/16, 1923, 9 pp., with 2 pp. addenda, 8 x 10½ in. Re the “Appearance and Other Characteristics of a Prismatic Halo.”

Having worn glasses since age 11, and now 70, he writes: “finally, one night, I became conscious of seeing something that I had never seen before...a halo in rainbow colors...Given a clear light in a clear atmosphere...the halo becomes...brilliant - as real as a bright rainbow, and more vivid by contrast because set in black...My fifty years experience in civil, mechanical and electrical engineering, in field, shop and laboratory, has schooled me to close observation and the correlation of physical phenomena...I have devoted much time in the past ten years to special spectroscopic investigations involving careful discrimination of colors and line structure in spectra. Naturally, the picture is lacking in that lustrous limpidity and mellowness of tone that I actually see...But I assure you that I see all these details...I trust that...what I have said may, in some way, be made of use in your profession for the good of humanity....”

2. CHARLES LORENZO CLARKE. Autograph Manuscript, in pencil, with measurements of his halo, using “stereo field glasses.” 1 p. 7 x 10 ½ in.

3. MYLES STANDISH. Autograph Letter Signed, to Charles Lorenzo Clarke. Boston, Mass., August 12, 1923. 6 pp. 6 x 7 ¼ in.

“Your beautiful drawing of the halo has been received by me, and the no less admirable verbal account of its appearance and characteristics. I am meditating writing an article on the subject of colored haloes...No such accurately observed description exists in ophthalmic literature. It will be a classic...When Coolidge was nominated, Vice Pres. Curtis asked me, ‘What kind of a man is Coolidge?’ I told him his career and related his physical and mental characteristics. When I finished he said, ‘Myles, that man will be President of the United States.’...I judged from published snap-shot photographs that he was suffering from a chronic kidney trouble. Events...have confirmed that snap diagnosis....” With envelope, tipped to album page.

4. CHARLES LORENZO CLARKE. Retained carbon copy of an Autograph Letter Signed, to Dr. Myles Standish. 1928, 1 p.

“I presume you will be traveling northward from Miami with the other migratory birds, as the sun climbs higher...It is now nearly 4-1/2 months since Dr. Ellis performed my cataract operation... I have beautiful normal sight....”

5. DR. EDWARD K. ELLIS. Autograph Letter Signed, to Charles Lorenzo Clarke. Boston, Mass. Apr. 26, 1928, 2 pp. With envelope.

“I was much pleased to find you had benefited by the needling operation...I am mailing...your very interesting observations on the halo. I hope you will not have occasion to observe any more, however. I received a note from Mrs. Standish this morning, saying that Dr. Standish had felt very ill, but is better now....”

6. Lengthy newspaper obituary of Standish, meticulously mounted and signed by Clarke on sheet, with his manuscript tribute below: “Myles was my Bowdoin College classmate and lifelong friend...and always the enlivening spirit of our reunions...He was an outstanding example of able, cultured manhood.”

7. Pamphlet. “Memoir of Myles Standish...” 1928, copperplate portrait frontispiece with tissue guard, 10 pp. Shaken. Notation by Clarke, “In memory of his love for the ‘Class of ‘75.’”

Charles Lorenzo Clarke (1853-1941) was born in Portland, Maine and graduated from Bowdoin College in 1875. Clarke was hired by Edison in 1880 as a mathematical assistant in the Menlo Park “Invention Factory.” He quickly rose to become Chief Engineer of the Edison Electric Light Co. and Edison Electric Illuminating Co. of N.Y. Clarke drew the schematic for the iconic horseshoe filament adopted by Edison for his bulb, and superintended the design and construction of the world’s first electric light station. Clarke resigned in 1884 to promote his own inventions, but rejoined Edison two years later when he established the forerunner of General Electric. He would become the last of the original charter members of the A.I.E.E. A lengthy 1941 obituary (copy accompanies) states that Clarke had “charge of all the mechanical engineering involved in developing the Edison system...Clarke well remembers how Edison...remarked: ‘I think we’re ready, Clarke’....”


All items with varied light to moderate wear. Some separations. With General Electric wrapper, hand lettered by Clarke.

A fascinating assemblage relating to two remarkable Americans, both giants in their fields of science, their intellectual pursuits overlapping in exploring the nature of light.

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