A few years ago, just
on a sudden whim, I bought a large, burr walnut, mercury barometer at a local auction. The
name engraved on the dial, A. Casartelli, rang a loud bell, that turned out to be a bicycle bell because Casartelli
was the surname of a young Italian cyclist, killed in a crash during the Tour de France some years ago. Fabio Casartelli
came from the area around Lake Como in Lombardy - as did Anthony Casartelli, whose company made my barometer in Liverpool in
the 1870s or thereabouts.
This research was prompted by my purchase of my second barometer,
signed Ortelli & Co, Macclesfield, because there was no information on Ortellis to be found beyond a listing and
the information on the barometers that carried their name. In putting it on the internet as work in progress, I felt
I ought to explain the background to the Italian emigration of the late 18th-early 19th century.
set out to add something to the research already available, such as extracts from some contemporary printed sources, together
with information on the Ortellis and a catalogue of extant Ortelli barometers. The project, however, has inevitably become
an obsession, particularly where the lives of the Ortellis are concerned. I have therefore taken it beyond the period in which
the English Ortellis were involved with barometers (the first half of the 19th Century), and in so doing I found myself
on a journey through the highs and lows of the Italian colony in London during the 19th Century.
The piece begins
on the next page with some historical background and a simple introduction to the mercury barometer for those who are as ignorant
as I was when I bought that Casartelli. It's followed by a long page on the emigration from the Lake Como area to
Britain of the barometer makers and sellers. Then come three pages on the Ortelllis and the instruments they signed. The final
page of the article deals with useful websites, a list of restorers and dealers and ends with some advice on buying a
barometer and, if necessary, having it professionally restored.
want to thank all the owners, dealers, auction houses and others who replied to my requests for images, even if they
no longer had them. All but one of these respondents offered what image(s) they had without asking a fee, and all images are
duly and gratefully credited. Thanks also go to everyone I’ve spoken with, especially the respected dealers/restorers
Andrew Foott, Chris Oxley, Alan Walker.
When it comes to the historical help, I must mention the Anglo Italian
History Society, and a wonderful clutch of people from further afield: Fiona, from my LR days, who turned up the
will of Peter Ortelli's father in law; Franco Selvo who initially looked at the online Italian records and gave me
the confidence to try them for myself - once you understand the format and calligraphy they are brilliant as far as they go.
From Switzerland, via the magic of the Internet, Anselmo Pedrone keeps me well informed about Ortelli barometers for
sale on the continent while doing his own research into the barometers made in England by his ancestors. More recently,
Angelina Borelli, descendent of another barometer-making dynasty, who lives above Lake Como, has been generously
looking at the original parish records, and I had the great pleasure of meeting her this summer. A chance meeting in the
cemetary at Rovenna produced unbexpected results, and I now must now add Giuseppe Salvioni and Don Giuseppe the
It may be that if enough people - English and Italian - research their barometer-making
ancestors we will, between us, be able to build up a fascinating and integrated history of one important group
of Lake Como emigrants.