Joseph Priestley House

Northumberland, Pennsylvania

When Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) is remembered today, it’s usually for his 1774 discovery, in England, of oxygen. Few know he was a noted theologian, political progressive, and prolific author whose scientific contributions include the development of the modern timeline, the carbonation process, the identification of carbon monoxide and other gases, early experiments in electricity and an early understanding of the inter-relationship of plants and animals mediated by gases: oxygen and carbon dioxide and the role of sunlight in photosynthesis.

He counted Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Watt among his friends. Yet Priestley was also a controversial figure whose views were so odious to some of his countrymen that his house, Fair Hill in Birmingham, was burned in a riot in 1791, and he and his family fled to London and then left England in 1794. Priestley spent the last ten years of his life in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, where he continued his work in science, religion, and education. But even in this democratic republic his liberal ideas were frequently received with intolerance, and the peace that he so ardently desired was often elusive.

Joseph Priestley House and laboratory is an historic site that preserves and interprets the contributions and significance to American history of Joseph Priestley.  As a National Historic Landmark and National Historic Chemical Landmark, the site features Priestley’s manor house with its laboratory.  In the nearby Pond Building can be found the Joseph Priestley Timeline, a series of panels that present accomplishments during different periods of his life.


Search for the provenance of Priestley statuette

Posted January 14th, 2014

We are searching for the provenance of the plaster statuette of Joseph Priestley in the collection at Priestley House in order to write an informative description for the new display case.  What we learn may be useful to others who also have the statuette in their collection.

We believe statuettes were cast from a mold of the modello used the guide FJ Williamson as he sculpted the marble statue of Priestley erected in Birmingham in August 1874 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the discovery of oxygen. 

The statuette is about 2 feet tall, with PRIESTLEY carved in the base and the artist’s name, studio location and date inscribed in the column: WILLIAMSON, ESHER, 1874.

Inscription on column: WILLIAMSON, ESHER 1874

Base of statuette


Plaster statuette of Joseph Priestley







 So far we have located information about seven statuettes

  • Priestley House – This copy was given by Eagar Fahs Smith to the Priestley Museum in 1926.  Wonder where he got it?
    Chemical Heritage Foundation – This copy came from the Chemist Club in New York, where did they get theirs?
    Dickinson College – The College acquired two copies between 1950 and 1960.  Sources are being researched.
    British Museum, Science Research Department – donor unknown
    Royal Society of Chemistry at Burlington House – donated in 1920
    National Gallery of Victoria, Australia – a statuette is listed in 1880 collections catalogue as presented for the inaugural of the Gallery by Dr. Thomas Aubrey Bowen a great-great grandson of Priestley.  Whereabouts of this statuette currently unknown.

Help us in this search.  Someone somewhere has information on the provenance of the Priestley statuette.

We wish to know the answer to these questions:

Who made the mold and cast the plaster statuettes?
When was this done?
Was the work commissioned, if so, by whom?
How much did one statuette originally cost?
How many plaster statuettes were made?
Where are the statuettes now?
What is the path of the statuette from production to Priestley House?


Membership Dues are Due

Posted January 14th, 2014

Membership dues are due for 2014.  Please return your envelope with your dues.  If you wish to join the Friends of Joseph Priestley House click the link below to download the membership form.

Charter Day and Priestley Birthday Celebrations March 9

Posted January 14th, 2014

Priestley House will open for the 2014 season on Sunday, March 9, 2014  from 1 to 4 pm with clebrations of Commonwealth Charter Day and Priestley’s birthday.    Chemistry demonstrations at 1:30pm and 2:30 pm.  Treats.

Free admission.

Administered by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission
Tom Corbett, Governor
Andrew E. Masich, Chairman • James M. Vaughan, Executive Director
With support from the Friends of Joseph Priestley House