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Merlin, John Joseph

Merlin, John Joseph, London (b. 1735–d.1803). A very versatile ‘ingenious mechanic’, born in Belgium, who came to England in 1760. He specialised as a mathematical instrument maker but also enjoyed a reputation for horology and took out patents for musical instruments and furniture. His life and work are the subject of a major exhibition catalogue [Kenwood, London, 1985] which contains much biographical information and many details of his inventions. He is best remembered by furniture historians for his invalid or ‘gouty’ chair, a version of which was illustrated in Ackermann's Repository of Arts, 1811, pp. 225–26. The Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood owns an example as well as a portrait of Merlin. On 18 September 1788 Merlin wrote to Lord Howard of Audley End, Essex about a mechanical bedstead he had supplied costing £13 4s [Essex RO, D/DBY/A 46/10] On 30 April 1794 he supplied ‘a mechanical Gouty-chair with a foot and leg board complete’ costing £18 to Croome Court and on 13 March 1795 he provided ‘Gouty Chairs’ costing £42 10s 6d to the Duke of Northumberland. [V&A archives]

The original entry from Dictionary of English Furniture Makers, 1660-1840 can be found at British History Online.