true bubbles [= "sprit bubble"]

victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Sep 4 22:42:16 UTC 2011

A popular kitsch item from the 1990s was the Galileo Thermometer. One can be
seen on the corresponding Wiki page. It consists of a sealed tube with
liquid and a bunch of glass "bubbles", each tagged for a particular
temperature. The bubbles are graduated to match the density (specific
gravity) of the liquid at particular temperatures. When the temperature
exceeds that point, the bubble rises to the top.

Specific density of water/alcohol mixtures can be measured in the same way,
provided the temperature is constant. This may well be the principle behind
the bubble hydrometer. Wiki article on hydrometer also lists alcoholometer.
These, however, rely on a very different model--the specific gravity of the
liquid changes as contained sugars ferment and release alcohol. Such a
device could not be used to measure alcohol content at a single point--it
can be fooled by additives, such as sugar. Rather than having a single
measuring instrument with a series of marks, it is possible that "bubbles"
might have been used at some point--you throw all the bubbles into the
container with the liquid and the number of them remaining afloat tells you
the concentration of alcohol in the liquid (rum, in this case). Either way,
the principle is essentially the same.


On Sun, Sep 4, 2011 at 5:22 PM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:

> At 9/4/2011 04:37 PM, George Thompson wrote:
> >  ... a word not in the OED,
> >
> >             JOSEPH ROSE, Living a few Doors East of Peck's Slip, in Water
> >Street, No. 1046, HAS just imported . . . Tea Cups and Saucers, Bowls,
> >Plates & Dishes, And Articles of Queen's Ware, With a large and neat
> >Assortment of CHIMNEY TILES, Also a few Setts of true BUBBLES for proving
> >the strength of Rum, and what it will bear.
> >
> >             Royal Gazette, September 6, 1780, p. 2, col. ?
> >
> >The OED has nothing under "bubble" that satisfies this.
> Trying mightily to recollect my college physics and chemistry ... is
> there not a device that will determine specific gravity (aka
> density), which might equate to the strength of an alcoholic liquid?
> ... The hydrometer.  Wikipedia: "The common type consists of a
> graduated stem having a hollow bulb and a weight at its lower end, so
> as to float with the stem upright in a liquid, the specific gravity
> of which is indicated by the depth to which the stem is
> immersed."  Arising as one would expect from Boyle.
> For its relevance to brews, see
> Going a little further, "spirit bubble".  See OED, s.v. spirit,
> earliest quote for the phrase 1862.
> Googling for "bubble" in a description of the "hydrometer" before
> 1799 turns up several which do refer to a "bubble". E.g., A plan of a
> course of lectures on the principles of natural philosophy: By Samuel
> Vince (1793):
> "The hydrometer is an instrument for finding the specific gravities
> of fluids, and is constructed upon the principle ... It is usually a
> brass stem with a bubble at the bottom into which something heavy is
> put to make it sink and keep the stem, which ios graduated, upright,
> in order to show how much it sinks in different fluids".
> These make me think "bubble" was what we would now call a "bulb".
> Nice antedating!
> Joel
> >It has:
> >
> >bubble-trier n. an instrument used for testing the accuracy of the tubes
> of
> >spirit-levels.
> >
> >a1877    E. H. Knight Pract. Dict. Mech.,   Bubble-trier, an instrument
> for
> >testing the delicacy and accuracy of the tubes for holding the spirit in
> >leveling-instruments.
> >
> >1890    W. F. Stanley Surveying Instruments 88   The Bubble Trier is a bar
> >or bed 12 to 20 inches long, with two extended feet ending in points at
> one
> >end, and a micrometer screw, the point of which forms a resting foot, at
> the
> >other end, thereby forming a tripod.
> >
> >bubble-tube n. the glass tube of a spirit-level containing spirit and
> >enclosing an air-bubble.
> >
> >1888    Lockwood's Dict. Mech. Engin.,   Bubble Tube, or Spirit Glass, the
> >tube of a spirit-level which contains the enclosed spirit.
> >
> >1890    W. F. Stanley Surveying Instruments 86   Level Tubes, or Bubble
> >Tubes as they are technically termed, are used in nearly all important
> >surveying instruments.

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