At the same time as making her photogenic drawings of ferns, Cecilia Glaisher was working with her husband, James Glaisher, superintendent of the Meteorological and Magnetic Department at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, on a study of snow crystals.

Their observations, made through lenses of different power, resulted in an important scientific paper, ‘On the Severe Weather at the beginning of the year 1855; and on Snow and Snow-crystals’. It was read by James Glaisher at the Fifth Annual General Meeting of the British Meteorological Society on May 22nd, 1855, and was subsequently published by the Society in their 5th Annual Report.

The paper was illustrated by 151 reproductions of precise schematic drawings of snow crystal forms which, Glaisher wrote, “were executed by Mrs Glaisher from rough sketches of my own.” 1 These illustrations have been described as “the most accurate observations published before the development of photomicrography.” 2

Falling snow usually consists of snow crystals clumped together into flakes. Although individual crystals may fall at the same time as snowflakes, they can also fall on their own, as a rain of very fine crystals.3

While their work began as observations for scientific purposes, the underlying geometric structure the Glaishers saw in snow crystals led to a second paper: ‘On the Crystals of Snow as Applied to the Purposes of Design’, published in The Art Journal in March and April 1857. This paper was reprinted fifteen years later as one of four essays in Art-Studies From Nature, As Applied to Design: for the use of Architects, Designers, and Manufacturers (1872).

The Museum’s holding consists of preparatory material for these papers, and includes early annotated sketches, schematic drawings, photographic copies, printed-paper proofs, and coloured artwork for designs.


1. ‘On the Severe Weather at the beginning of the year 1855; and on Snow and Snow-crystals’ by James Glaisher in British Meteorological Society 5th Annual Report (British Meteorological Society, 1855, p. 17)

2. For instance, the sketches by Doi are very nearly equal in quality to the illustrations of snow crystals by the English meteorologist James Glaisher, published in 1855 (in other words 23 years later than the Sekka Zusetsu), which are considered to be the most accurate observations published before the development of photomicrography. ‘Snow Crystals, Natural and Artificial’ by Ukichiro Nakaya (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1954, pp 2-3)

3. Snow, in the ordinary acceptation of the word, is suggestive of a soft flocculent matter of considerable opacity, falling in flakes, and, as compared with water, of little density – a foot of fresh-fallen snow producing but from a tenth to a twelfth part of water. Snow, however, does not always fall in flakes; under certain conditions of atmosphere and temperature it occasionally falls in groups of slender needle-like particles or spiculae, which under the microscope exhibit no structural detail worthy of remark, but are irregular and jagged in outline. This is one of the most imperfect forms of snow crystallization, and occurs generally at a temperature but a little above freezing, at the commencement of a severe and continued frost, or immediately preceding a general thaw.

At other times a light feathery snow may be seen to fall, composed almost entirely of stars of six spiculae or radii, united in the centre by a white molecule. These are seldom less than from four to five tenths of an inch in diameter, and are generally collected in tufts of half-a-dozen or more together, which in calm weather waft uninjured to the ground. Sometimes these are mixed with other stars of more intricate figure...

Sometimes a heavy fall of ordinary snow may be accompanied by a number of minute specks, glistening among the flakes like fragments of talc or mica, as seen sparkling in a mass of granite. On careful investigation these prove to be thin laminated hexagons of the most perfect delicacy and symmetry of form.

The hexagon and star being the base of all the crystals of snow so far observed, we will proceed to show how the more elaborate figures are compounded of these two primary elements.
‘On the Crystals of Snow as Applied to the Purposes of Design’ by James Glaisher, The Art Journal (March 1857, p.73)

A Collection of Snow Crystals

Like Cecilia Glaisher’s photogenic drawings of ferns, the snow crystal material came to the Fitzwilliam Museum as part of the bequest of the Glaishers’ eldest son, James Whitbread Lee Glaisher (1848-1928).

Folder label
Folder label

Here is the label on the folder in which he kept it. Written in 1912, sixteen years before his death, it reads:

Snow Crystals
My Mother’s work
To be offered to the
Meteorological Society
Of some value

James Glaisher had been instrumental in founding the British Meteorological Society in 1850 at Hartwell House in Buckinghamshire, the home of Dr John Lee. Lee was the Society’s first treasurer, and Glaisher its secretary. It was after Lee, his godfather, that J.W.L. Glaisher was given his third name. (For more information, see Background section).

Snow Crystals
2/1 Snow crystal diameters approximately 5 mm on transparent paper 8.5 x 7.5 cm

The drawings above, captioned “Natural size as seen by Mr Glaisher…”, are the earliest images in the holding, and were were some of the twenty to thirty varieties of snow crystal which were “the result of a morning’s observation, on January 1st, 1854, when snow fell in slight and gently-drifting showers.” 4

Strips of drawings like these, and others of individual crystals, were copied photographically, in much the same way as the fern specimens had been. Using William Henry Fox Talbot’s photogenic drawing process, the item to be copied was held flat in contact with light-sensitised paper and exposed to sunlight. A tonally reversed ‘negative image’ was formed, reproducing in white the black lines of the drawings.5

Crystals at a diameter of approximately 1 cm
3/2/3 detail Crystals at a diameter of approximately 1 cm, strip measures 18.5 x 5.5 cm

In the winter and spring of 1854 photographic contact strips of several crystals were distributed to the members of the Meteorological Society. The Report of the Council of the British Meteorological Society, which was read at the Fourth Annual General Meeting on May 23rd, 1854, said:

These beautiful little figures, magnified about three diameters, have been preserved and copied by the assistance of photography to an almost endless extent. More than twenty varieties have been successfully copied in this manner by Mr. Glaisher, who has distributed a set to nearly every Member. In their distribution it is possible that some omissions may have occurred, but the Council have pleasure in assuring Members and their friends that Mr. Glaisher will be happy to send copies to all who may be interested in the subject, who will inform him of their desire. The object of their distribution has chiefly been to excite inquiry and stimulate observation with regard to those most beautiful productions. A collection of snow crystals, as seen and accurately drawn by accredited observers for successive winters, would be valuable to the Society; and, carefully studied, might help to elicit a better knowledge respecting the condition and temperature of the upper air.6
Crystals at a diameter of approximately 1 cm
3/2/3 detail Crystals at a diameter of approximately 1cm, on paper 14 x 5.5cm
Crystals at a diameter of approximately 1 cm
3/2/3 detail Crystals at a diameter of approximately 1cm, strip measures 17.5 x 4cm

The holding includes 35 of these loose strips, some of which state on the back that they are of snow crystals seen by ‘Mr Glaisher’ in January 1854. Sometimes the same crystal type is repeated in different strips. Above, four of the crystals in the top strip can also be seen, though in a different order, in the second strip.

These copies allowed Cecilia Glaisher’s drawings to be distributed and discussed at scientific gatherings and learned society meetings, which were not usually open to women at the time. The Year-Book of Facts reported: “Some beautiful Photographic Drawings of Snow and Crystals, seen in January, 1854, and drawn by Mrs Glaisher, have been presented to the British Association, and explained by Dr Lee.7

Copies of more highly magnified drawings were also shown. The Greenwich Natural History Society’s Minute Books record that on January 28th, 1854, “Mr Glaisher exhibited some photographs of the crystals of snow greatly magnified. These were first caught, as they fell upon glass & magnified, and then being drawn 3 times their magnified size, were multiplied by the photographic process.” 8

More strips like the ones above can be found in the archive of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich (Cambridge University Library), and in the Llewelyn archive (National Museum of Wales). It would be interesting to hear of more places where images from this particular snow storm may have got to.


4. The Year-Book of Facts in Science and Art (David Bogue, London, 1855, p. 164)

5. See The Pencil of Nature by W.H.F. Talbot (Longmans, Brown, Green & Longmans, 1844-46; facsimile reprint: Da Capo Press, New York, 1969, Plate IX); The Art of Photogenic Drawing (Fox Talbot Museum, Data Sheet Number 1, 1994); for more information on Talbot, see Out of the Shadows: Herschel, Talbot, & the Invention of Photography by Larry J. Schaaf (Yale University Press, 1992)

6. Report of the Council of the British Meteorological Society (British Meteorological Society, 1854, pp. 4-5)

7. The Year-Book of Facts in Science and Art (David Bogue, London, 1855, p. 164)

8. Minute Books of the Greenwich Natural History Society (Greenwich Natural History Society, 1854, p. 46)


The Glaishers made more observations during the very cold winter the following year. In May 1855, James Glaisher wrote that a remarkable feature had been “the peculiar character and continuous fall of snow”, adding that around his home in Dartmouth Terrace, Blackheath, it had only just disappeared. The snow was ‘peculiar’, he said, because it was made up of crystalline particles previously thought to form, with rare exceptions, only in the Arctic regions. These observations resulted in the paper ‘On the Severe Weather at the beginning of the year 1855; and on Snow and Snow-crystals’.

Snow crystal paper: page 1
Snow crystal paper: page 1

Describing the weather on February 8th, Glaisher wrote:

Snow fell without intermission from early morning till late at night, when it lay upon the ground to the depth of 8 inches. It was accompanied by a piercing wind and a heavy storm at 4h pm ... Traffic on the railway was for a time suspended, and the day, notwithstanding that the temperature continued no lower than the freezing point, was one of bitter and intense cold.

When I went out at long past midnight the snow sparkled in all directions with crystals, as granite does with the grains of mica. Every leaf, cobweb, knotty projection, and sheltered nook bore its burden of drifted snow and glistening crystals; it was a night on which to admire the broader effects of Nature, as arrayed in all the majesty of her wintry garb; I shall long recall the peculiar stillness of the night-air, and the tranquil scene following upon the tumultuous weather of the day, presented by the pale landscape, as the whitened branches of the trees, motionless and bare, appeared to penetrate rather than to fade into the obscurity, whilst not a breath of air disturbed a grain of the heavy masses upon the ground and all around. It was a sight rarely to be observed in these latitudes

Snow crystal paper : pages 2, 3, 4
Snow crystal paper : pages 2, 3, 4

The first pages of illustrations in the paper are 88 engravings of snow crystals reproduced at a diameter of about three-quarters of an inch (2 cm). Glaisher wrote that “the greater number fell during the present year (1855), and before Feb. 8” and that they had been observed through “a lens of very moderate power”, adding that “they are chiefly valuable as showing the general effect to the naked eye.” 10

These are followed by sixty-three crystals seen more greatly magnified, often examined under a microscope, the result of observations on 8 days between February 8th and March 10th.11 They were reproduced two to a page at a diameter of 3 inches (7.5 cm) and were “selected rather as varieties illustrative of a class, than for any special symmetry of form.” 12

The aim of the paper was to study different types of snow crystals and understand how temperature or other atmospheric factors might determine their structure and formation. The innumerable variety the Glaishers observed included “combinations of spiculae, prisms, cubes, and rhomboids, aggregated upon and around the central figure”.13 Despite these complexities, they found that generally the central figure was either a simple six point star shape as in Figure 89, or a hexagon of laminae as in Figure 90, this sixfold symmetry resulting, they wrote, because water freezes at an angle of 60°.
6/9/1   Figure 89
6/9/1 Figure 89
6/9/3  Figure 90
6/9/3 Figure 90

Figure 89 was a typical example of the “simple elementary star” form and was described as “an enlarged drawing of a crystal of this class, as seen through a Coddington lens. it was one of a great number which fell upon my window ledge on the morning of March 10th with a temperature of 30 degrees, and some days after the breaking up of the long-continued frost. The secondary spiculae, as I shall term those which diverge from the principal arms of the figure, were from their extreme delicacy all but invisible to the naked eye.” 14

The crystal in Figure 90 “was about 0.1 inches diameter, and was set round with solid hexagons: the inner markings were very distinct, and the figure was highly crystalline and transparent.” Glaisher continued: “This was the first time that I had observed these inner tracings: and had only met with them previously in the drawings of Dr. Scoresby, of those seen by him in the Arctic seas.” 15

The paper made the point that snow crystals are never complete or final; they grow or dissolve as the temperature around them changes. Glaisher described the crystals he and Cecilia observed as being “ever in a transition state”, and wrote about the difficulties this caused when trying to draw their structures.16

With the exception of Figure 89, which was moved so that it could be compared directly with Figure 90, the larger figures in the snow crystal paper were arranged by order of date. The observations were made on February 8th, 13th, 16th, 17th, 21st, 23rd,and March 9th and 10th. Each day’s observations were given a distinct colour when reproduced in print: black, green, ox-blood red, charcoal, dark green, brown, Prussian blue, and cyan.
6/9/58 Figure119
6/9/58 Figure119
6/9/93 Figure 138
6/9/93 Figure 138
6/9/106 Figure 146
6/9/106 Figure 146

These colours may have been deliberately chosen to mimic some of those produced by early photographic processes, such as the ‘cyanotype’ invented by John Herschel (1792-1871), and other iron-based chemistries experimented with by Robert Hunt (1807-1887).17

On January 19th, 1881, twenty-six years after publication of the snow crystal paper, it was recorded at the Annual General Meeting of the Meteorological Society that:

During 1855 two very valuable papers were read at Ordinary Meetings of the Society, and both were printed in extenso in the Fifth Annual report – one by Dr. G. Buist, ‘On the means of determining the actual amount of Evaporation from the Earth’s surface,’ and the other by Mr. Glaisher, ‘On the severity of the past Winter, and on Snow Crystals observed during it.’ This paper was accompanied by 151 drawings by Mrs. Glaisher, and the Society most wisely resolved upon engraving the whole of them. The cost of engraving was only £33, of printing in colours £28, total £56, and nearly half of this was presented by about a dozen members, so that the finest set of engravings of snow crystals ever issued was published by the Society at a cost to itself of scarcely £30. Resolved that the blocks be Mr. Glaisher’s property.18

The invoice for this work can be seen below. A gallery of all the larger figures in the Snow Crystal paper can be seen following the Notes at the end of this Section.

1/14 Invoice dated November 26th, 1855, for £32.15.8. from Alfred Deacon to James Glaisher,
secretary of the British Meteorological Society, and Henry Perigal, treasurer.


9. ‘On the Severe Weather at the beginning of the year 1855; and on Snow and Snow-crystals’ by James Glaisher in British Meteorological Society 5th Annual Report (British Meteorological Society, 1855, p. 20)

10. Ibid, p. 29

11. ‘On the Crystals of Snow as Applied to the Purposes of Design’ by James Glaisher, The Art Journal (March 1857, p. 75)

12. ‘On the Severe Weather at the beginning of the year 1855; and on Snow and Snow-crystals’ by James Glaisher in British Meteorological Society 5th Annual Report (British Meteorological Society, 1855, p. 17)

13. Ibid, p. 17

14, 15. Ibid, p. 18

16. Ibid, pp. 26-30

17. See for example A Manual of Photography, Robert Hunt, 4th edition, 1854. Hunt was author of one of the essays reprinted in Art Studies from Nature along with with the Glaishers’ Snow Crystal paper in 1872.

18. A passage from the ‘Address delivered to the Annual General Meeting of the Meteorological Society’ on January 19th 1881 (The Meteorological Society, 1881)


6/9/1  Figure 89
6/9/1 Figure 89
6/9/3  Figure 90
6/9/3 Figure 90
6/9/6  Figure 91
6/9/6 Figure 91

6/9/7  Figure 92
6/9/7 Figure 92
6/9/10  Figure 93
6/9/10 Figure 93
6/9/12  Figure 94
6/9/12 Figure 94

6/9/13  Figure 95
6/9/13 Figure 95
6/9/15  Figure 96
6/9/15 Figure 96
6/9/18  Figure 97
6/9/18 Figure 97

6/9/19  Figure 98
6/9/19 Figure 98
6/9/21  Figure 99
6/9/21 Figure 99
6/9/24  Figure 100
6/9/24 Figure 100

6/9/25  Figure 101
6/9/25 Figure 101
6/9/27  Figure 102
6/9/27 Figure 102
6/9/29  Figure 103
6/9/29 Figure 103

6/9/31  Figure 104
6/9/31 Figure 104
6/9/33  Figure 105
6/9/33 Figure 105
6/9/36  Figure 106
6/9/36 Figure 106

6/9/37  Figure 107
6/9/37 Figure 107
6/9/39  Figure 108
6/9/39 Figure 108
6/9/41  Figure 109
6/9/41 Figure 109

6/9/43  Figure 110
6/9/43 Figure 110
6/9/44  Figure 111
6/9/44 Figure 111
6/9/46  Figure 112
6/9/46 Figure 112

6/9/47  Figure 113
6/9/47 Figure 113
6/9/50  Figure 114
6/9/50 Figure 114
6/9/51  Figure 115
6/9/51 Figure 115

6/9/53  Figure 116
6/9/53 Figure 116
6/9/54  Figure 117
6/9/54 Figure 117
6/9/56  Figure 118
6/9/56 Figure 118

6/9/58  Figure 119
6/9/58 Figure 119
6/9/59  Figure 120
6/9/59 Figure 120
6/9/61  Figure 121
6/9/61 Figure 121

6/9/63  Figure 122
6/9/63 Figure 122
6/9/65  Figure 123
6/9/65 Figure 123
6/9/67  Figure 124
6/9/67 Figure 124

6/9/69  Figure 125
6/9/69 Figure 125
6/9/70  Figure 126
6/9/70 Figure 126
6/9/72  Figure 127
6/9/72 Figure 127

6/9/74  Figure 128
6/9/74 Figure 128
6/9/77  Figure 129
6/9/77 Figure 129
6/9/78  Figure 130
6/9/78 Figure 130

6/9/80  Figure 131
6/9/80 Figure 131
6/9/81  Figure 132
6/9/81 Figure 132
6/9/83  Figure 133
6/9/83 Figure 133

6/9/86  Figure 134
6/9/86 Figure 134
6/9 88  Figure 135
6/9 88 Figure 135
6/9/89  Figure 136
6/9/89 Figure 136

6/9/92  Figure 137
6/9/92 Figure 137
6/9/93  Figure 138
6/9/93 Figure 138
6/9/94  Figure 139
6/9/94 Figure 139

6/9/96  Figure 140
6/9/96 Figure 140
6/9/97  Figure 141
6/9/97 Figure 141
6/9/99  Figure 142
6/9/99 Figure 142

6/9/100  Figure 143
6/9/100 Figure 143
6/9/102  Figure 144
6/9/102 Figure 144
6/9/104  Figure 145
6/9/104 Figure 145

6/9/107  Figure 146
6/9/107 Figure 146
6/9/108  Figure 147
6/9/108 Figure 147
6/9/110  Figure 148
6/9/110 Figure 148

6/9/112  Figure 149
6/9/112 Figure 149
6/9/114  Figure 150
6/9/114 Figure 150
6/9/116  Figure 151
6/9/116 Figure 151


In a letter published in The Illustrated London News, James Glaisher wrote:

For the information of those who would carefully observe snow crystals, I may remark that my own plan of procedure is to expose a thick surface of plate-glass on the outer side of the window, resting on the ledge. Seated within the room, at the open window, I am enabled, with comparative comfort, and at my leisure, to make my drawings and record my observations, the accuracy of which I am able to verify to my satisfaction, as the crystal received upon the cold surface of the glass, itself several degrees below freezing, remains a sufficient length of time for the requirements of the observer. In many cases it becomes frozen to the glass, and is thus secured from the influence of the wind, which not unfrequently snatches away some most intricate form from the desiring eye of the observer...

I forebear at present to put forward any theory regarding their formation and variety, at the same time it is doubtless attributable to the different strata of the atmosphere, and the differing intensities of cold. The annexed drawings are magnified copies of a few I have observed, drawn by Mrs Glaisher”.

I am, sir, &c, James Glaisher
Lewisham, Feb.13, 1855

The Fitzwilliam Museum’s holding includes many preliminary sketches and observation notes such as this one headed “Drawn from Nature February 20th ”.

Ink on paper
Ink on paper

2/2 (recto) and 2/2 (verso) Ink on paper 9.5 x 9.5 cm

The text reads:

as near the natural size as I can sketch them / number 4 was very beautiful – a thin / transparent lamina of ice? with / delicate lines, more so than my drawing. / No 1 seemed made of minute particles / of Hail, it was the most common form / at the commencement of the shower / and varied in size as did all of them… / I did not observe one with 5 rays but 3 or 4 / with 8 & 10 as No’s 7 & 8. No 9 was a simple / plane hexagonal star which perhaps is the / primitive form of No’s 2 & 3. No’s 5 & 6 were very numerous.

[verso] The stars were of course most / perfect in form, but which / my pen fails faithfully / to represent.

From rough sketches such as these Cecilia Glaisher produced more precise and detailed figures. Drawn over pencil guide-lines they show simple to more complex forms, and emphasise the underlying hexagonal geometry of snow crystals.

Small crystals drawn in pencil
2/24 Small crystals drawn in pencil at a diameter of 3/8th of an inch (approximately 1 cm),
larger crystals at a diameter of 2 to 2.5 cm, on paper 33 x 11.5 cm

In the pencil drawing below, magnified details of ‘radii’ are included, also dates and temperatures when the observations were made. The faint outline of a barometer, lying horizontally, can be seen sketched near the bottom of the sheet!
Small crystals drawn in pencil
2/25 Small crystals drawn at approximately 1 cm in diameter, on paper 28.5 x 22 cm

The two drawings below show crystals observed on Saturday, February 17th, 1855, at a temperature of 26° Fahrenheit (-3° C).20 The crystal structures in the image at left are drawn at a diameter of 5 cm. A sketch of each crystal at actual size (0.5 cm) has been included to show the scale of magnification.
Pencil drawings on paper
Pencil drawings on paper

2/12/6 and 2/12/4 Pencil drawings on paper approximately 18 x 11 cm

The Snow Crystal paper says that on February 17th “a large number of snow crystals fell almost continuously throughout the day, unaccompanied by snow to any considerable amount. Their forms were varied, singularly elegant, and closely allied in character… they averaged not less than 0.2 in. in diameter, and were distinctly visible in their main details to the naked eye; they were very highly crystalline, and in parts glistened with an intense brilliancy...” Crystals of this type became Figures 121, 122, 123, 124, and 125 in the published paper.21

The drawings below show some of the many types of snow crystal the Glaishers observed on February 8th, 1855, when the snow fell all day until long after dark and the temperature never reached above 32°F (0°C).
Pencil drawings on paper
Pencil drawings on paper

Left: 2/29/1 Pencil drawings of crystals at 1.5 to 2 cm diameter, on paper 18.5 x 11.5 cm
Right: 2/29/4 Pencil drawings of crysta;s at 1.5 to 2 cm diameter, on paper 18.5 x 11.5 cm

Cecilia Glaisher re-drew sketches such as these to make them symmetrical, and worked them into precise pen and ink drawings showing snow crystals at various magnifications.

In this example of observations made on February 8th, she has started to ink over the pencil outlines of the figures.
Snow crystals drawn in pencil
2/5 Crystal on left at 3 cm diameter, one on right 4 cm, on paper 22.5 x 15 cm

And here is a completed schematic pen and ink drawing, which looks as if it has been derived from the crystal at right above.
Snow crystaldrawn in pencil
2/7 Crystal at diameter of 5.5cm, on paper 10 x 9.5 cm


19. Letter from James Glaisher to the editor of The Illustrated London News, February 17,
1855. This prompted a suggestion that Glaisher adapt a camera to make observations of snow crystals. The suggestion was not taken up.

Dear Sir,

I observe in the last no. of the Illustrated London News that you speak of the difficulty of drawing the snow crystals ‘ere they melt or change form. Will you allow me to suggest taking them on collodionised glass? - I think when at Ventnor last spring you mentioned having a camera of Horne’s; by employing an achromatic lens of short focus (as a low power microscope object glass) and placing the camera lens end upward, I imagine a good image would be obtained in a very few seconds, the upper side of the plate of glass used to catch the crystals being previously focused, it would only be required to bring the crystal over the lens. Collodion would work quickly with a camera pointed skywards even in dull weather.

This method has perhaps occurred to you or you may see difficulties in it which I do not – in either case I trust you will pardon my troubling you with this.

As you recommended at Ventnor I discarded my homemade camera and have replaced it by one of opticians manufacture.

I am very truly yours
George Guyon
Glaisher (C) 1/5: Letter from George Guyon, Richmond, Surrey, to James Glaisher, Feby. 28, 1855.

20. ‘On the Severe Weather at the beginning of the year 1855; and on Snow and Snow-crystals’ by James Glaisher in British Meteorological Society 5th Annual Report (British Meteorological Society, 1855, p. 22)

21. Ibid.


As their observations progressed, Cecilia Glaisher began to order and number the snow crystal types. The folded paper ‘booklet’ below, on the outside of which is written in pencil “19 originals, no photographs”, contains 5 paper strips of drawings in ink on paper which had been made semi-translucent. The strips vary in length from 11 to 17 cm.
Snow crystaldrawn in ink
3/1/1 Booklet measuring approximately 19 x 6.5 cm when folded, with crystals drawn at diameters of half an inch or less (figure 17 at 1 cm, 18 at 2 cm, 19 at 1.5 cm, 20 at 1.5 cm, 21 at 1cm)

The four ink drawings below, numbered 18 to 21, correspond to Figures 13 to 16 in the Snow Crystal paper (bottom), in which they were reproduced at a diameter of 2 cm. The order of the first two is changed – drawing 18 appears as Figure 14, and drawing 19 as Figure 13.
Snow crystaldrawn in ink
Snow Crystal paper Figures 13-16
Top: 3/1/1 detail
Bottom: Snow Crystal paper Figures 13-16

Other strips show magnified details of the ‘radii’.
3/1/3 detail  Crystals at 1 cm diameter, strip measures 18.5 x 2cm
3/1/3 detail Crystals at 1 cm diameter, strip measures 18.5 x 2cm

From these precise schematic drawings photographic contact copies were made. The picture below shows the cover of a ‘booklet’ made up of 17 card sheets, onto each of which a photogenic drawing has been glued. To protect it from light, the top strip was covered by a pinned-on piece of paper. Despite this, as can be seen, the strips in the ‘booklet’ are very faded.
3/3/1  Sheet approximately 26 x 10.5 cm
3/3/1 Sheet approximately 26 x 10.5 cm

3/3/3  Photogenic drawing strip approximately 17 x 3 cm
3/3/3 Photogenic drawing strip approximately 17 x 3 cm

With digital technology, however, these photogenic drawings can be enhanced. In the two pairs below they are shown beside the pen and ink originals from which they were made.
3/1/4 detail  Crystals drawn at 1.3 cm diameter or less, strip 12.5 x 3 cm
3/1/4 detail Crystals drawn at 1.3 cm diameter or less, strip 12.5 x 3 cm
Digitally enhanced copy of photogenic drawing contact strip 3/3/15
Digitally enhanced copy of photogenic drawing contact strip 3/3/15
3/1/4 detail  Crystals drawn at 1.3 cm diameter or less, strip 16.5 x 3.5 cm
3/1/4 detail Crystals drawn at 1.3 cm diameter or less, strip 16.5 x 3.5 cm
Digitally enhanced copy of photogenic drawing contact strip 3/3/14
Digitally enhanced copy of photogenic drawing contact strip 3/3/14


As well as preparatory work for the figures in the Snow Crystal paper, the holding contains artwork of crystals drawn at larger diameters. These drawings are too precise and geometrically accurate to have been made freehand, and while there is no documentation with the material as to how Cecilia Glaisher made them, pencil guidelines and pin-holes indicate that a compass and other technical drawing instruments were used.22

Amongst the material is this advertisement for a Magnum Barrel Pen manufactured by Joseph Gillott, whose pens or nibs she may have used.

advertisement for a Magnum Barrel Pen

The unfinished drawings below show something of her working methods. In the image at left the pencil outline of the crystal is in the process of being inked over and turned into a symmetrical schematic drawing. The crystal at right is more elaborately worked and filled in.
3/7/73 Crystal drawing
3/7/73 Crystal diameter approximately 17 cm
2/9 Crystal drawin
2/9 Crystal diameter approximately 19.5 cm

The crystal below, also in ink over pencil, is much more freely drawn and even larger in size at a diameter of 22 cm. Circular pencil guidelines enclosing the structure are visible near the ends of its radii. There is a pinhole at the centre of all three drawings.
large crystal drawing
3/7/74 Crystal diameter approximately 22 cm


22. The only documentation known about Cecilia Glaisher's art education is a pencilled note in one of her father's work books saying that she had her first painting lesson on April 17th, 1841 (three days before her thirteenth birthday) from a Mr Villalobos.


To some of her ink drawings Cecilia added colour. One reason was to give tonal range and definition in the subsequent photographic copies. In the image at left below the black and red areas prevented light from passing through. Where no light passed, the paper was left unexposed and those parts of the image reproduced white, as can be seen in the faded photogenic drawing at right.

Coloured ink drawing
Coloured ink drawing

4/1/1 and 4/1/2 Crystal diameter approximately 11 cm

In adding colour to the pen and ink drawings, Cecilia Glaisher was also beginning to turn the snow crystal structures into artistic designs. She developed some into decorative star-shaped forms as in the pair above. Others, more geometric and abstract like those below, look as if they could be from the early computer game, ‘Space Invaders’, or belong amongst the crystal structure designs shown at the 1951 Festival of Britain, rather than having been made a hundred years earlier.23

The two types of snow crystal seen above and below are the basic star and hexagon forms that the Glaishers, writing in 1855, said were at the base of all others they had so far observed.24
Coloured ink drawing
Coloured ink drawing

4/7/1 and 4/7/2 Crystal diameter approximately 8.5 cm

Photographic contact copies were made from the larger drawings, as well as from the strips of small drawings seen earlier.

The copying method Cecilia Glaisher used may have been similar to that employed in the Meteorological and Magnetic Department at Greenwich to copy graphs of data from self-registering barometers and other instruments25, as described by James Glaisher in a report to G.B. Airy (1801-1892), the Astronomer Royal:

The process of Printing or Copying is as follows:-
Lay the prepared sheet with its marked or unprepared side resting on a piece of plate glass, paper or flannel, on a board or frame, which should be inclined to receive the sun's rays perpendicularly. On it lay the sheet to be copied, its surface inward, or in contact with the prepared side of the paper, and a negative and reversed image will be produced. If the original be placed with its surface outward it will not be injured by the action of the sun and a negative and direct image will be produced. Over all place a piece of plate glass, which should be kept pressed to the board. Expose to the sun. If a small bordering or bit of the prepared paper be suffered to continue beyond the original, the gradual deepening of the paper will be shown. It will however be necessary to make allowance for the slower operation acting upon the surface beneath the original.

As the image at right below shows, two or more schematic drawings could be contact printed at the same time onto a sheet of photogenic drawing paper. The ink drawing at left can be seen at top in the photogenic contact copy at right.
Coloured ink drawing
contact print

3/7/51 and 3/5/1 Crystal on left and at top right at 12 cm diameter

Here is another pair.
Coloured ink drawing
contact print

3/7/50 and 3/5/2 Crystals on left and right at 12 cm diameter

Cutting the images into hexagonal shapes also gave them a three-dimensional appearance.

Hart’s Tongue Fern
Hart’s Tongue Fern
Hart’s Tongue Fern

3/5/6, 3/5/8, 3/5/9 Crystal on left at 7 cm diameter, in centre at 9.5 cm, on right at 10 cm

The holding has a number of photographic contact copies which have been mounted on card. Most of these are of snow crystals which were not in the 1855 paper but were to be new figures in an extended publication the Glaishers were working on (see following section). These mounted prints may, like her mounted prints of ferns, be those described in contemporary reports as having been exhibited by James Glaisher at learned society meetings during the 1850s.
Crystal diameter 21 cm
4/2/2 Crystal diameter 21 cm
4/15/4  Crystal diameter 18.5 cm
4/15/4 Crystal diameter 18.5 cm

4/9/6  Crystal diameter 15 cm
4/9/6 Crystal diameter 15 cm
4/3/4  Crystal diameter 13 cm
4/3/4 Crystal diameter 13 cm

A gallery of Cecilia Glaisher’s coloured drawings of snow crystals and the photographic contact copies made from them can be seen below.


23. See From Atoms to Patterns: Crystal Structure Designs from the 1951 Festival of Britain by Lesley Jackson (Richard Dennis Publications in association with Wellcome Collection, 2008)

24. ‘On the Severe Weather at the beginning of the year 1855; and on Snow and Snow-crystals’ by James Glaisher in British Meteorological Society 5th Annual Report (British Meteorological Society, 1855, p. 17)

25. These self-registering instruments were invented by Charles Brooke (1804-79)

26. ‘Report to the Astronomer Royal on the means adopted in copying the photographic registers of the Magnetical and Meteorological Department of the Royal Observatory. By James Glaisher’, November 18th, 1853. (RGO 6/677, file 4, docs. 180-187).
At a Photographic Society meeting on January 14th, 1873, in a lecture on the Photographic Operations at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, Glaisher stated "that preparations were being made for the registration of astronomical events by means of photography at Greenwich, but as yet it was only the magnetical and meteorological phenomena that were recorded in this manner." (The Photographic Journal, January 16th, 1873, pp. 179-80)


4/6/1 and 4/6/3 Crystal diameter 11 cm

4/8/1 and 4/8/2 Crystal diameter 18.5 cm

4/10/1 and 4/10/2 Crystal diameter 13 cm

4/11/1 and 4/11/2 Crystal diameter 15.5 cm

4/13/1 and 4/13/3 Crystal diameter 19 cm

4/18/1 and 4/18/2 Crystal diameter 7.5cm

4/19/1 and 4/19/3 Crystal diameter 9 cm

4/3/1 and 4/3/4 Crystal diameter 13 cm

4/15/1 and 4/15/4 Crystal diameter 18.5 cm

4/4/1 and 4/4/3 Crystal diameter 22 cm


Cover sheet

After their 1855 paper on snow crystals, the Glaishers planned an extended and larger-format publication. The Museum’s holding has the artwork of a mock-up consisting of 27 loose sheets approximately 32 x 24 cm in size. The cover sheet is shown above. Nineteen pages are made up of figures cut and pasted in from the 1855 publication. The sequence of the smaller crystals from the 1855 paper remains the same, although their layout is different. The larger figures are also all present, though ordered differently, and arranged four instead of two to a page.

There follows a new section of 8 sheets showing an “Additional series from original sketches not before engraved”. The first page, with a single crystal, is captioned “Prevailing type of snow crystal belonging to the Arctic regions observed by Sir Edward Belcher K.C.B.”
Hart’s Tongue Fern
Hart’s Tongue Fern
Hart’s Tongue Fern
Hart’s Tongue Fern

Hart’s Tongue Fern
Hart’s Tongue Fern
Hart’s Tongue Fern
Hart’s Tongue Fern

The same crystal, engraved from one of Cecilia Glaisher’s drawings, was reproduced (with its axis slightly rotated) as plate XIX in Captain Sir Edward Belcher’s book, Last of the Arctic Voyages: The Expedition of H.M.S. Assistance.27
belcher plate XIX
Belcher plate XIX
Image © Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge

Belcher sailed to the Arctic 1852-4 in a search for Sir John Franklin, who had disappeared in 1845 while attempting to discover a possible north-west passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In an appendix, ‘Observations on Ice Crystals’, Belcher wrote that during the voyage he had developed “a peculiar interest in the varied forms of snow crystals”. Defending this interest, he says that certain “unthinking persons” tend to “sneer at or undervalue the labours of Scoresby, Glaisher, and others, for frittering away their time in pursuit of the objects under consideration.”

Belcher reproduced three more plates of Cecilia Glaisher’s drawings in the appendix, and quoted at length information “kindly furnished by” James Glaisher. This repeated the finding of the 1855 paper – that what had formerly been termed ‘polar snow’, thought only to fall in Arctic regions, could also occur at lower latitudes.
belcher plate XX
Belcher plate XX
Image © Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge

In plate XX above, the crystal on the left is Figure 125 and the crystal on the right Figure 132 in the Snow Crystal paper. In plate XXI below, the crystal on the right is Figure 90.
belcher plate XXI
Belcher plate XXI
Image © Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge

The main crystal in plate XXII below is very similar to Figure 138. It is an example of a ‘double crystal’, which Glaisher defined as “two similar crystals, united by an axis at right angles to the plane of each.” The Glaishers recorded several on the morning of February 8th, 1855, and on February 21st, when “they fell in considerable numbers, unaccompanied by snow, for the period of an hour, and were intensely beautiful, and very complex.” 28
belcher plate XXII
Belcher plate XXII
Image © Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge

Although there is no date on the mock-up of the extended publication, writing in April 1857 to Sir John Herschel about the formation of snow crystals, James Glaisher said: “I have been, and still am devoting considerable time and attention to it – I am also preparing an extended work on snow crystals and have at least 40 fresh figures ready for the engraver, among which are some from Canada.” 29

He sent Herschel both engraved versions and photographic prints of several snow crystals from the 1855 paper, stating that in his view the photographs from which the engravings had been made “proffer the advantage of showing to more advantage the harmonious properties of the figures, and of being devoid of the lines which in the engravings are results of the process employed, and are not as some have imagined intended to show the disposition of laminae.” He also sent a number of the unpublished figures.

He offered use of them to Herschel for an article he was writing for the Encyclopaedia Britannica on meteorology. The article was republished as a separate book, Meteorology by Sir John Herschel, in 1861. The section on snow was illustrated by 14 of Cecilia’s schematic drawings.30

As well as the new engraved figures pasted into the layout for an extended publication, the holding has larger engravings (photogravures) of two of these crystals. They are shown here, alongside the coloured drawings and photographic copies from which they were made.
4/2/1 Coloured drawing, contact print on card and Photogravure
Left: 4/2/1 Coloured drawing, crystal diameter 21 cm
Centre: 4/2/3 Photographic contact print on card, “For engraving 32 in all” written in ink at top left
Right: 4/2/4 Photogravure

4/2/1 Coloured drawing, contact print on card and Photogravure
Left: 4/17/1 Coloured drawing, crystal diameter 17 cm. “In regard to the application of these figures there is much to be said” written by Cecilia Glaisher on the back
Centre: 4/17/3 Coloured drawing (cropped in from card)
Right: 4/17/4 Photogravure


27. Last of the Arctic Voyages: being a narrative of The Expedition in H.M.S. Assistance under the command of Captain Sir Edweard Belcher in search of Sir John Franklin during the years 1852-53-54, Vol II, by Captain Sir Edward Belcher, C.B. (Lovell Reeve, 1855)

28. ‘On the Severe Weather at the beginning of the year 1855; and on Snow and Snow-crystals’ by James Glaisher in British Meteorological Society 5th Annual Report (British Meteorological Society, 1855, p. 24)

29. Glaisher to Herschel, Monday, April 26th, 1857. (Royal Society Herschel papers: HS.8.129)

30. Meteorology: from the Encyclopedia Britannica by Sir John F. W. Herschel (Adam and Charles Black, 1861).


In regard to the application of these figures there is much to be said.
– written by Cecilia Glaisher on the back of the drawing below
4/17/1 recto
4/17/1 recto
4/17/1  verso
4/17/1 verso

As early as 1854, the possible utility of the Glaisher’s snow crystal forms in art education was discussed. On February 8th, Lyon Playfair wrote to thank James Glaisher for sending him photographic illustrations of snow crystals. He continued: “Mr Redgrave thinks they would be most useful… the idea is to give them as an illustration to the art student of the importance of minute observation.” 31

Playfair had been a chief adviser on the Great Exhibition of 1851 and was Secretary at the Department of Science and Art. Richard Redgrave was the department’s Art Superintendent.32

Redgrave’s suggestion may have been taken up – as can be seen in this carefully made copy of three sequences of crystals from the Glaishers' 1855 paper.33
Sheet of ink drawings Image courtesy Jenny Clinch
Sheet of ink drawings
Image courtesy Jenny Clinch

Although begun as scientific investigations, the Glaishers realised that the underlying symmetrical proportions of snow crystals made them suitable as the basis for patterns in design. This resulted in their paper, ‘On the Crystals of Snow as Applied to the Purposes of Design’ published in The Art Journal in March and April 1857.34
6/5/1 detail
6/5/1 detail

On the annotated proof sheet above, the addition in James Glaisher’s handwriting reads:

… James Glaisher Esq. F.R.S., of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, a gentleman whose scientific acquirements are well known throughout the country. In the course of his examination of these snow-crystals, it occurred to Mr Glaisher that they would furnish novel and most beautiful suggestions for the ornamental designer; and our attention having been directed to them, Mr Glaisher has kindly placed in our hands a few of the numerous blocks he has caused to be engraved, and has also supplied us with the interesting and valuable communication that accompanies the engravings. We may, perhaps be allowed to add that the drawings from the crystals were made by Mrs Glaisher; their extreme accuracy and delicacy are most striking; some coloured examples we have seen, by way of application to manufacturing purposes, exhibit a thorough knowledge of the true value of colour.

The paper begins by describing their findings on snow and then turns to consider how snow crystals “suggest new forms in decorative design, as applied to the industrial arts.” They quote several of Owen Jones’ principles from his highly influential 1856 work, The Grammar of Ornament, and discuss how the forms of snow crystal might meet these criteria.

Proposition 3. – As architecture, so all works of the Decorative Arts should possess fitness, proportion, harmony, the result of all which is repose.

Proposition 5. – Decoration should never be purposely constructed: that which is beautiful is true, that which is true is beautiful.

Proposition 8. – All ornament should be based upon a geometrical construction.

Proposition 9. – As in Architecture, so in the Decorative Arts, every assemblage of forms should be arranged on certain definite proportions; the whole and each particular member should be a multiple of some particular unit.

Proposition 10. – Harmony of form consists in the proper balancing and contrast of the straight, the inclined, and the curved.

Some of the items for which the Glaishers thought snow crystal designs would be appropriate were: mosaics, “encaustic tile work”, earthenware, porcelain, “paper-hangings”, and fabrics. The holding includes this ink drawing which has been glued onto a satin-like cloth – on the back of which is a rough pencil sketch of a chaise-longue.
2/8  Crystal
2/8 Crystal diameter 11 cm (crystal at bottom left of image, included for scale, is 1 cm)

Another idea was “a set of ice-plates for the dessert or supper table,” which they described as follows:

We can imagine the ground of the plates a clear light blue; in the centre may be the crystal, selecting in preference from those forms which are most crystalline and arborescent; among them, that most graceful of all, the water crystal, distinguishing it from the ground by shades of grey, which should be so distributed as to impart to the copy the frosted effect of the original. Around the centre, and immediately beneath or upon the raised margin of the plate, might be arranged, a circular bordering, similar to that we have described as surrounding the margin of a pond on its first congelation, when the needles, becoming encrusted with crystalline deposit, assume the appearance of frosted ferns.35

Below is the ‘water crystal’, reproduced as Plate 74 in the paper.
3/8/8 Crystal

The paper includes this example of a crystal at the centre of a design for “ornamental or domestic purposes.”
The Art Journal Plate
The Art Journal, April 1857, p.126

In the Fitzwilliam Museum’s holding are two similar artworks of elaborate circular designs. The artwork at left below is based on a crystal seen by Dr Smallwood of Canada, which the Glaishers included on sheet H of the Arctic section of their planned extended publication. In the 1855 Snow Crystal paper, Glaisher wrote: “Dr Smallwood of Isle Jesus, Canada East, imagines them [snow crystal forms] to be intimately connected with the electrical state of the atmosphere, whether negative or positive.” 36 (The holding includes a coloured lithograph of this artwork).

In the design at right below, the nucleus of the crystal combines the two distinct forms, star and hexagonal, which the Glaishers believed to be at the base of all the snow crystals they had seen. The 12 points to the star shape may be a reference to the form seen in double crystals.
white cutout
daisy plate - white cutout

Left: 4/19/4 Crystal diameter 9 cm, ‘plate’ diameter 19.5 cm
Right: 4/18/3 Crystal diameter 7.5 cm, ‘plate’ diameter 24 cm

Initial coloured drawings and photographic copies of these 2 crystals are included in the Colouring & Copying Gallery seen earlier.

Under the Notes below is a gallery of her drawings and the corresponding figures in the 1855 Snow Crystal paper.


31. Playfair to Glaisher, February 8th, 1854. (Playfair copybook, Science Museum Archive)

32. Lyon Playfair (1818-1898), Henry Cole (1808-1882), and Richard Redgrave (1804-1888) were fundamental in establishing the South Kensington (now the Victoria and Albert) Museum

33. Torn from an exercise book, this drawing belonging to Jenny Clinch was found amongst family papers and shown to Eric Harris, honorary archivist at the Royal Meteorological Society

34. ‘On the Crystals of Snow as Applied to the Purposes of Design’ by James Glaisher, The Art Journal (March 1857, pp.73-7, and April 1857, pp.125-128)

35. Ibid, p. 128

36. ‘On the Severe Weather at the beginning of the year 1855; and on Snow and Snow-crystals’ by James Glaisher in British Meteorological Society 5th Annual Report (British Meteorological Society, 1855, p. 29)


Some of Cecilia Glaisher’s coloured hand-drawn images of snow crystals, paired with their printed figures reproduced in the paper, ‘On the Severe Weather at the beginning of the year 1855; and on Snow and Snow-crystals’. Images not to scale.

3/7/3 and 6/9/5 Figure 91 in the Snow Crystal paper

3/7/4 ans 6/9/7 Figure 92 in the Snow Crystal paper

3/7/9 and 6/9/17 Figure 97 in the Snow Crystal paper

3/7/10 and 6/9/19 Figure 98 in the Snow Crystal paper

3/7/15 and 6/9/33 Figure 105 in the Snow Crystal paper

3/7/16 and 6/9/35 Figure 106 in the Snow Crystal paper

3/7/17 and 6/9/39 Figure 108 in the Snow Crystal paper

3/7/27 and 6/9/54 Figure 117 in the Snow Crystal paper

3/7/29 and 6/9/58 Figure 119 in the Snow Crystal paper

3/7/33 and 6/9/68 Figure 125 in the Snow Crystal paper

3/7/37 and 6/9/78 Figure 130 in the Snow Crystal paper

3/7/49 and 6/9/116 Figure 151 in the Snow Crystal paper

3/7/62 and 6/9/29 Figure 103 in the Snow Crystal paper

3/7/63 and 6/9/91 Figure 137 in the Snow Crystal paper

3/7/68 and 6/9/106 Figure 146 in the Snow Crystal paper

3/7/71 and 6/9/70 Figure 126 in the Snow Crystal paper

Figure 111 in the Snow Crystal paper
3/7/20, 3/7/21, and 6/9/44 Figure 111 in the Snow Crystal paper


It is not known whether any of Cecilia Glaisher’s designs were actually made into anything, or what influence her snow crystal illustrations may have had over students and designers at the time or later.

The Art Journal paper was reprinted fifteen years later, in 1872, as one of four essays in Art-Studies From Nature, As applied to Design: for the use of Architects, Designers, and Manufactures. The book – available in a red, green, or blue binding – became a standard textbook in art schools all over the country.
It also appears to have been thought a suitable prize (below right).
art studies cover and bookplate
Left: Art Studies from Nature as applied to Design, 1872
Right: Award certificate for Royal Terrace School, Ramsgate

From cataloguing the museum’s holding it is clear that as well as making the illustrations for the published papers, Cecilia Glaisher also collaborated with her husband on the texts. Their research into and study of snow crystals forms had been a joint undertaking, but when The Art Journal paper was reprinted in Art-Studies From Nature, no mention was made of her involvement.37

Most contemporary and nearly all subsequent references to the snow crystal illustrations refer to them as having been solely the work of James Glaisher. This exhibition hopes to have helped re-connect Mrs Glaisher with her work.38 Lives get lost or disappear from the record for many reasons. It is fortunate in this case that the label her son wrote stating that the snow crystal material was “his mother’s work” remained firmly glued to the folder in which he’d put it.
Snow Crystals Folder cover
Snow Crystals
My Mother’s work
To be offered to the
Meteorological Society
Of some value
Oct. 1912


37. Art-Studies From Nature, As applied to Design: for the use of Architects, Designers, and Manufacturers (Virtue & Co., 1872). The other three essays were: ‘The Adaptability of our Native Plants to the Purposes of Ornamental Art’ by F. Edward Hulme, F.L.S., F.S.A.; ‘Sea-Weeds as Objects of Design’ by S.J. Mackie, F.G.S., F.S.A.; ‘The Symmetrical and Ornamental Forms of Organic Remains’ by Robert Hunt, F.R.S.

38. This research was influenced by an idea from Mark Haworth-Booth’s inaugural lecture as Visiting Professor of Photography at the London College of Communication (13th May 2004), in which he quoted Geoffrey Best, a Professor of History at Edinburgh University, on his concept of history as being
“in part a court of posthumous justice… I cannot free my mind from the idea that it is part of the Historian’s business to keep the human record, and to get that straight. This is in effect an extension backwards of the principle of present justice; and not so much backwards as that, since every present moment slips into the past as we live it...” (Geoffrey Best, Inaugural Lecture, 4th March, 1969, p.15)

39. Reproduced below is a modern snow crystal classification table, courtesy of Kenneth G. Libbrecht, Professor of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. It is taken from his website,, where more information can be found.
Libbrecht snow crystals table - full size