ALBERT MARCIUS SILBER, who was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 6th of February, 1872, died on the 14th of May, 1886, at his house in Bolton Gardens, South Kensington. When at Leipsic fair, he heard that his only brother, who resided in Paris, was ill with smallpox, and, on reaching Paris, found him dead and buried. He appears to have contracted the disease from his visit to his late brother's apartments, for he had barely reached home before the symptoms showed themselves, and they proved fatal within a week of his return.
Mr. Silber was born in Schleswig-Holstein in 1833, and had consequently entered upon his fifty-fifth year at the time of his decease. He came to England in 1854, and, in conjunction with Mr. Fleming, established a wholesale fancy goods business in Wood Street, and gradually developed it into a very large and flourishing concern. In December 1882 the premises in which it was carried on were totally destroyed by fire; but Mr. Silber obtained others in the immediate vicinity on the very day of the catastrophe, and instantly delivered them into the hands of an army of workmen to complete the necessary fittings. The ordinary payments of the firm were made on the days following the fire across tables in the street among the ruins, and the actual delivery of goods to customers was only suspended for ten days. The old premises were speedily rebuilt on a larger scale and with increased conveniences, and the present warehouse, which occupies the corner of Wood Street and London Wall, is one of the finest in the City of London. Shortly afterwards, Mr. Fleming retired, and Mr. Silber, left sole proprietor, converted the business into a private limited company, the shares of which are held in his own family, and among the heads of some of the departments. It is a fortunate result of this arrangement, that the character and conduct of the firm will be left unchanged by the decease of the founder.
About 1868, Mr. Silber was, for a few days, confined to his bed by illness; and, wishing to see the time at night, he invented a little contrivance which soon became extremely popular, and was to be seen in almost every watchmaker's or lamp shop. This was a stand to carry a nightlight within a glass globe, on which the hours were marked in bold figures, while the globe was made to revolve by clockwork. There was some difficulty about finding a suitable illuminant for the interior, and this circumstance turned Mr. Silber's attention to the whole subject of artificial light, with which his name has for so many years been identified. He commenced his experiments with the common Argand burner, and found that it might be much improved by the introduction of an inner tube, which not only supplied a better current of air to the interior of the flame, but also warmed this air in transmission, and in both ways led to a more perfect combustion than had previously been obtained. This was the general principle underlying the " Silber" burner, and it was modified in details to suit illuminants of every description, whether gas, vegetable oil, or mineral oil. In 1870, Mr. Silber contrived a method by which mineral oil might be laid on to all the lamps of a house from a central reservoir, the outflow being governed solely by the consumption, as in the feed of the ordinary " bird fountain" reservoir, commonly attached to reading lamps. This contrivance was brought into operation in his warehouse in Wood Street, and was made the subject of a Paper read before the Society of Arts, but its general introduction was opposed by the Insurance offices, so that it never attained any practical development.
The original " Silber " burner, like the " Argand " from which it sprung, required a glass chimney in order to the attainment of perfect combustion ; but, about 1870, by careful regulation of the sources of air-supply, Mr. Silber succeeded in producing a case or lantern within which an Argand burner, consuming either mineral or vegetable oil, was rendered independent of a chimney ; and his account of this invention was first made public in a Paper read before the Royal United Service Institution, in March 1878, in which he explained the special value of such lanterns for the purposes of naval or military signalling. It soon became manifest that they would be no less valuable, on account of the great economy obtained by getting rid of chimney breakages, for the use of railway companies; and Mr. Silber's last achievement was the production of a series of railway lamps, both for the lighting of carriages and for signalling, which have already been largely adopted, and which promise to come more and more into use as their value is demonstrated by daily increasing experience.
Mr. Silber was a much esteemed member of the Jewish community, of the Jewish Board of Guardians, and of the Chamber of Commerce of the City of London. Like all great organizers, he possessed the power of winning the confidence and attachment of those who served under him; while his sincerity, generosity, and hospitality, had endeared him to a large circle of friends, by whom he will long be held in affectionate remembrance.
Source: Minutes of proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Volume 89 By Institution of Civil Engineers (Great Britain) 1887.