Smithsonian - National Museum of American History, Behring Center

Physical Sciences Collection - Surveying and Geodesy

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Surveyor's Compass - click to enlarge

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Surveyor's Compass

Catalogue number:


length 13.5 inches


The style of this compass suggests that it was made in the late eighteenth century. The signature refers to William Dean who, in an advertisement of June 4, 1792, described himself as a "mathematical instrument maker" who had "commenced business" at No. 43, South Front Street, Philadelphia, "directly opposite the post-office." In another advertisement, this one dated January 31, 1794, Dean announced that he made and sold "Surveying instruments of every description, Theodolets, Circumferentors on an improved plan, with a noneus, &c., Leveling instruments with or without telescopes, Sextants, Quadrants, Mariner’s Compasses, &c. and every article requisite for navigation, surveying, levelling, &c."

Ref: Charles Smart, The Makers of Surveying Instruments in America Since 1700 (Troy, N.Y., 1962), pp. 36-37.

Advertisements in Dunlap’s American Daily Advertiser for June 4, 1792 and January 31, 1794.

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Surveyor's Comass