Smithsonian - National Museum of American History, Behring Center

Physical Sciences Collection - Surveying and Geodesy

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Surveyor's Vernier Compass - click to enlarge

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Surveyor's Vernier Compass

Catalogue number:


length 15.25 inches; needle 5.5 inches

Jonathan Simpson (1787-1863) was a silversmith who was working in Kentucky as early as 1820. He advertised in the Bardstown newspaper, The Republican, on October 3, 1844: "I shall keep on hand a constant supply of SILVERWORK of my own manufacture-warranted to be as good as any manufactured in the United States, and at the Cincinnati prices. My necessities compel me to labour as much as every I did. I have a few Surveying instruments on hand, which I will sell very low." This compass, which belonged to Fordham University, has an unusual and ornate face decorated with Masonic symbols. The variation arc on the north arm extends 10 degrees in either way; the vernier is moved by rack and pinion, and reads to 10 minutes. There is a level vial on the south arm.

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Surveyor's Compass