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Surveyor’s compass

surveyor's compass from the late 18th to early 19th century

Compass, 1794-1801, wood, glass, and brass, Gift of Frank W. Taylor and Mrs. W.W. Harrell, from the estate of F.W. Taylor, II, 1951.1.79.

Made by Gilbert, Wright, and Hooke of London, this brass compass has a glass cover set in wood which is pictured in front. The letters “JCP” are engraved on the back of the wooden cover, referring to the owner of the compass, a Mr. Peas from Virginia. This instrument, also known as a circumferentor, was designed in the colonial period to survey vast tracts of land, such as the American landscape at the time. It would have fastened into a cylindrical attachment on its underside that would be screwed into a wooden tripod. The surveyor could then level the compass and peer through one of the upright “sights” to line up a distant object on the land with magnetic north.

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