Dividers & Compasses
Resources

A collection of dividers and compasses in the Division of Medicine and Science's Mathematics collection.

In addition to the instruments discussed in this object group, dividers and compasses are found in many of the sets of drawing instruments contained in the mathematics collection. The National Museum of American History's Division of Work and Industry owns about 80 dividers, compasses, beam compasses, and calipers that were used by craftsmen, machinists, and builders. Other units of the Museum also have calipers and drawing instruments that were designed for special purposes or are associated with historical figures of interest to those units. Catalogues from manufacturers and distributors are part of the trade literature collections of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. The National Air & Space Museum and National Museum of Natural History—especially in its anthropology collections—own some dividers and compasses that are described on http://collections.si.edu.

Additionally, these museum databases have notable collections of dividers and compasses, often within cases of drawing instruments:

Dividers and compasses may be held by historic homes. For example, Mount Vernon and Monticello own dividers used by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, respectively. The instruments provided frequent motifs to Renaissance and early modern painters, so one may also search for illustrations of them at art museums.

Further Reading

Adler Planetarium. Webster Signature Database. http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/onlinestuff/museum_objects/mathematics.aspx. Provides brief information on the makers of instruments owned by a variety of museums.

Bion, Nicolas. Traité de la construction et des principaux usages des instruments de mathematique. Paris, 1709. Prominent maker's classic treatise on the construction of mathematical drawing and calculating instruments.

Booker, Peter Jeffrey. A History of Engineering Drawing. London: Chatto & Windus, 1963. Discusses the development of the subject and its teaching in the 19th and 20th centuries.

French, Thomas Ewing. A Manual of Engineering Drawing for Students and Draftsmen. 3rd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1924. Influential textbook that gives an extensive list of required instruments and names several of the manufacturers and retailers represented in the Smithsonian collections.

Hambly, Maya. Drawing Instruments, 1580–1980. London: Sotheby's Publications, 1988. Thorough and richly illustrated treatment of a full range of instruments.

———. Drawing Instruments: Their History, Purpose and Use for Architectural Drawings. Applied Research of Cambridge Limited, 1982. Catalogue for an exhibit mounted at the British Architectural Library.

Heather, J.F. Mathematical Instruments: Their Construction, Adjustment, Testing, and Use. Rev. ed. 3 vol. London: Crosby Lockwood and Co., 1870. Describes the use of various drawing and mathematical instruments, including several forms of compasses.

Kenison, Ervin. Mechanical Drawing. 3 vol. Chicago: American School of Correspondence, 1909. A course from a pioneering distance education provider that describes and illustrates drawing instruments, including various forms of compasses, and explains how to use the instruments to create lettering and drawings.

Scott-Scott, Michael. Drawing Instruments. Shire Publications Ltd., 1986. Slender but informative discussion of a variety of drawing instruments.

Stanley, William Ford. Mathematical Drawing and Measuring Instruments. 6th ed. London: E. & F. N. Spon, 1888. Treatise on the manufacture and operation of various instruments.