Pocket Case of Drawing Instruments

This 18th-century pocket-sized wooden case is covered with black shagreen, leather made from the skin of a shark or rayfish. A previous owner signed paper lining the lid: James Ross bought (/) of John E. Hornor [?] (/) Rice & 1710 N[illegible] (/) #181[illegible]. Inside the lid is also handwritten: J. E. Hornor [?] (/) $15.5024 (/) [illegible].
Six instruments are currently inside the case: 1) a brass and steel pair of 6" dividers with one removable point; 2) a 1-1/8" round brass handle that does not fit anything in the case; 3) a brass and steel pen point for the dividers; 4) a 6-1/4" brass and steel drawing pen; 5) a brass crayon holder for the dividers; and 6) a 6" ebony parallel rule with scalloped brass hinges.
When mathematician James McKenna gave this set of drawing instruments to the Smithsonian in 1934, he reported that an ancestor used it at Bedford, Pa., before 1800. A tool that was then in the case was scratched with the name John A. Stuart, suggesting that this surveyor in Bedford County who gave his name to a line laid out on Wills Mountain also owned the case at some point.
References: Maya Hambly, Drawing Instruments, 1580–1980 (London: Sotheby's, 1988), 185–190; Peggy A. Kidwell, "American Parallel Rules: Invention on the Fringes of Industry," Rittenhouse 10, no. 39 (1996): 90–96.
Currently not on view
Object Name
drawing instruments, set of
date made
18th century
Physical Description
brass (overall material)
steel (overall material)
paper (overall material)
wood (overall material)
leather (overall material)
overall: 17.5 cm x 7.2 cm x 3.7 cm; 6 7/8 in x 2 27/32 in x 1 15/32 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Science & Mathematics
Drafting, Engineering
Drawing Instruments
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Drawing Instruments
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of James McKenna
Additional Media

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