Compas Superieurs Case of Drawing Instruments Sold by William Minifie

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The lid of this rosewood case has been marked with Chinese characters and stickers (?) of people. Engraving on the brass name plate is not legible. The key for the lock is missing.
A compartment inside the lid is lined with purple silk. The front of the compartment is marked: COMPAS SUPERIEURS (/) MARQUE DÉPOSÉ (/) BREVETÉS S.G.D.G. A 3-7/8" brass semicircular protractor divided to degrees and a 4-1/4" clear plastic semicircular protractor divided to half-degrees are held inside the compartment with a ribbon. Both protractors are numbered by tens in both directions from 0 to 180. The base of the brass protractor appears to be engraved with an owner's name, but the name is not legible. A yellow label inside the compartment is marked: WM MINIFIE & SON (/) Booksellers (/) No. 114 Balto. St. (/) BALTIMORE. The bottom of the wooden part of the lid is marked in pencil: No 18. It is also marked: odl (/) 9.–.
The wooden bottom of the case holds a 5-3/4" wooden French curve and two wooden triangles (5-1/8" and 7-1/2"). All are ink-stained and presumably were heavily used. Both triangles are marked: WM MINIFIE (/) BALTIMORE. They are also marked: J. Schröder (/) in Darmstadt. The larger triangle is part number 20, and the smaller triangle is part number 11.
A wooden tray inside the case is lined with purple velvet and holds: 6-1/2" brass and steel proportional dividers numbered by ones from 2 to 10; a 1-1/2" brass cylindrical case holding two steel needle points; a 5" pointed wooden stick; 4-1/2" brass and steel fixed-leg dividers; a 4" brass and steel compass with a pencil point and a removable leg; pen and pencil points that fit the compass; a 4" brass and steel divider point, pen point, and extender bar that do not fit any instrument in the case; a 3-3/4" brass and steel bow pen with ivory handle; a metal joint tightener; and a 6-1/4" brass and steel drawing pen with ivory handle. The pencil point for the compass is marked: Bvt. S.G.D.G. Some instruments are apparently not original to the set.
Compas Supérieurs assembled cases of drawing instruments in France in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. "Brevetés sans Guarantie de Gouvernement" in its logo suggests the company had applied for French patents.
Jacob Peter Schröder (1809–1887) of Darmstadt, Germany, operated a teaching workshop that made wooden and cast-iron models of machines from 1837 into the 1880s. The firm exhibited sewing machines at the 1862 Great London Exposition. A few wooden Schröder geometric models are in the Smithsonian mathematics collections; see 1982.0795.39, 1982.0795.40, 1982.0795.41, 1982.0795.42, 1982.0795.43, and 1982.0795.44. Some of the firm's kinematic models may be viewed via Cornell's Kinetic Models for Design Digital Laboratory,
William Minifie (1805–1880) apprenticed as a cabinet maker in England before moving to Baltimore in 1828. He became an architect and builder, professor of drawing at Central High School in Baltimore, and author of a successful textbook on geometrical drawing. In 1847 he purchased the bookstore that became Wm. Minifie (adding "& Son" in 1868), selling stationery and artist's materials.
References: Science and Art Department of the Committee of Council on Education, Catalogue of Models of Machinery, Drawings, Tools, &c. in the South Kensington Museum (London, 1880), 16, 111, 157–169; C. Herbert Baxley, "Travel in the 1830s: The Diary of William Minifie," Maryland Historical Magazine 78 (1983): 287–296; Baltimore City Directories of 1863–64 (p. 192) and 1879 (p. 535).
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1900
Minifie, William
Compas Superieurs
place made
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
fabric (overall material)
brass (overall material)
plastic (overall material)
steel (overall material)
ivory (overall material)
overall: 4.8 cm x 23.7 cm x 13.1 cm; 1 7/8 in x 9 11/32 in x 5 5/32 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of George C. Ahrling
Drafting, Engineering
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Science & Mathematics
Drawing Instruments
Data Source
National Museum of American History


I have one of these that was my father's. I am not sure where he got it as he now has dementia. He was a mechanic his whole life and he also served in the military in Germany. I loved reading about this piece and knowing some of its history.

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