E. Brown & Son Surveyor's Vernier Compass

Edmund Brown (1800-about 1867) spent 20 years with Richard Patten in New York, first as an apprentice in the shop at the Sign of the Compass Card, and then as a journeyman. In 1835, when Patten withdrew from the business, Brown and another employee took over the shop. In 1841, Brown joined with Bush G. Brown, and began trading as E. Brown & Son. This partnership lasted until 1863. This compass, marked "E. Brown & Son, New York," dates from that period.
The compass has a variation arc on the north arm that extends 20 degrees either way. The vernier, moved by a tangent screw on the south arm, reads to single minutes. A level vial is on the south arm. The tangent screw and the decoration of the face (a circle of flowers and leaves) are typical features of New York compasses. The compass has two sets of vertical sights. The plain ones are probably original with the instrument. The others, which are graduated so that vertical angles can be read, are probably not.
One label in the box reads "E. BROWN & SON, MATHEMATICAL INSTRUMENT MAKERS No. 27 Fulton Slip NEW YORK." The other label is that of Wm. J. Young & Sons of Philadelphia, a firm that may have repaired the compass and supplied the graduated sights.
Ref: Charles E. Smart, The Makers of Surveying Instruments in America Since 1700 (Troy, N.Y., 1962), pp. 16-20.
Currently not on view
Object Name
compass (surveyor's vernier) with box
date made
Edmund Brown and Son
needle: 6 in; 15.24 cm
overall length: 17 in; 43.18 cm
place made
United States: New York, New York
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Measuring & Mapping
Surveying and Geodesy
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Surveying and Geodesy
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Smart, Charles E.. Makers of Surveying Instruments in America Since 1700
Additional Media

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