Bowles Surveyor's Compass

This is a wooden compass with a paper card, the central circle of which is marked, “T. S. BOWLES*PORTSMOUTH, N. H.*” The signature refers to Thomas Salter Bowles, who was baptized in Portsmouth, N.H., in 1785. An advertisement in the Portsmouth Oracle for May 31, 1806, notes that Bowles was a mathematical instrument maker who had just taken a shop in Daniel Street, and that his wares included “Azimuth and brass Compasses, wood and Hanging Compasses.” Bowles was still in business in 1821. Several Bowles compasses with different cards are known. Unlike most wooden compasses, this one has a brass band around the outside of the box, and a brass needle ring graduated to 1 degree of arc.
Ref: Silvio A. Bedini, Early American Scientific Instruments and Their Makers (Washington, D.C., 1964), pp. 124-126.
Currently not on view
Object Name
compass (surveyor's plain)
Bowles, Thomas Salter
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
overall length: 13 in; 33.02 cm
needle: 4 1/2 in; 11.43 cm
place made
United States: New Hampshire, Portsmouth
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
Bedini, Silvio A.. Early American Scientific Instruments and Their Makers
Additional Media

Visitor Comments

Add a comment about this object

**Please read before submitting the form**

Have a comment or question about this object to share with the community? Please use the form below. Selected comments will appear on this page and may receive a museum response (but we can't promise). Please note that we generally cannot answer questions about the history, rarity, or value of your personal artifacts.

Have a question about anything else, or would you prefer a personal response? Please visit our FAQ or contact page.

Personal information will not be shared or result in unsolicited e-mail. See our privacy policy.

Enter the characters shown in the image.