Swiss Pattern Folding Compass and Divider

The ends of this German silver instrument rotate at right angles to the legs. When the pointed ends of both legs are extended, the instrument works as a divider. The other side of one end has an adjustable pen point, and the other side of the other end has a holder, tightened by a metal ring, for a pencil lead. When one of these ends is extended, the instrument functions as a compass. The legs fold up inside themselves so the compass may be stored in a wooden case covered with black leather and lined with purple velvet. The instrument has no identifying marks. It is similar but not identical to a folding pocket compass sold for $5.00 (without a case) by W. & L. E. Gurley from at least 1903 to 1912.
Englishman David Napier (1790–1876) is credited with inventing the folded compass in 1848. This version improves on the design by putting all of the joints in the same plane and is known as the "Swiss pattern," although makers all over Europe made these instruments.
References: A Manual of the Principal Instruments . . . Manufactured by W. & L. E. Gurley, 37th ed. (Troy, N.Y., 1903), 309–310; A Manual of the Principal Instruments . . . Manufactured by W. & L. E. Gurley, 46th ed. (Troy, N.Y., 1912), 365–366; Maya Hambly, Drawing Instruments: 1580–1980 (London: Sotheby's Publications, 1988), 83–84.
Currently not on view
Object Name
drawing compass and divider
date made
ca 1900
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
metal (overall material)
velvet (overall material)
in case: 1.8 cm x 9.3 cm x 4.2 cm; 23/32 in x 3 21/32 in x 1 21/32 in
overall: .5 cm x 13.4 cm x 1.7 cm; 3/16 in x 5 9/32 in x 21/32 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Science & Mathematics
Drawing Instruments
Dividers and Compasses
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Dividers and Compasses
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Eunice L. Hoffman
Additional Media

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