Drawing Instrument on the Design of Henry Johnson, Volutor


This is a brass instrument for drawing spirals, particularly the Ionic capitals on columns drawn by architects. A horizontal brass beam is marked in inches. The inches are divided to thirty-seconds along one edge of the beam and tenths along another edge. At one end of the beam, near zero, is a holder for a pen or pencil points. Both points are in the case that houses the instrument. At the other end of the beam is a reel made of bone that is wound with string. A support that slides along the beam carries a brass framework with two small wheels. One end of the support also has a pointer that marks the center of the spiral. Atop this is one of four brass cones, a ceramic and brass vertical column, and a brass and bone handle. The thread from the spool winds around grooves in the cone. Turning the handle releases the thread and moves the pen or pencil point in a spiral.

Also included are two hollow brass pieces, a brass disc with a central hole, and a small, metal-lined wooden box. The box fits in a separate compartment. The entire instrument fits in a wooden case lined with green velvet. A mark on the object reads: The Volutor. (/) H. Johnson’s Patent (/) 1858.

Henry Johnson was a wine merchant in London. He invented not only the Volutor but a deep sea pressure gauge. Both were shown at the International Exposition held in London in 1862.


William Joseph Booth, A Description of the Volutor..., London: Judd and Glass, 1859. According to this publication, Henry Johnson authorized F. Hoffmann of Clerkenwell to manufacture the Volutor. Booth read his paper at the 1858 meeting of the British Association in Leeds.

Joseph Booth, “On an Improved Instrument for Drawing Spirals,” British Association for the Advancement of Science Report of the Annual Meeting [for 1860] , 30, 1861, pp. 60-61.

London International Exposition, The Illustrated Catalogue of the Industrial Department..., London: Her Majesty’s Commissioners, 1862, 2, pp. 17-18.

Susan Piedmont-Palladino, Tools of the Imagination: Drawing tools and Technologies from the Eighteenth Century to the Present, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006, pp. 16-17.

“Henry Johnson,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 39 #4, February 14, 1879, p. 227.

Date Made: 1858Date Made: ca 1860

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: United Kingdom: England, London

Subject: MathematicsDrafting, Engineering


See more items in: Medicine and Science: Mathematics, Single Drawing Instruments, Science & Mathematics


Exhibition Location:

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 2004.0175.01Accession Number: 2004.0175Catalog Number: 2004.0175.01

Object Name: Drawing Instrument

Physical Description: metal, brass (parts material)bone (handle material)wood (case material)felt (lining material)string (control material)Measurements: overall: 8.5 cm x 29.8 cm x 20 cm; 3 3/8 in x 11 3/4 in x 7 7/8 in

Guid: http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/ng49ca746ab-6e6d-704b-e053-15f76fa0b4fa

Record Id: nmah_1276073

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