Surveyor's Compass


Anthony Lamb (1703-1784) was born in London, and apprenticed with Henry Carter, a maker of mathematical instruments. In 1724, having been convicted of being an accomplice in a burglary, Lamb was banished to the American colonies. He arrived in Annapolis, Md., in December 1724. In December 1730, Lamb advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette (Benjamin Franklin's newspaper) that he was a "Mathematical Instrument-maker, from London, now living in New-York, near the new Dock, at the Sign of the Compass and the Quadrant." He offered "all Sorts of Instruments for Sea or Land," and the compass on his trade sign was probably a navigational instrument. Lamb soon recognized the importance of the American land, and by 1745 he was trading At the Sign of the Quadrant and Surveying-Compass. In a handbill issued in the early 1750s, Lamb offered "all sorts of Surveying Compasses, with Agate capt Needles."

This brass compass marked "Made & Sold by A. LAMB. New York" was probably made in the 1750s, and is thus one of the earliest instruments of this sort made in America. Following English practice, the face reads clockwise, and the bar is narrow and rather flimsy. The vertical sights fold down when not in use. David Rittenhouse would begin making surveyor's compasses with counterclockwise faces and sturdy baseplates in the 1760s.

Ref: Silvio A. Bedini, At the Sign of the Compass and Quadrant. the Life and Times of Anthony Lamb (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1984).

Date Made: 1750s

Also Made Surveyor's Compasses: Rittenhouse, DavidMaker: Lamb, Anthony

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: United States: New York

See more items in: Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences, Surveying and Geodesy, Measuring & Mapping


Exhibition Location:

Related Publication: Bedini, Silvio A.. At the Sign of the Compass and the Quadrant, the Life and Times of Anthony Lamb

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: PH.325900Catalog Number: 325900Accession Number: 251930

Object Name: surveyor's compass

Physical Description: brass (overall material)Measurements: overall length: 14 in; 35.56 cmneedle: 4 7/8 in; 12.3825 cmoverall in box: 3 3/16 in x 17 in x 6 3/4 in; 8.09625 cm x 43.18 cm x 17.145 cm


Record Id: nmah_745614

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.