Brown & Sharpe 510 Draftsman's Protractor


See also ID number 1977.0460.01. After the inventor of this draftsman's protractor, Alton J. Shaw, left Darling, Brown & Sharpe of Providence, R.I., Samuel Darling patented a vernier scale that was a fraction of the size of a standard vernier scale. Darling then claimed to apply his vernier to the draftsman's protractor, replacing the original patent date in the maker's mark with the December 2, 1890, date of this patent. See, for example, the illustration in Brown & Sharpe's 1899 Catalogue No. 101 and Price Lists. This vernier read to only five minutes of accuracy, while Shaw's earlier vernier read to one minute of accuracy. Darling argued, however, that the coarser scale was easier to read and sufficed for most situations that arose in engineering drawing.

In any event, the draftsman's protractor continued to sell steadily into the 20th century. Advertisements extolled the instrument's versatility, including its ability to function as a drawing triangle and as an extension of a T-square. The original patent date reappeared on the instrument in 1902 and 1904 but disappeared again by 1916, by which time Brown & Sharpe also changed the protractor's catalog number from 530 to 510. Other dealers, including Keuffel & Esser, W. & L. E. Gurley, and L. S. Starrett, also sold the draftsmen's protractor.

The chief difference between this example of the instrument and ID number 1977.0460.01 is the reduced precision of the vernier, which is even marked: FIVE MINUTES. This protractor has 40 unmarked divisions, instead of 30. The signature is: 510; BROWN & SHARPE MFG. CO. (/) PROVIDENCE. R.I. U.S.A. The handle also bears the Brown & Sharpe logo of two rectangles at right angles to one another, with the letters B∙S above the horizontal rectangle and the words TRADE MARK below the horizontal rectangle. Of surviving 20th-century Brown & Sharpe catalogs, this protractor most closely resembles the illustration printed in 1925. The extending arm of the protractor is rusting.

The protractor is stored in a blue paper box covered with the company logo and the words BROWN & SHARPE. A label on one end of the lid reads: 510; ORDER BY NUMBER 599-510 (/) BROWN & SHARPE DRAFTSMEN'S PROTRACTOR (/) MADE IN U.S.A. A label on the other end of the lid reads: POST (/) 0585 (/) THE FREDERICK POST CO. CHICAGO. Post retailed scientific and drawing instruments in the 20th century. An undated sheet with tables of angles for dividing circles and for tapers per foot is in the box.

References: Samuel Darling, "Vernier-Scale" (U.S. Patent 442,020 issued December 2, 1890); Kenneth L. Cope, intro., A Brown & Sharpe Catalogue Collection, 1868 to 1899 (Mendham, N.J.: The Astragal Press, 1997); Brown & Sharpe Mfg. Co., Catalogue (Providence, R.I., 1902), 372; Brown & Sharpe Mfg. Co., Catalogue No. 138 (Providence, R.I., 1925), 504–505.

Date Made: ca 1925

Maker: Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Company

Location: Currently not on view

Subject: MathematicsProtractorDrafting, Engineering


See more items in: Medicine and Science: Mathematics, Science & Mathematics, Protractors


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Alice W. Smith

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 1990.0317.02Accession Number: 1990.0317Catalog Number: 1990.0317.02

Object Name: protractor

Physical Description: paper (overall material)sheet steel (overall material)Measurements: overall: 1.5 cm x 27.5 cm x 16.8 cm; 19/32 in x 10 13/16 in x 6 5/8 in


Record Id: nmah_904383

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