Surveyor's Compass

Surveyor's Compass

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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).
Currently not on view
Object Name
surveyor's compass
date made
also made surveyor's compasses
Rittenhouse, David
Lamb, Anthony
place made
United States: New York
Physical Description
brass (overall material)
overall length: 14 in; 35.56 cm
needle: 4 7/8 in; 12.3825 cm
overall 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
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Measuring & Mapping
Surveying and Geodesy
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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