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probably made at Leith

Postcard of Compass.
© National Museums Scotland


This magnetic compass was made in 1761, probably by Thomas Short (1711-1788), a scientific instrument maker based at Leith, and brother of the famous telescope maker, James Short (1710-1768).

The compass has a simple magnetic needle, an engraved dial with a circular ring marked in degrees. It is contained in a square mahogany case, and was possibly part of a larger apparatus. The centre of the compass rose is engraved 'THOS. SHORT FECIT./LIETH (sic) 1761'.

The bearings taken in surveys are usually related to visible landmarks, and for many purposes, a compass bearing is adequate. Compasses have been incorporated into various surveying instruments from an early date.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-100-104-229-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0098: National Museums Scotland
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1963.44
Date: 1761
Material: Silvered card and ring / mahogany case
Dimensions: 5.50" square case
What: Compass, magnetic / case
Subject: 9. NAVIGATION (Departmental Classification)
Who: Thomas Short, Leith (Maker)
Where: Scotland, Midlothian, Edinburgh, Leith
Description: Magnetic compass by Thomas Short, 1761, with a simple magnetic needle and a silvered engraved card and circular ring engraved in degrees, and in a mahogany case
  • Bryden, D. J., James Short and his Telescopes. Edinburgh: 1968, pp 32-3 
  • For the Short brothers, see Clifton, Gloria, Directory of British Scientific Instrument Makers 1550-1851. London: 1995, p 250 
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