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Postcard of Theodolite.
© National Museums Scotland


A theodolite is a surveying instrument for measuring horizontal and vertical angles. This brass example was made around 1750, and retailed by London optician Benjamin Martin (1704/5-1782).

This instrument consists of a compass, with two spirit levels, and has both fixed and movable sighting vanes on a graduated circle. It could be used if attached to a ball-and-socket levelling head and tripod (neither shown here), to take readings in both vertical and horizontal planes.

Martin was a much respected designer of scientific instruments and had a shop at the sign of 'Hadley's Quadrant and Visual Glasses' in Fleet Street in London. He was also a prolific writer and gave lectures on Natural Philosophy illustrated with his instruments.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-100-044-570-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0098: National Museums Scotland
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1971.87
Date: Around 1750
What: Circumferentor / compass
Subject: 5. CARTOGRAPHY, Surveying (Departmental Classification)
Who: B. Martin, London (Maker)
Where: England, London
Description: Circumferentor and compass by B. Martin of London
  • For an explanation of the evolution of the theodolite, see Bennett, J.A. The Divided Circle: A history of instruments for astronomy, navigation and surveying. Oxford: 1987. pp 145-9 
  • Millburn, John R., Benjamin Martin author, instrument-maker, and country showman. Leyden: 1976, pp 224-5 
  • Millburn, John R., Retailer of the sciences: Benjamin Martin's scientific instrument catalogues, 1756-1782. London: 1986, p 24 
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