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probably made in London

Postcard of Sextant.
© National Museums Scotland


The design for this type of sextant was patented in 1788 by Edward Troughton, a scientific instrument maker based in London. This brass example was made around 1820, probably by Troughton.

The 10-inch 'pillar frame' sextant has two thin frames of plate brass held together by a series of brass pillars. It has a platinum scale (which would not tarnish), an early example of the recently discovered metal being used in instrument design.

The English chemist, William Hyde Wollaston (1766-1828) managed to isolate platinum chemically in 1804. Troughton, who had introduced a new method of engraving sextant scales in 1785, realised that the hardness of this metal made it ideal for scale engraving.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-100-104-300-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0098: National Museums Scotland
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1987.137
Date: Around 1820
c. 1820
Material: Brass, platinum. Inscription: Troughton London platina 1251
What: Sextant / case
Who: E. Troughton, London (Maker)
The Leith Nautical College Collection
Where: England, London
Description: Ten inch double frame sextant in a fitted case, made by E. Troughton of London about 1820
  • Chaldecott, John A., 'Platinum and Palladium in Astronomy and Navigation: The Pioneer Work of Edward Troughton and William Hyde Wollaston' in Platinum Metals Review 31 (1987) pp 91-100 
  • For Troughton, see McConnell, Anita, Instrument Makers to the World: A History of Cooke, Troughton & Simms. York: 1992, esp. pp 14-24 
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