Semielliptical trammel

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made in London

Postcard of Semielliptical trammel.
© National Museums Scotland

Semielliptical trammel

This semielliptical trammel made in brass was used to draw an ellipse. It was made in London around 1775.

The semielliptical trammel consists of a T-shaped base, into which are sunk two grooves at right-angles to each other. The base has pins on the underside, to prevent it slipping. It has a long bar, with a pen at one end, running through two sliding heads attached to wheels which run in the grooves. The pen is restrained on the end of the bar, and thus draws an ellipse. This instrument is signed 'Adams London' on the wheel.

An ellipse is one of the curves which is of some importance to draughtsmen, used, for instance, in the design of bridges or arches, and by architects when drawing or setting out ceilings or stairs. Being a conic section, the figure was known to the Greeks, but it was not until the Renaissance that the desire to draw a circle in perspective with accuracy gave the impetus to the invention of the earliest devices which could depict ellipses. Albrecht Durer invented a form of semielliptical trammel in about 1540, and examples appear in cases of drawing instruments dating from about 1600 onwards.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-180-000-155-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0504: National Museums Scotland Part 2
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1897.185
Date: Around 1775
Material: Brass / mahogany case
Dimensions: 20.00" L
What: Trammel / case
Subject: 19. MATHEMATICS (Departmental Classification)
Who: Adams, London (Maker)
Where: England, London
Description: Trammel for drawing ellipses, brass, in mahogany case, made by Adams of London
  • For the firm of George Adams, see Millburn, J.R. Adams of Fleet Street, Instrument Makers to King George III. London, 2000. 
  • Hambley, Maya. Drawing Instruments 1580-1980. London, 1988, p 89. 
  • Stanley, W.F. Mathematical Drawing Instruments. London, 1878, pp 66-69. 
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