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probably made in London

Postcard of Theodolite.
© National Museums Scotland


A theodolite is a surveying instrument for measuring horizontal and vertical angles. This brass example was made around 1770, probably by Jesse Ramsden, a scientific instrument maker based in London.

The theodolite's telescope is supported by two brackets above an 180 degree arc which is adjusted against the vernier scale by rack-and-pinion. This is mounted over a horizontal circle which contains a central compass, engraved 'Ramsden, London'. The whole is on a raised column above four levelling screws.

Jesse Ramsden (1735-1800) is credited by George Adams with the innovation of permanent double 'A' frames on the horizontal circle of the theodolite. This is clearly a slightly less mechanically-stable precursor to that design.

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Online ID: 000-100-104-299-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0098: National Museums Scotland
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1987.132
Date: Around 1770
c. 1770
What: Theodolite, simple
Who: J. Ramsden, London (Maker)
Where: England, London
Description: Simple theodolite by J. Ramsden of London, c. 1770
  • For Ramsden, see Clifton, Gloria, Directory of British Scientific Instrument Makers 1550-1851. London: 1995, pp 227-8 
  • For the development of the theodolite, see Bennett, J.A., The Divided Circle: A history of instruments for astronomy, navigation and surveying. Oxford: 1987, pp 145-9 
  • Nuttall, R. H., The Arthur Frank Loan Collection: Early Scientific Instruments. Glasgow: 1973, item 623 
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