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Mathematical Treasure: Early Modern Drawing Instruments

Amy Ackerberg-Hastings (University of Maryland University College)

18th-century Pocket Case of Drawing InstrumentsContents of 18th-century Pocket Case of Drawing Instruments

Pocket Case of Drawing Instruments, mid-18th century, Smithsonian Institution negative numbers DOR2013-17245 and DOR2013-17249.

Draftsmen, architects, surveyors, navigators, engineers, and others who apply mathematics in their daily work have historically needed to keep a variety of drawing instruments on hand. Some purchased tools at different times from different makers and either built or purchased a case in which to keep them; some purchased ready-made sets from a single instrument maker; and some purchased sets but later replaced broken or lost instruments by purchasing them from other makers.

The 18th-century instruments pictured here are stored in a wooden case covered in black fishskin that fits in a pocket. The protractor, one of the set squares, and sector all came from the shop of Michael Butterfield, which produced some of the finest craftsmanship in Paris in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The other set square was made by the firm of Claude Langlois, which was active in Paris in the middle of the 18th century.

This case and other sets of drawing instruments from the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History are now shown and described at the website

Index of Mathematical Treasures

Index of Mathematical Objects

Amy Ackerberg-Hastings (University of Maryland University College), "Mathematical Treasure: Early Modern Drawing Instruments," Convergence (September 2014)

Mathematical Treasures: Smithsonian National Museum of American History Object Groups