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Surveyor’s Compass

Chandlee, Goldsmith
Place Made:
Winchester Virginia United States of America
Date Made:
brass, glass, steel
LOA 14 1/2; WOA 6 1/8; DOA 7 5/8
Accession Number:
4382.1 a-b Compass and cover: Brass surveyor’s compass with glazed silvered brass face sights intact and cover decorated with concentric circles; Engraved with eight directional indicators at the points of a star; at north end of the compass is a Fleur de lis and at the south end is a circular table engraved with the numbers 40 through 280 with a “P” at the top (see label notes); steel needle is 5″ long and can be locked in place with brass arm controlled by a knob on the underside of the compass; on the base of the folding sighting vane on the south end is a linear table marked “L” and “T” at the top (see label notes for possible explanation). On the bottom surface of the compass are two knobs: one controls a dial associated with the circular table and one controls a brass arm within the compass which raises and lowers the needle, locking it in place or releasing it; also on the underside is a socket to connect the compass to the staff.

4382.2 Staff: wooden staff; 53″ long; iron tip held in place with iron nails; brass head with swivel ball connection which attaches to the bottom of compass.

4382.3 a-n Pegs: four wooden and ten iron pegs; wooden pegs taper at one end; iron pegs have tapered tips and rings at top (9 3/4″-11″ long).
(Some pegs remaining at Coke Shelf D5)

4382.4 Chain with 48 7 3/4″ links and 2 3 1/4″ links with two oval shaped “handles” at either end; badly rusted.

LABEL NOTES: “The Goldsmith Chandlee Surveyor’s Compasses are unsual not only for excellent workmanship and design but also for the linear table engraved on the base of the s. sighting vane.

“It is surmised that the linear table marked L and T refer to paces L (1 1/2 feet) and T to the number of paces 1 to 9. [ note in margin of book: L= 2 1/2 feet]….

“A number of treatises on surveying, from 1791 and on have been reviewed and none have an explanation of either the linear table on the blade or the circular table in the compass that has the engraved figures 40 to 320 [ 230 on MESDA’s example] with the letter P at the north end of the engraved figures.

“Doubtless when Goldsmith Chandlee sold the compasses he either gave verbally or in writing an explanation to the customer of these tables.” (Quoted from the section, “Goldsmith Chandlee” in Charles E. Smart’s THE MAKERS OF SURVEYING INSTRUMENTS IN AMERICA SINCE 1700, Regal Art Press, New York, 1962, p. 27-28).

MAKER: Goldsmith Chandlee (1751-1821) was born in Nottingham, Maryland, a border town which at the time of his birth was in Pennsylvania but was resurveyed and assigned to Maryland in 1768. The Chandlee family were prominent Quaker clock and scientific instrument makers including Goldsmith’s father, Benjamin Chandlee Jr. (1723-1791) and brothers Ellis (1755-1816) and Isaac (1760-1813). Goldsmith Chandlee’s son, Benjamin Chandlee III (1780-1822) also became a clock and scientific instrument maker. Goldsmith Chandlee was recorded as a silversmith in Winchester by 1779 when he took two apprentices. In 1801 and 1808 he took two more apprentices to learn watch and clockmaking. Chandlee apparently did not advertise except on his watchpapers and actual work, which indicates that he was a successful artisan. His work was exported as far as Baltimore, for in 1807 Abraham Patton and Samuel Jones announced in that city that they had just recieved “Surveyors’ compasses AND CHAINS, Complete, made by Goldsmith Chandlee, Winchester Virginia, warranted equal in quality to any ever offered for sale in Baltimore, at the Manufacturer’s prices.”

The compass was found in Rockingham County, Virginia, south of Winchester. Its original owner was Joseph Fawcett (1771-1844), the son of Benjamin Fawcett, a prominent merchant and iron master in Rockingham County. Joseph was also a merchant and A public official appointed by President James Madison to serve as the Collector of Internal Revenue for District 8 in Virginia, encompassing Rockingham, Frederick and the surrounding counties. Joseph’s ownership of the compass is documented in a February 9, 1821 letter to his son Lyle Branson Fawett. He wrote his son, “I have no desire that you should follow surveying for the purpose of making a living…I once had a fine set of Instruments in this place which perhaps cost 40 or 50 dollars, and I loaned them until they were ruined in a great measure.” Fawcett appears to have sold the compass by 1821, well before he and his family moved from Virginia to Missouri in 1834.
Credit Line:
MESDA Purchase Fund