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Drawing Instruments with Mahogany Case. Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc

Artist/Maker: Unknown[1]

Created: c. 1786-1806

Origin/Purchase: England

Materials: brass and steel; mahogany veneer case with brass hinges

Dimensions: compass: 6.8 (2 11/16 in.); divider: 9.4 (3 11/16 in.); case: 21 x 12.7 x 3.3 (8 1/4 x 5 x 1 15/16 in.); ruling-pen tip (pen insert): 5.9 (2 5/16 in.); lead-holder tip (pencil insert): 4.9 (1 15/16 in.); ruling pen: 10 (3 15/16 in.); divider: 16 (6 5/16 in.); ruling-pen tip (pen insert): 10 (3 15/16 in.); lead-holder tip (pencil insert): 7.6 (3 in.); extension arm: 10.2 (4 in.); proportional divider: 17.5 (6 7/8 in.)

Location: Cabinet

Owner: the Thomas Jefferson Foundation

Accession Number: 1992-9-2

Historical Notes: Jefferson preferred to buy drawing instruments from the best English makers. In 1786, while living in Paris, he ordered four instruments from England. His list included:

"A pair of brass dividers, 6. Inches long, with a leg to slide out. A draw pen, and pencil leg, both made to slide into the leg of the dividers occasionally...they have these in the mathematical shops in London. A pair of brass dividers with a moveable center, for reducing draughts...I think they have been not long invented, and are under a patent."[2]

The large dividers, ruling-pen tip, lead-holder tip, and proportional dividers that are in this set are probably the ones sent to Jefferson from London.

After he left Europe, Jefferson continued to patronize English mathematical shops, in particular William & Samuel Jones. From that firm Jefferson purchased George Adams the Younger's Geometrical and Graphical Essays (1803), which contained a catalogue of instruments and their prices.[3] In an 1806 letter to William & Samuel Jones, Jefferson placed an order for two compasses, and referenced the catalogue's illustrations: "2 pair of hair compasses, one larger one small. [Adams' geom. & graph. essays.] Pl.1.fig.L&H."[4] The compasses were sent to Jefferson in October 1807 and are likely the two in this set.



  1.  This article is based on Stein, Worlds, 371.
  2.  Thomas Jefferson to David Humphreys, Paris, January 5, [1786], in PTJ, 9:152-153.
  3.  Sowerby, 4:26. Maya Hambly, Drawing Instruments 1580-1980 (London: Sotheby's Publications, 1988), 28-29, 48.
  4.  Jefferson to William Jones, Washington, October 25, 1806. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Polygraph copy available online.