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    George Washington owned and used this tool as a land surveyor.

    George Washington: His Personal Gunter's Scale Surveying Tool. A wooden ruler engraved with multiple scales and functions on both sides, 24" long x 1.5" wide. An indispensable tool invented by English mathematician Edmund Gunter in 1624; it quickly achieved widespread use by navigators and surveyors. A precursor to the more modern slide rule, the Gunter required the use of a pair of compasses to accomplish amazingly accurate computations. This present example, as was typical, has approximately sixteen tiny metal "points" embedded in the wood in particular locations. These prevented the compass needles from making permanent holes in the wood. The detailed workmanship is incredible and the patina is rich and deep. It shows obvious signs of use and age and is slightly warped. Without a doubt, this instrument, in the hands of an expert, would be capable of serving its intended mathematical function for many years in the future.

    George Washington is thought to have made his first land survey as a young man of only fourteen years of age. He mentions the purchase of a Gunter Chain (another practical invention of Edmund Gunter's) in his journal soon after. Although he desired to become a British naval officer, Washington's older half brother, Lawrence, talked him into becoming a surveyor, a job that offered good pay had a certain amount of prestige. At age sixteen, Washington took his first surveying trip to the Shenandoah Valley. In 1749, he was appointed as the official surveyor for Culpeper County, Virginia. This was his first public office and the appointment led to a fine career that gave him the opportunity to meet influential people and make advantageous land purchases. He was actively engaged in the surveying profession for only five years but records indicate that he performed land surveying on his own Mount Vernon estate up until shortly before his death.

    Consigned by the heirs of George Washington, John Augustine Washington, and Bushrod Washington. John was George Washington's brother, a member of the fifth Virginia Convention and a founding member of the Mississippi Land Company. During the Revolutionary War, John Augustine Washington served on the County Committee of Safety and as the Chairman of the County Committee for the Relief of Boston. He was also the father of Supreme Court Justice Bushrod Washington, to whom George Washington bequeathed Mount Vernon.

    More Information:

    There are numerous antiquarian books with instructions on the use of the Gunter Scale. One such tome, The complete navigator: or, An easy and familiar guide to the theory and practice of navigation, by Andrew Mackay (B.B. Hopkins, 1807), discusses it and its uses at great length, introducing the instrument as follows:

    "The ruler in general use in navigation, is that known by the name of Gunter's scale. The length of this scale is usually two feet, and about an inch and a half broad. One side of this scale contains lines for constructing geometrical figures; and the lines upon the other side are called artificial, or logarithmic lines, being intended to resolve the questions in the several sailings, and to perform other mathematical operations.

    "The following lines are usually placed on one side of Gunter's scale, namely:

    Scales of equal parts.

    Secants, marked - SEC.

    Chords, marked - CHO.

    Tangents . - - TAN.

    Rhumbs - - RHU.

    Semi-tangents - S. T.

    Sines - - SIN.

    Longitudes - M. L

    "Sides of plane triangles are measured upon a scale of equal parts, and angles upon chords or rhumbs. The line of sines is used in the orthographic projection of the sphere; and those of secants, tangents, and semi-tangents, in the stereographic and gnomonic projections. The line of longitudes, to which are adapted┬╗lines of chords and rhumbs, shows the number of miles in a degree of longitude at any given latitude; this line also, when compared with the chords or rhumbs, gives the difference of latitude and departure answering to a distance of 60 miles, and to any given course."

    As can be seen in the accompanying images, this description matches most of the features of Washington's Gunter Scale offered here.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    May, 2011
    21st Saturday
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