11058 A RARE SET OF THREE STEEL ARCHITECTS INSTRUMENTS OF VERY LARGE SCALE French. Eighteenth Century.
Of steel. Consisting of :
A very large caliper with thumbscrew adjustment, measuring 33″ (83.8 cm).
A very large compass with raised fretted rococo decoration to the top, measuring 30″ (76.2 cm)
A smaller compass, with engraved inscription A Paris Mosieur (sic) Bericon 176?. Engraved with rococo and fretted decoration, measuring 19″ (48.3 cm)
Calipers and dividers (or compasses) were especially valuable tools to woodworkers, metalworkers, masons and shipwrights for measuring thickness, interior and exterior dimensions, and for drawing accurate circles. The present set of tools includes a large pair of outside calipers, a large set of of dividers and a small set of dividers.
Although primarily utilitarian in their function, hand tools, even from ancient times, have had strikingly modern “gracefulness of line and a sense of proportion,”1 bestowing on them an inherent decorative quality as well. “The hand tool is frequently a lively and decorative symbol of a society at a given time—a symbol, which, according to the judges at London’s Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851, gives ‘indications of the peculiar condition and habits of the people whence they come, of their social and industrial wants and aims, as well as their natural or acquired advantages’.”2
Indeed, the use of curved and incised decorations “typify the efforts of eighteenth-century toolmakers to beautify their products.”3 This is apparent in the rococo and fretted decoration of the present set. Furthermore, the smaller pair of dividers bears an engraved floral design along with the inscription A Paris Mosieur (sic) Bericon 176[?]. Though it is unknown whether this is the name of the toolmaker or owner of the instruments, the signature clearly denotes a level of pride in possession of the implements.
It has been suggested that the unusual scale of the present instruments implies a use in the field of architectural monumental masonry. The Museum of the History of Science in Florence shows as Inventory #3693 a “Caliper Compass” made of steel, of similar size.
- Welsh, Peter C. “The Decorative Appeal of Hand Tools,” Antiques, vol. 87, no. 2, February 1965, pp. 204–207. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/27238/27238-h/27238-h.htm
- Hummel, Charles F. With hammer in hand; the Dominy craftsmen of East Hampton, New York. 1968. http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/DLDecArts.HammerInHand.