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Octant inscribed I. P. Cutts & Sons Opticians to her Majesty Sheffield

Date: 1841-1851
Overall: 77 x 264 x 316 mm, 948.25 g
Medium: Wood, brass, ivory
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Classification:Tools and equipment
Object Name: Octant
Object No: AX001066
Place Manufactured:Sheffield

User Terms

    Octant, used for navigation, inscribed I.P. Cutts and Sons Opticians to her Majesty Sheffield. Circa 1841-1849.
    SignificanceThis octant was produced by a well known 19th century optical instrument maker from Sheffield, England, John Preston Cutts. It can be dated to the 1840s.
    HistoryAn octant is a portable instrument that uses a small mirror to bring two images together, those of the sun and the horizon, for instance, to determine latitude at sea by observing the altitude of celestial bodies. It has an arc of 45 degrees or more that measures angles of 90 degrees or more.

    John Hadley described an instrument of this sort to the Royal Society of London in 1731 and obtained a British patent in 1734, and so octants are sometimes known as Hadley quadrants. They were still in use in the early twentieth century.

    Early octants have mahogany frames and boxwood scales read by diagonals. Those made after around 1800 have ebony frames, brass index arms, and ivory scales read by verniers. Although early examples were large, heavy, and costly, Ramsden's invention of the dividing engine in 1777 led to the production of smaller and less expensive instruments.

    This octant is inscribed I. P. Cutts and sons. John Preston Cutts (1787-1858) firm reportedly started in 1804, but is confirmed operating from 1825 in Sheffield. From 1839 Cutts & sons advertised as 'opticians to her Majesty'. Various permutations of the firm name appear on instruments; I. P. Cutts and Sons, J. P. Cutts, Sutton & Co., I. P. Cutts, Sons & Sutton.

    James Chesterman was incorporated into the business in 1849, suggesting that the Cutts & Sons inscription is prior to this. Cutts included his sons in the business from 1841, suggesting this octant was manufactured between 1841 and 1849.

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