Nautical Antiques & Marine Art at Land and Sea Collection™ Dive Helmets, Ship Models, Sextants

Antique Early Spencer Browning ~ Samuel Thaxter Sextant

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This Fine Relic Has Been Sold. Thank you!
 
SUPERB EARLY SPENCER BROWNING ~  SAMUEL THAXTER Ca1840  SEXTANT

 
 
Presented is a museum quality, a term we don't use lightly, ebony frame, ivory arc, antique sextant with peep sight made by the well known maker Spencer, Browning & Co. of London, Ca 1860. It is in remarkable original condition and has the label of Samuel Thaxter & Son, No. 125, State St., Boston which is also in excellent original condition. Of the many antique instruments we have sold, this is the first instrument that we have offered that includes the small ivory plate on the back, and an ivory cap to hold a lead pencil which is in place. 
 
The arc measures from - 5 to plus 105 degrees. The ivory plate on a cross bar between the two limbs is engraved "Spencer Browning & Co. London", Additionally, in the center of the ivory degree's scale between 50 and 55 degrees is inscribed in script "SBR" identifying the ivory was engraved by Spencer, Browning & Rust, of London.
 

 
Spencer Browning Rust worked in London from 1724 to 1840 when the name was changed to Spencer Browning & Co. after the death of Ebenezer Rust.  The successor, Spencer Browning had offices at a number of addresses on Wapping High Street, London and were in business until 1870. They had an early dividing machine and inscribed arcs for others.
Ref: Gloria Clifton, Directory of British Scientific Instrument Makers 1550-1851 (London, 1995), p. 261.
 
ONE OF AMERICA'S MOST IMPORTANT INSTRUMENT MAKER'S HISTORY: The label in the case is of Samuel Thaxter who was born in Hingham, Massachusetts in 1769 and died 1842. He apprenticed to William Williams, maker of a backstaff in 1768 with a King Street, Boston address. Upon Williams' death in 1792 Thaxter took over the nautical instrument making business, moving to Long Wharf, State Street, Boston in 1792. His address was first advertised as "Head of Long Wharf". During the 18th century, prior to the advent of street numbers, a business location was quite often identified by a landmark, such as "At the sign of the Little Admiral" or "Head of Long Wharf." From Webster's Registry of Instrument Makers, (1792); 125 State Street (1796-1842); both in Boston, Mass."
 
He is first listed in the 1796 Boston Directory as a mathematical instrument maker.  In the 1822-23 edition, the business is listed as Samuel Thaxter & Son (Joseph H. 1801-1835).  Samuel Thaxter's grandson, Samuel Thaxter Cushing (1821-1882), took over the business around 1843. Upon the death of Samuel Thaxter Cushing, his widow, Abby C. Cushing took over management of the business until 1905 at which time Herbert Risteen Starratt became manager.  The last entry of the company (Samuel Thaxter & Son) in the Boston Directory is 1916."  

Reference:  Smart, Charles E.   The Makers Of Surveying Instruments In America Since 1700  Troy, New York:  Regal Art Press.  1962  

 
THE INSTRUMENT: This beautifully made sextant has a ribbed brass index arm measures 11 5/8 inches long on the index arm. The horizon mirror is on an adjustable turntable and can be rotated by an arbor. Note the thumb screw, early form ivory vernier scale, reading from right to left from 0 to 20 arc minutes, a movable peep sight, and a set of three sun shades. There is no provision for a handle on this sextant which with the other indicators all of which help date the instrument as a transitional piece between an octant and a sextant.

Some time after 1780, the addition of a tangent screw, as fitted to this instrument, allowed for fine adjustment and represents one of the two major changes in the basic operation of the octants and sextants for the next 150 years! The second was the fitting of telescopes. As was the practice with octant's of larger size, this sextant was not fitted with a handle which indicates it is one of the earliest of that type made by Spencer Browning making it a noteworthy instrument by this maker.

                                   Early style stair step keystone case interior

INSTRUMENT CONDITION: The sextant appears in its last used condition having been maintained properly. The index mirror is in much better condition than might be expected with little loss of silvering. age. The horizon mirror has lost its silvering, but is in otherwise good condition. The ivory is in perfect condition, except for some age darkening at the ends. The engraving is sharp and distinct. The index arm clamp and tangent screw are complete. The shade glasses are complete. Everything is in good working order. The entire instrument and ebony frame shows as near new. The instrument has its original machinery, and a two hole peep sight.

THE CASE: The stepped "keystone" solid Oak case is in excellent condition, but has some age cracks top. It has been refinished. There is a lock, but a cover plate and key are missing. A label of Samuel Thaxter & Son, No. 125, State St., Boston which is also in excellent original condition is inside.
                             Maker's name
                      "SBR" imprint at 55 degrees

                      The machinery
                          The case

A highly desirable and worthwhile example from one of the better known English instrument makers, and sold by one of America's finest.
 
DIMENSIONS:
 
Length of frame 11 5/8"
Width of frame at arc   9 1/2"
Index mirror    47 x 30 mm
Horizon mirror 28 x 22 mm
Weight    2 Lbs 2 oz
 
QUALIFICATIONS: We are one of the few company's still selling navigation instruments that know anything about them. For purposes of judging whether Joel's opinion counts, he was the editor of the chapter on sextants of the 1977 Edition of "Bowditch", The American Practical Navigator, NAVPUB 9; a member of the U.S. Naval Academy Navigation Symposium Board, 1975 -1978; the author of a book on marine sextants, Cornell Maritime Press,1975, and the founding president of Nautech Maritime Corporation which partnered with Tamaya of Japan in the introduction of the MS 733 Spica, the MS 833, Jupiter, MS 933 Venus sextants and the famous NC-2 navigation computer, in the U.S. market. Joel is a retired Master Mariner, and held a U.S. Navy "D" Qualification as a Senior Skipper - Oceans. For six years he was a Varsity Offshore Coach at the U.S. Naval Academy.
 
Rarely do you find an instrument that is that is 167 years old in this original condition with a perfect historic label. A superior addition to any collection. 
 
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