RARE 19TH Cent PRESENTATION SEXTANT – COMPLETE
Presented is an ebony frame, ivory arc, antique sextant by
a little known British instrument maker, Lewis Woolf of Liverpool, and sold in this country by H. Duren, a
dealer in nautical instruments at 39 Burling Slip, New York, N.Y. This location is part of what is now the South Street
Seaport Museum area of the city. The sextant maker and Duren are both listed in Webster’s Registry of Instrument makers, and
Duren sold other makers’ instruments as well. The sextant dates from the mid 19th Century. Except for a few exceptions,
it is in outstanding condition with all its metal machinery, and sharply engraved ivory in place. Rarely seen with instruments
of this age, is the small ivory plate on the backside and the ivory cap for a lead pencil to record the reading of the observations.
The arc measures from – 3 to plus 105 degrees. The ivory plate on a cross bar between
the two limbs is engraved “Lewis Woolf Liverpool”, with H. Duren, New York, under”.There are very few of Louis Woolf instruments known to exist and nothing is known
of the maker’s history other than he is listed in Webster’s Database of Instrument Makers. A similar example
of this instrument was sold at auction by Eldred’s of West Dennis, MA in 1975. This particular instrument was in a private
collection for the last thirty years. The sextant has a ribbed brass index arm measuring 11 7/8 inches
long with a diameter of arc of 9 5/8″. The horizon mirror is on an adjustable turntable and can be rotated by two knobs one
of which locks the mirror’s position. There are three rectangular sun shades. Note the early form ivory vernier
scale, reading from right to left from 0 to 20 arc minutes, two hole peep sight with “flap”, and three sun shades all of which
help date the instrument. There is no provision for a handle on this instrument which marks it 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.
INSTRUMENT CONDITION: The sextant appears in
generally excellent condition having been owned by someone originally who lavished care on his instrument. All
the ivory is in perfect condition, and the engraving is sharp and distinct. The index arm clamp’s screw has a slight
which does not affect its operation. The tangent screw and other adjustment knobs work, and the shade glasses are complete
and in good working order. The ebony frame shows as near new. The instrument has its original machinery, and a two hole peep
sight. Its age now shows on the back where a crack is below the pivot point of the index arm. The horizon mirror has no silvering
and inexplicably looks as if it was shattered. The index mirror is in much better condition than might be expected for
its age though there is a horizontal area which show a scrape. Everything is original and in good working order except for
the horizon mirror.
THE SEXTANT’S CASE: The sextant is housed in a keystone
case, complete with original key. The case is fitted with a red velvet liner, and its clasps have been dressed with polished
brass wire which adds a touch of distinction, and something that only a seaman would do. It has two age cracks on its top
and one on the bottom, but is good and sturdy. Somewhere in the past, the case was refinished, and looks as new inside. A key
is included which fits the lock.
and index mirror
Peep sight and horizon mirror
SEE MORE PICTURES IN THE GALLERY BELOW
All in all,
a highly desirable and worthwhile example from one of the lesser known English instrument makers.
DIMENSIONS:Length of frame 11 7/8″
Width of frame at arc 9 5/8″
Index mirror 45 x 35 mm
Horizon mirror 24 x 22 mm
Weight 2 Lbs 2 oz
OUR CREDENTIALS: We are one of the few people selling
Old World navigation instruments that know anything about them. For purposes of judging whether my opinion counts, I 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.
I am also a retired Master Mariner, and formerly held a U.S. Navy “D” Qualification as a Senior Skipper – Oceans. Rarely do you find an instrument that is that
is 157 years old in this original condition with a perfect case. A superior addition to any collection.