Presented is a beautifully made
artificial horizon that dates from around the last quarter of the 19th Century. It was made by Keuffel &
Esser Co., of St. Louis, Chicago & San Francisco a maker of all types of instruments and telescopes, for service
by the military and U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey and other users. Examples of their instruments are displayed by the Smithsonian.
This type of device which has a steel tub to hold the mercury was used as a reflecting surface. It has a glass
faced hood to minimize wind, which is an advanced design and until recently was still being made by Davis
Instruments, using plastic rather than the brass and steel as in this example’s construction. The can which was
used to hold the mercury has evidence of its use inside. It has a steel plug and pouring spout which screws into the
reflecting base to retrieve the Mercury without spilling. We have not seen this feature before.
Reflective artificial horizons date all the way back to about the 1730’s and are
still in use today as a training aid, but more importantly for dry land navigation.
The early designs were based on the idea that liquid would self level and form
a natural horizon. But that requires a liquid with a good reflective surface that was placed in a pan large enough to not
have surface friction along its edges. One of the best reflective surfaces of the time was Mercury, though oil, water. and
molasses could be used. Some of these devices could be quite complex because the liquid might be captured in a separate chamber
when not in use, and had to be enclosed so as not to be disturbed by the wind.
Side view of hood
in very compact Case
view of hood

This beautiful instrument is housed in a dovetail Mahogany wood case whose top has two triangular dents, and
other minor sundry dings and scratches. There are two leather straps missing from the side that acted as a carrying handle. The
serial number on the case and on the hood do not match. Otherwise, it is in excellent overall condition. The instrument it
self is in “like new” condition with all its bluing except for some paint that has flaked off with the passing of time.
Overall, it may be considered a superb piece of the highest quality without exception.



Mahogany Case       8 1/2″ L
x 5 7/8″ W x 6 1/8″ H       2lbs 4 oz
Horizon tub               
6 1/2″ L x 3 1/2″ W x 3/4″ H          2 lbs 8 oz
4 3/4″ H x  2 3/4″ Dia                   
1 lbs  8 oz
Total Weight     6 lbs 4 oz
& Esser:

William J. D. Keuffel (1838–1908) and Herman Esser (1845–1908), both recent
immigrants from Germany, began in business in New York in 1867, selling drawing materials and drafting supplies. K&E,
as the firm was soon known, began offering surveying instruments in 1876, built a three-story factory in Hoboken, New Jersey,
in 1880. and was incorporated in 1889.

K&E introduced a new line of surveying instruments in the early 1890s, describing them
as “a thorough departure from all the styles of similar instruments previously made,” and noting that many of their improvements
were “the product of the genius of our Mr. John Paoli.” John Paoli was an Italian who lived in Hoboken, and who obtained several
patents for such things as the twisted standards of a transit, the compass box, the leveling screws, and a telescope with
stadia wires and cross hairs.

K&E obtained control of Young & Sons in 1918, and made it the Y&S department
of their firm. K&E ceased production around 1969.  From the National Museum of American History at the

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