I buy, sell, and deal in
many different forms and types of antique surveying instruments and related science and technology
In addition to this informational website we operate
www.Patented-Antiques.com where we conduct
sales of our surveying instruments and other antiques.
That antique sales website is one of the largest single owner antique sales websites on the internet,
dealing in surveying related antiques and other
tool and technology related antiques. If you are in the market to buy
or sell vintage and antique surveying instruments please visit that page
If you have surveying instruments or other related tool & technology
related antiques you would like to sell please visit that page to see
how we conduct our consignment sales. If you would like to
consign with us and have additional questions please see the
FAQ page at
either site and then contact us via
Early Transits / Theodolites
This page deals primarily with Antique Surveying
Transits discussing different makers, variations in designs offered and relative
values in todays market.
Please visit the other specific
pages on this site dealing with
surveyor's compasses or
if that is what you
There is also additional information and
past sales results
for many surveying instruments in the sales archives found in the right
column if you are looking for values.
William Young of PA is credited
by many with introducing the idea of a surveyors
transit in the mid to early 1800's by
incorporating features from the standard surveying compass in use during that
period and surveying levels with scopes to create one instrument to meet the needs
of a growing group of surveyors busy charting the opening new territories in America.
That attribution is open to discussion and others have been proposed as
the original creator. Suffice to say that it was an idea that several
users and makers were thinking about at the same general time in the
early 19th century.
The first transits were referred to as
theodolites. Because of the difficulty or primitive nature of the optics,
the first transits did not
have the ability to turn a full circle within the standards holding the
scope. In other words the scope had to be longer than the height
of the standards. This drawback was soon remedied with improvements to the science of
optics and all makers began making instruments where the scope could revolve in
their standards allowing the user could shoot behind him without rotating
the entire instrument. The definition or meaning of the term theodilites has changed over
time with more precise instruments being called by that name later on.
Today, many sellers of surveying related instruments, from simple abneys and levels, and most
anything else with a scope, call their piece a theodolite because they
have read or found sale results indicating that theodilites are rare and the more valuable, figuring or hoping that is what they must have.
Solar & Mining Transits
Surveyor's transits that have solar
attachments, including scopes, or those equipped with auxiliary
scopes used for mining,
have other unusual
patented or special use features are unusual, more valuable, harder to find,
in demand and of special interest.
To the right is a Gurley solar transit fitted w/ a Burt patent solar attachment.
This instrument was made by
W. & L. E. Gurley near the turn of the 20th century. More info about this
particular instrument can be found by visiting the
Gurley past sales archives and reading a more detailed
description of this unusual instrument there.
Different makers developed and used different patented versions of solar attachments.
The Burt solar attachment resembles a tiny sextant affixed to the top of
the instrument. The patent for its design was granted in the
1830's and first applied to compasses.
K & E
or Keuffel & Esser, Leitz, Buff, and others utilized
a smaller top mounted scope called the Saegmuller solar attachment.
Other patented solar attachments were a side mount scope such as the Smith Patent solar attachment
and the Pearson solar attachment.
I have a page on our other site dealing with the history of
surveying where I discuss solar instruments in a
little more detail, and explain why they
were created. This idea was also adaptable to compasses, and solar compasses are one of the
most desirable and rare of all surveying instruments that were produced. I
currently have an early Young Solar Compass being offered for sale on
our sales website
www.Patented-Antiques.com if that is what you are seeking.
Condition / Vintage
Antique surveying instruments in original undamaged condition
are always worth more than those that are damaged or have seen extensive
abuse. In general the earlier an instrument the more
desirable it is, and those from the early to mid 1800's are becoming
increasingly harder to find.
Most surveying instruments from the the 1920's
and later are typically later than what most collectors of antique surveying
instruments are looking for and sell for considerably less than earlier
examples. Most of these later surveying instruments sell to casual users
or beginning collectors rather than serious collectors.
As evidenced by sales results of instruments dating from this era, they
hold little collector interest or value.
Antique surveying instruments come in a variety of finishes ranging from
clear or colored lacquer to painted surfaces usually
found on later instruments. Some instruments have anodized
finishes to help keep down the glare
like the instrument to the left.
Most later instruments have crinkle paint finishes in black or greens that are applied to the brass
bodies. In general unless these later instruments have some unusual feature such
as solar attachments, double scopes for mining, or are a rare configuration or size,
they are generally considered less collectible and hence less valuable.
Just above is a K & E Solar Transit w/o its solar attachment. Note that this transit has an adapter fitting on
the top to accept a solar instrument. The transit to the right is
shown with its attachment showing what a Saegmuller Attachment looks
like. The sextant looking affair patented by Burt
that Gurley used on Gurley transits is pictured above. That missing
auxiliary scope accounts for half or more of
the value of an instrument like this. They could be, or were
typically ordered as an accessory explaining why many transits fitted
for them seem to
be missing them.
Transits with 6" scopes or less
are unusually small and harder to find. They are typically referred to as as Explorer
or Expedition models. Instruments
with 8" scopes are
usually designated as Light Mountain or Preliminary transits.
10 -12 inch scopes can be called architects or engineers transits
depending on features they exhibit like vernier scales and / or
compasses beneath the scope. For example, architects using a
transit on location would have little need for a compass and many are
found without them.
Instruments with small magnifiers positioned
over the very fine vernier scales are referred to as theodolites today.
If you have an instrument that you are looking to sell, and contact
me, just telling me
you have a Gurley, Berger, Buff, Buff & Buff, K & E, Aloe, David White, etc. and
giving me the
serial number is not enough information to determine
what it is you have, or what it might be worth. The details are what
determines the value or collectible interest.
Asking me what your transit is worth without
seeing it would be like me asking
you what my car is worth, without me telling you anything
more about it then that it is a Toyota or Chevrolet. In most cases it simply can not be done with so
The list of
surveying instrument makers
whose pieces are of interest is extensive, and
starts with such famous makers as Rittenhouse, who made instruments during
George Washington's time, to the more well known and prolific makers like W. E. Gurley,
Lietz, Buff, Berger, Heller & Brightly, Keuffel and Esser, Roach,
Sala, or Queen & Co. to name just a few.
There are numerous makers of surveying instruments that have normal given
names that were in business for varying periods of time in the 19th
century. The list of individual maker names is extensive and can not
really be given here but there is interest in many of these lesser known
makers and their instruments as well.
The surveying instruments
described above are examples of the
caliber, condition and quality of antique surveying instruments and equipment that I am primarily
interested in and can help you sell.
If you have quality antique surveying instruments similar to those that you see
on this page that you want to sell, please contact us at
providing me with as many details as possible.
To see many examples of surveying instruments and other scientific related antiques that we
have sold in the past please see the relevant links in the right column or
To see examples of antique transits and other surveying
we currently have for sale, please go to our sister site
at www.Patented-Antiques.com and
visit the sales pages you will find there.
Larry & Carole