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Antique Vintage & Collectible
Surveying Instruments

Transits, Theodolites, Solar Instruments

I buy, sell, and deal in antique surveying instruments and science and technology related antiques. Lietz Transit In addition to this informational antique website we operate where we conduct sales of surveying instruments and other patented, and mechanical 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 have surveying instruments or other related tool & technology related antiques  to sell contact us via email.

This page deals primarily with Antique Surveying Transits discussing different makers, and variations in designs offered. Please visit the other specific pages on this site dealing with surveyor's compasses or surveying levels if that is what you have.

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.

Early Transits / Theodolites

William Young of PA is credited with first introducing the idea of a surveyors transit in the mid to early 1800's by Buff Transitincorporating features of a standard surveying compass and surveying levels with scopes to create one instrument.  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 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 thus allowing the user to 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 found sale results indicating that theodilites are rare and more valuable.

Solar & Mining Transits

Surveyor's transits that have solar attachments, including scopes, or those equipped with auxiliary Gurley Solar Transitscopes used for mining, and those instruments that have other unusual patented or special use features are unusual, more valuable, harder to find 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.

Different makers developed 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 Young & Sons Solar Transit with Smith Patent Solar Attachment in Original Boxor 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.

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 and I currently have an early Aluminum Solar Compass being offered for sale on our sales website

Condition / Vintage

Antique surveying instruments in original undamaged condition are always worth more than those that are damaged orK & E Solar Transit have seen extensive use and 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 after WWII are later than what most collectors of antique surveying instruments are looking for.  Most of these later surveying instruments sell to casual users or beginning collectors.  As evidenced by sales results at eBay,  instruments from this era hold little collector interest or value.

Antique surveying instruments come in a variety of finishes ranging from natural brass and K & E Solar Transitclear or colored lacquer to smooth or crinkle painted surfaces usually found on later instruments. Some instruments have anodized finishes to help keep down the glare like the instrument to the left.

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.

Transit Types

Transits with  6" scopes are typically referred to as as Explorer or Expedition models.  Instruments Buff & Buff Mining Transit w/ Secondary Scopewith 8" scopes are usually designated as Light Mountain or Preliminary transits.  10 - 12 inch scopes are called architects or engineers transits depending on features they exhibit like vernier scales or compasses beneath the scope.  Instruments with small magnifiers positioned over the very fine vernier scales are referred to as theodolites today.

If you have an antique survetying instrument that you are looking to sell contact me.  Telling me you have a Gurley, Berger, Buff, Buff & Buff, K & E, Aloe, David White, etc. and just 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 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 antique transitthen that it is a Toyota or Chevrolet. In most cases it simply can not be done with so little information.

The list of surveying instrument makers whose pieces are of interest is extensive, and starts with such famous makers as David or Benjamin 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 and show are examples of the caliber, condition and quality of antique Keuffel & Esser Paragon #5081 1/2 C Mining Transit w/ Auxiliary Scope Heller & Brightly Mining Transit w/ Auxiliary Scope & Tripod surveying instruments and equipment that I am primarily interested in.

If you have quality antique surveying instruments 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 click here.

To see examples of antique transits and other surveying instruments that we currently have for sale, please go to our sister site at and visit the  sales pages you will find there. 

Thank you!!
Larry & Carole

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Larry & Carole Meeker