Navigating & Scientific Instruments

The Museum's collection of navigation instruments rates among the largest and best of the world's maritime museums. The collection currently holds nearly twelve hundred instruments documenting the development of the art of navigation from the late sixteenth to twentieth centuries. Categories of instruments include navigating, timekeeping, meteorological, surveying, astronomical, magnetic, computing, drawing and drafting, oceanographic, optical and ship's equipment. The Museums holdings are especially strong in eighteenth,  nineteenth, and twentieth centuries American and European instruments. Its collection of chronometers is particularly strong while the collections of marine barometers and aerial navigation instruments are unsurpassed.

Highlights of the collection include a mid seventeenth century silver coated mariner's astrolabe, an ebony cross-staff by Hendrik Noordyk,and a circa 1780 octant by Joseph Roux. Of particular note are a marine barometer constructed by Edward Nairne and a circa 1772 chronometer by John Arnold both of which may have made voyages with Captain James Cook.

The Museum also maintains a varied collection of aids to navigation and communicating equipment. Aids to navigation include lighthouse equipment and navigational lights, buoys and channel markers. Communicating equipment includes radio systems, shipboard interior, exterior, and land-based communicating devices. Highlights include the first-order lighthouse lens from the Cape Charles lighthouse and a circa 1925 wireless transmitting and receiving radio by the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company.


Equinoctial Ring Dial
J. Field, London, England, ca 1787
Gift of Roger Williams

Nocturnal and Horary Quadrant
Johannes Baptista Justi, Italy, 1565

Grand Orrery and Planetarium
Watkins & Hill, London, England, ca 1819
N 12

Butterfield Type Sundial
J. Menard, Paris, France, ca 1680
NA 25

Two-Day Marine Timekeeper
John Arnold, London, England, ca 1772
Paul Mellon Chamberlain Collection
NA 91

Thomas Greenough, Boston, Massachusetts, 1760
NQ 1

Gunter's Quadrant
Henry Sutton, London, England, 1657
NQ 31

Joseph Roux, Marseilles, France, ca 1780
Gift of Captain Richard H. Tenney, USN Ret.
Mahogany Internal V-Shaped Marine Barometer
Nairne & Blunt, London, England, ca 1780
Gift of Joel Barlow
Beveled Scale Sextant, No. 1403
Jesse Ramsden, London, England, ca 1795
Peter Ifland Collection
Hendrik Noordyk, Amsterdam, Netherlands, ca 1804
Mariner's Astrolabe
Nicholao Ruffo, Portugal, 1645


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