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Author Topic: Where are the Naval Observatory records of sextant numbers?  (Read 26208 times)

Martin X. Moleski, SJ

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We know that the Naval Observatory routinely calibrated sextants and engraved a Naval Observatory number on the instrument when they did so.  We presume that there was a log kept at the Observatory of the maker's number, the Naval Observatory number, and the details of the calibration.

If we can find the records, we may able to show that there was a sextant with a maker's number of 3500 that was assigned a Naval Observatory number of 1542.  That, in turn, would suggest that the sextant box found on Niku next to the remnants of a human skeleton had once been part of the U.S. Navy inventory. 

Where are the records?
LTM,

           Marty
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Mark Petersen

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Re: Where are the Naval Observatory records of sextant numbers?
« Reply #1 on: July 11, 2010, 12:31:27 PM »

Would it help to get the serial numbers from more Sextants?  While touring the Nethercutt museum yesterday I saw some sextants in a display case including one box that seemed to be about the right dimensions (it was marked with the manufacturer name and "RN"which I assume was an abbreviation for Royal Navy).  I thought it was long odds that any of these sextants would be useful for this project, but if I'm wrong I can contact the folks at Nethercutt. 
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Martin X. Moleski, SJ

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Re: Where are the Naval Observatory records of sextant numbers?
« Reply #2 on: July 11, 2010, 12:57:42 PM »

Would it help to get the serial numbers from more Sextants?  While touring the Nethercutt museum yesterday I saw some sextants in a display case including one box that seemed to be about the right dimensions (it was marked with the manufacturer name and "RN"which I assume was an abbreviation for Royal Navy).  I thought it was long odds that any of these sextants would be useful for this project, but if I'm wrong I can contact the folks at Nethercutt. 

The more we information we have about the world of sextants, the better.

Data can't hurt us.

LTM,

           Marty
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Martin X. Moleski, SJ

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Re: Where are the Naval Observatory records of sextant numbers?
« Reply #3 on: March 07, 2011, 06:27:01 PM »

On 3/7/2011 7:07 PM, Ricker Jones wrote:

> I ran across a sextant at http://www.antiquehelper.com/item/373993 with
> Navy number 1415, but no maker’s number listed on the inspection
> certificate in the box. However, there is what appears to be “3339”
> stamped near the right rear box hinge along with “1415”. If these were
> the maker’s number and N.O. number, it would be the closest number pair
> to the Niku box numbers I have seen to date (3500 and 1542).

Nice pix!

I've added the numbers to the sextant table.

1942 seems to be a late date for issuing the number 1415.  Perhaps it got that number earlier and was calibrated or re-calibrated later?
LTM,

           Marty
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Walter Runck

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Re: Where are the Naval Observatory records of sextant numbers?
« Reply #4 on: March 07, 2011, 10:29:36 PM »

On 3/7/2011 7:07 PM, Ricker Jones wrote:

> I ran across a sextant at http://www.antiquehelper.com/item/373993 with
> Navy number 1415, but no maker’s number listed on the inspection
> certificate in the box. However, there is what appears to be “3339”
> stamped near the right rear box hinge along with “1415”. If these were
> the maker’s number and N.O. number, it would be the closest number pair
> to the Niku box numbers I have seen to date (3500 and 1542).

Nice pix!

I've added the numbers to the sextant table.

1942 seems to be a late date for issuing the number 1415.  Perhaps it got that number earlier and was calibrated or re-calibrated later?

Nice find, Ricker!

Sorry to quote a quote, but I didn't see the original post on the forum.  Anyway, this one gives cause for pause, but I'm cautiously optimistic that 1415/3339 may stand up as a valid and very relevant set of data at this point.

At first I thought it was a sextant (and/or box) that had been numbered in another sequence.  The USNO handled a lot of different types of instruments and as the war got complicated, so did identification schemes.  1942 is way late for that low of a number if it is part of the original sequence (presumably WWI or thereabouts) that the other Brandis units have shown up in, so I thought it may have been a stadimeter or piece of surveying gear.  Also, by 1942 new sextants were being bought to the standardized Mk II design, so a vernier unit like this seems very out of place, at least as a new sextant entering active duty through the procurement process.  You could imagine sextants being pulled from old, but unused inventory (WWI surplus), so a vernier that is at least 10 years old (Pioneer stopped using the Brandis name circa 1932) going through first time inspection in 1942 is at least plausible, albeit weird.  The collimation certificate doesn't show a manufacturers serial number (NO NO) and lists the class as SURVEY.  The Navy number is actually machine engraved on the index arm, where the other Brandis units have had markings on the arc that were apparently done by hand with a scratch awl or vibratory marker.

In other words, hardly anything made sense.  Until I looked at the corrections on the cert.  Ouch.  Way bad.  30 seconds (half a minute) out over at least a 20 degree stretch of the arc, and still 20 seconds out at the top of the scale  I think this thing was in service, took a fall and hit the deck at some point prior to 12/26/1942 and was sent in to be checked.  The number was then re-engraved on the arm with current technology, the unit checked, failed, and in Navy vernacular, it was "surveyed", meaning flagged for disposal as unsuitable for use.  The S in SURVEY has a vertical line through it like someone started to write a different letter and then wrote over it.  The Mk II units of this time period had E.T.S. for Endless Tangential Screw in the "Class" field of the inspection certificate.  It's easy to imagine a war-hire inspector not knowing what to call an old style unit or having to restart his input when the unit failed.  A surveyed unit would then have been turned over to the Supply Corps for disposal and could have ended up on the civilian market.

I'd like to try and track down this piece to see if the Brandis number and original engraving of the USNO number are hand-marked on the arm similar to the Byrd sextant and other contemporaneous Brandis units.  It would be nice confirmation to see the 3339 show up where we would expect it, but the pictures from the auction listing don't provide the necessary detail.

If it was in fact surveyed, that means there was another pile of paperwork associated with it at some point that may still exist.

I'd also like to know the history of this unit.  The symmetry and simplicity of it is gorgeous.  It looks like it has been a display piece, maybe since it left the Navy.  Getting bent up may have been a good career move.  I have an ancestor who got shot up early in the Civil War, was sent home and survived to have lots of kids instead of ending up at Gettysburg with the rest of the regiment.  Take your victories wherever you can find them.
« Last Edit: April 14, 2011, 06:53:43 AM by Walter Runck »
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Martin X. Moleski, SJ

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Re: Where are the Naval Observatory records of sextant numbers?
« Reply #5 on: March 08, 2011, 06:34:50 AM »

Sorry to quote a quote, but I didn't see the original post on the forum. 

It wasn't in the Forum; Rick sent it to me in e-mail.

Quote
1942 is way late for that low of a number if it is part of the original sequence (presumably WWI or thereabouts) that the other Brandis units have shown up in, so I thought it may have been a stadimeter or piece of surveying gear.

I agree that 1942 seems to be too late for that low a number.  I like your theory that it may have been re-calibrated in 1942 after some kind of damage was done to it.

Quote
The number was then re-engraved on the arm with current technology, the unit checked, failed, and in Navy vernacular, it was "surveyed", meaning flagged for disposal as unsuitable for use.

Barring evidence in favor of your definition, I'd rather take the classification at face value, meaning "used in surveying rather than in onboard navigation."

The "No. No" in the "No." field on the certificate is very strange.  Since the box appears to be marked with 1415, the number so prominently struck (rather than engraved?) in an unusual position, and since the box has 3339 very clearly on it, why "No. No"?  Could this have been pieced together from parts of two sextants?

Quote
I'd like to try and track down this piece to see if the Brandis number and original engraving of the USNO number are hand-marked on the arm similar to the Byrd sextant and other contemporaneous Brandis units.  It would be nice confirmation to see the 3339 show up where we would expect it, but the pictures from the auction listing don't provide the necessary detail.

Ricker is on the Forum.  This is his latest post.  You could message him and coordinate your efforts.  We don't want to bombard the poor old auction house with multiple requests from TIGHAR--but it would be nice to get a closeup of the arc on the sextant!

Quote
If it was in fact surveyed, that means there was another pile of paperwork associated with it at some point that may still exist.

The subject of this thread is, "Where are the Naval Observatory records of sextant numbers?"  If we had the records, we wouldn't need to compile any more data like this.  We would know whether there is an entry for a Brandis 3500, N.O. 1542.   :D
LTM,

           Marty
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Walter Runck

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Re: Where are the Naval Observatory records of sextant numbers?
« Reply #6 on: March 08, 2011, 09:03:21 PM »

Quote
I agree that 1942 seems to be too late for that low a number.  I like your theory that it may have been re-calibrated in 1942 after some kind of damage was done to it.
Please allow me a minor quibble on terminology.  Calibration usually implies some sort of adjustment being made to bring a unit into an acceptable tolerance or degree of accuracy.  That's not what the manufacturer or the Navy was doing with these.  They were checking the uncorrectable errors in the sextant to make sure they were within limits.  The errors were tabulated and transcribed to a label that then travelled with the sextant. Sort of a pass/fail exam with no grading on the curve that becomes part of your permanent record.  Also a distinction without a difference for most people, but we're not most people, now are we?  The sextant owner/operator would perform checks and adjustments to remove side, vertical and index error as part of normal usage.

Quote
Barring evidence in favor of your definition, I'd rather take the classification at face value, meaning "used in surveying rather than in onboard navigation."

This is a common naval usage of the word "survey".  From wiktionary , the 6th verb definition "To dispose of after determining that something is no longer useful for its intended purpose (military) "Surveyed Old Rope." -William Bligh."  Civil engineers ("those who build targets") have their own instruments such as transits, levels, etc..   I'm going to look for some older Navy construction pieces and see if there are any inspection labels, whether they used the same ones we've seen on sextants (many variations noted so far) and what kind of things show up in the "Class" field, if there is one.

All a sextant can do is measure the angle between the observer and two points or a point and a line.  I don't think this is a common need in surveying (not the Supply Corps kind) work and if you do, a transit will perform the job while keeping you on the straight and level at the same time.

Without the rules of the game (policies and procedures for sextant inspection in force at the time), we don't know what the inspector was supposed to put where on the form, but an old Brandis failing inspection and being sent out to pasture is one possible explanation that seems to fit the available evidence.

Quote
The "No. No" in the "No." field on the certificate is very strange.  Since the box appears to be marked with 1415, the number so prominently struck (rather than engraved?) in an unusual position, and since the box has 3339 very clearly on it, why "No. No"?  Could this have been pieced together from parts of two sextants?

They were inspecting sextants, not boxes, and we've seen mismatches in several cases already noted.  I suppose someone could have done an arm transplant and produced a Frankensextant, then asked the observatory to check it, but I can't come up with a reason why.  Actually it sounds like something I'd do, therefore ruling out the rational man.  Meanwhile, I'm trying to get better pictures of the arc, but no word yet.

Quote
The subject of this thread is, "Where are the Naval Observatory records of sextant numbers?"  If we had the records, we wouldn't need to compile any more data like this.  We would know whether there is an entry for a Brandis 3500, N.O. 1542.   Cheesy

Ah, yes.  Now we get down to the brass tacks.  I had a conversation late today with someone in a good position to root around the most likely repositories (I'm not in such a position).  He's interested and had some ideas, so maybe some results will be forthcoming.  Even if the results start disproving my ideas, that might help steer additional research.

On another front, has anyone ever checked with Bendix (now part of Honeywell)?  There may be some archival stuff from the Pioneer and Brandis acquisitions there.
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Martin X. Moleski, SJ

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Re: Where are the Naval Observatory records of sextant numbers?
« Reply #7 on: March 08, 2011, 10:03:24 PM »

Please allow me a minor quibble on terminology.  Calibration usually implies some sort of adjustment being made to bring a unit into an acceptable tolerance or degree of accuracy.  That's not what the manufacturer or the Navy was doing with these. ...

All I mean is "the act of checking or adjusting (by comparison with a standard) the accuracy of a measuring instrument."  The inaccuracies are then noted so that the person in the field can take them into account.

If you've got one word that describes the comparison of the instrument to a standard, I'd be happy to use it from now on.

Quote
... I'm going to look for some older Navy construction pieces and see if there are any inspection labels, whether they used the same ones we've seen on sextants (many variations noted so far) and what kind of things show up in the "Class" field, if there is one.

Yes, that's the kind of evidence I'm looking for. 

Quote
All a sextant can do is measure the angle between the observer and two points or a point and a line.  I don't think this is a common need in surveying (not the Supply Corps kind) work and if you do, a transit will perform the job while keeping you on the straight and level at the same time.

And yet a Google search turns up lots of references to surveying sextants.  Here's one picked almost at random:

"It was described in a later catalogue as a 'Surveying Sextant, 7 ins., divided on silver and reading by vernier (with magnifier) to 10 secs. ..' In fact, it would also pass as a nautical sextant, as it is provided with the usual seven shades and kit of telescopes and sighting tube."

Another class might be "navigating sextant" as in "A treatise on navigation and nautical astronomy..." By William Carpenter Pendleton Muir:

"Navigating sextants issued to the U.S. Navy should bear a certificate of inspection from the U.S. Naval Observatory, giving the correction for eccentricity at intervals of 10 degrees of arc" (fn, p. 311).

OK, I found a word for myself: "inspection" will do in place of "calibration."

Quote
Quote
The "No. No" in the "No." field on the certificate is very strange.  Since the box appears to be marked with 1415, the number so prominently struck (rather than engraved?) in an unusual position, and since the box has 3339 very clearly on it, why "No. No"?  Could this have been pieced together from parts of two sextants?

They were inspecting sextants, not boxes, and we've seen mismatches in several cases already noted. 

The stamped (?) number on the arm seems to match the number on the box.

I've found another "No: No No." in the pictures for this Hughes sextant. 

N.O. #41834
Jul 20 1944 (rubber stamped on certificate of eccentricity)
WARTIME CASE. (stamped on inside of box(
Type E.T.S.
Maker Hughes
No. No No.

Quote
On another front, has anyone ever checked with Bendix (now part of Honeywell)?  There may be some archival stuff from the Pioneer and Brandis acquisitions there.

Not that I know of, but others were working on the sextants and I don't know what inquiries they may have made along those lines.  I don't see any harm in trying Bendix if you're inclined to do so.
LTM,

           Marty
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Walter Runck

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Re: Where are the Naval Observatory records of sextant numbers?
« Reply #8 on: March 09, 2011, 09:48:08 AM »

Quote
And yet a Google search turns up lots of references to surveying sextants.  Here's one picked almost at random:

"It was described in a later catalogue as a 'Surveying Sextant, 7 ins., divided on silver and reading by vernier (with magnifier) to 10 secs. ..' In fact, it would also pass as a nautical sextant, as it is provided with the usual seven shades and kit of telescopes and sighting tube."

Another class might be "navigating sextant" as in "A treatise on navigation and nautical astronomy..." By William Carpenter Pendleton Muir:

Good point.  Ouch!  My frame of reference was the flow of instruments through the USNO in 1942, so I hadn't considered older surveying techniques and equipment, but they're out there.  My bad.


Quote
"Navigating sextants issued to the U.S. Navy should bear a certificate of inspection from the U.S. Naval Observatory, giving the correction for eccentricity at intervals of 10 degrees of arc" (fn, p. 311).

I haven't seen a cert yet that broke corrections down to 10 degree increments as per the footnote, but there's probably one out there somewhere.  Just not on this Hughes sextant .  Come to think of it, a "Certificate of Eccentricity" might be a good item to include with TIGHAR membership, or at least have available in the giftshop.  Suitable for framing, of course!


  
« Last Edit: March 09, 2011, 11:37:18 AM by Walter Runck »
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Walter Runck

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Re: Where are the Naval Observatory records of sextant numbers?
« Reply #9 on: April 13, 2011, 09:19:59 PM »

I found a similar example of an older unit with a newer inspection certificate being classified as "Survey".  This is a Keuffel & Esser (the sliderule company) sextant with a serial number indicating 1918 manufacture.  It's a vernier type unit similar to the Brandis ones that we've been chasing (no progress on the master record set, BTW)  The 1940 cert looks good in terms of errors, but says "SUR" in the Class field nevertheless.  

No NO no..  That is, no Naval Observatory number on this cert.  That's the first time I've seen that.

It's possible they were just weeding out all of the old style instruments by the 1940's, maybe including the Brandis unit that Ric Jones turned up a few weeks ago.

The inspection form (leftover from the previous decade, note "193__"  prefilled in the date field) does have spaces for the 10 degree increments called for in the document Marty found, but only every third measurement was recorded.

Finally, this one is in great shape, like the one earlier in this thread.  I wonder if they were sold by the Navy into some situation where they lived a nice quiet life as a display piece.
« Last Edit: April 13, 2011, 09:24:08 PM by Walter Runck »
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Walter Runck

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Re: Where are the Naval Observatory records of sextant numbers?
« Reply #10 on: April 20, 2011, 09:03:38 PM »

Doubt I qualify as tireless after a couple of months of doing something I enjoy.  Besides, I haven't looked everywhere - YET!  Gonna keep going til I stop.

I'd like to hit the road and do some archival work in person, but I don't think that's in the cards this year.  The answer is somewhere between DC and Norfolk.  I have a friend helping in Norfolk; if there's a TIGHAR with time on his hands in DC, I have some thoughts I'd like to share.

Besides, even if we find the Mother Lode and establish that Brandis 3500 became USNO 1542, all we've really done is debunked an argument that no one is making; specifically that 3500 and 1542 were not the same instrument, therefore there was no box with both of those numbers on it, therefore FN could not have carried it to Niku, etc..

Ideally, we:

1.  Find the USNO records
2.  Find proof that 3500 became 1542
3.  Find proof that 1542 left the Navy for the private sector
4.  Find proof that someone sold 1542 to FN, Pan Am, P. V. H. Weems, or someone else connected with the flight
5.  Figure out how/when 1542 got the bubble mod
6.  Find the box
7.  Find the "inverting eyepiece" (I believe this was likely a simple lens added to bring the bubble into focus so it could be read at the same time as the horizon mirror, rather than part of the optical path of the sextant.
8.  Find 3500/1542
9.  Find a good home for it all and tell the story. 

Hope I can help





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Walter Runck

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Re: Where are the Naval Observatory records of sextant numbers?
« Reply #11 on: May 03, 2011, 07:51:29 PM »


... I'm going to look for some older Navy construction pieces and see if there are any inspection labels, whether they used the same ones we've seen on sextants (many variations noted so far) and what kind of things show up in the "Class" field, if there is one.

Yes, that's the kind of evidence I'm looking for. 


Here's a 1944 unit with "Ball Recording" in the Type field (Type seems to have supplanted Class on this cert).  This was a design that had a built-in averaging function, so the field is being used to describe the style of equipment, rather than its intended use (Surveying, by one theory) or material condition (Surveyed, by another theory).

What I'd like to see is how they handled a sounding sextant (a unit with a set of horizontal siamesed arms intended for taking bearings on land objects while sounding coastal waters).  Such a thing might come in useful if one were doing survey work off some strange coast and wanted to know where they were when they saw or found something underneath them...  Or I suppose you could just use a GPS.

I've seen some WWII era Navy stadimeters and transits swim past, but nothing with a surviving cert. 

On another note, this unit had a dovetailed (as opposed to comb joint) box as can be seen in the second image.  I believe some of the earlier material on boxes claimed that dovetailing was obsolete or at least out of fashion by WWII, but I suspect it was a manufacturers preference as much as anything.  I can't see a number on the box itself, but the listing claims it is original.

Finally, the signatures I can read on these all seem to have been those of a man named Bailey.  What are the odds we could pull that thread and see what comes of it?  I start tomorrow.
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Martin X. Moleski, SJ

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Re: Where are the Naval Observatory records of sextant numbers?
« Reply #12 on: May 05, 2015, 11:09:34 AM »

John Osterhout found some interesting records from the Naval Observatory in June of 2012.

I am going to post the pictures he sent me back then.

I haven't heard from John since October of 2012.
LTM,

           Marty
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« Last Edit: May 05, 2015, 05:44:51 PM by Martin X. Moleski, SJ »
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Martin X. Moleski, SJ

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Re: Where are the Naval Observatory records of sextant numbers?
« Reply #13 on: May 05, 2015, 11:10:47 AM »

More material from June of 2012:

LTM,

           Marty
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Martin X. Moleski, SJ

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Re: Where are the Naval Observatory records of sextant numbers?
« Reply #14 on: May 05, 2015, 11:11:40 AM »

Third set of images from 2012:

LTM,

           Marty
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