What is this?
Gedney King and Sons Sextant
When is it from?
Why is it Important?
Although having no direct connection to the USS Constitution, this sextant is precisely the type of insturment used on board during the 18th and 19th centuries. Used for finding one’s location north or south of the equator, the sextant was much more accurate than the earlier quadrant, astrolabe, or backstaff. As such, it was an integral part of the maritime world. Often constructed of brass, it was an extremely expensive instrument. They were always housed in wooden cases to preserve their accuracy. It was instruments such as this that allowed officers to accurately navigate the world’s oceans, bringing commerce and warfare to every corner of the globe.
The wooden box that housed this sextant bears the remnants of the Gedney King & Son label which represents the probable manufacturer of this instrument. Located in Boston, Massachusetts, Gedney King & Son both sold and manufactured nautical instruments. Born in Salem, Massachusetts, Gedney King (1777-1839) opened his own shop in 1800. By 1832 he had welcomed his son into the business and the company was renamed Gedney King & Son. With Gedney King’s death in 1839, his son Charles took over and from then on operated under the moniker C.G King. Despite no engraved name of the manufacturer on this sextant, it is reasonable to assume that is was produced by Gedney King. King did sell navigational instruments produced by such firms as Spencer, Browning, and Co., and with no such engraving, this sextant may very well have been produced by King. With the fragment of the Gedney King & Son logo on this sextant’s box, we can date this item as being produced sometime between 1832 and 1839.
This sextant has a triangular ebony frame which is arced at the bottom, a reinforced brass index arm, and an ivory name plate. Along the arc is an ivory scale that is graduated every 5 minutes from -5 degrees to 135 degrees and read by vernier with tangent screw to single minutes of arc. The top of the arm has a peephole that lines up with two reflecting mirrors. Additionally, there are three colored lenses fixed between the two mirrors.