Early Dividers from Pompeii

Posted on 13 May 2016


Here are the earliest dividers I’ve seen in person. These bronze dividers (or “compass” if your name is Peter or Jennie) were found in the ruins of Pompeii, which was destroyed in A.D. 79.

The originals reside in the Munich Residenz. Museum officials made a copy that is displayed in the Deutches Museum in Munich. A quick search of the web site of the Residenz revealed nothing about the dividers – mostly just pictures of the jewelry of princes and the like. Yawn.

These bronze dividers are interesting because they are a lot like the slightly more modern tools used for navigating on the sea. (Lee Valley offered a set in brass I believe.)

The Deutches Museum was a treasure trove of cool tools relating to making things, everything from an entire section on sectors to water-powered machinery, shipbuilding, early machine tools, the history of casting, you name it.

The best part: Every room smelled like a different lubricant.

— Christopher Schwarz

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  • MackyH: September 26, 2016

    A timeless solution for quick, accurate, one-handed operation: squeeze the circle end to open the points, squeeze the legs to close, a finger between them pulls back to spread for fine adjustments. They are wide, flat, and light – easy to control one-handed when wet, with very little strength to operate. Between adjustments you naturally hold them where the legs cross – both the center of gravity and the only spot to hold them together firmly in position. Brilliant, functional, but the rare flat examples are far easier to manage than the heavy, thick, rounded modern ones

  • AlanWS: September 23, 2016

    They look like a good design. Note that as they open, the amount of contact surface between the two curved parts should remain fairly constant. As it’s friction between these that holds a setting, that may mean it can hold a setting well across the entire range.

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