An octant is a portable instrument using a small mirror to determine latitude at sea with reference to the sun, the horizon, and the position of celestial bodies. It has an arc exceeding 45 degrees. Like the one shown here, those made during the 19th century typically have ebony frames, brass index arms, and graduated scales under a vernier (moveable scale). An E. & G.W. Blunt octant is in the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
Edmund March Blunt (1770-1862) founded a nautical bookstore in Newburyport, Massachusetts, in 1793 and soon expanded into nautical map and chart publishing. The Blunt firm was most famous for various editions of The American Coast Pilot beginning in 1796. In 1802, Blunt published the first edition of The New American Practical Navigator by Nathaniel Bowditch, a popular instructional book in the use of instruments and celestial bodies in navigation. That same year, Blunt moved his shop to New York, where he published and sold nautical books and charts, and sold and repaired nautical instruments. Blunt’s son, Edmund (1799-1866) became an assistant to Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler, conducting map surveys for the U.S. Coast Survey, and contributing surveys to his father’s publishing firm. In 1824, the younger Edmund and his brother George William Blunt (1802-1878) opened their own nautical supplies shop in New York, trading as E. & G.W. Blunt. They took over some of the publishing from their father’s firm, producing, for example, an updated version of a chart of Long Island Sound. They also expanded into offering navigational instruments under the E. & G.W. Blunt name, publishing 16-inch terrestrial and celestial globes copyrighted 1852 by Charles Copley, and from 1857 on, nautical instruments “of American manufacture.” In 1866, the firm became Blunt & Nichols. It was renamed Blunt & Co. in 1868, and in 1873 was purchased by Frederick Eckel.
Inset engraved plate: “E. & G.W. Blunt New York.”
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall wear and oxidation. All parts present and working.
“Blunt (New York).” http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/navigation/maker.cfm?makerid=5 (25 June 2009).
“E. & G.W. Blunt Octant.” Smithsonian National Museum of American History. http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/navigation/object.cfm?recordnumber=1167872 (25 June 2009).
Guthorn, Peter J. United States Coastal Charts: 1738-1861. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Books, 1984. p. 65.
“Octant (definition).” Smithsonian National Museum of American History. http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/navigation/type.cfm?typeid=4 (24 June 2009).