Fine drawing instruments with an important history by J. Dunn, Edinburgh

Fine drawing instruments with an important history by J. Dunn, Edinburgh


Fine early 19th century brass and steel drawing instruments, likely owned by Sir General William Maxwell who fought in the American Revolutionary War

Country of manufacture

UK and Ireland

Category: Drawing Instruments


A box of early 19th century brass and steel drawing instruments by J. Dunn. Includes large and small dividers with complete attachments for inking and pencil lines as well as two brass bow compasses, two ink pens, ebony parallel rule and an ivory protractor marked “J. Dunn Edinburgh”. John Dunn was an optician and maker of mathematical and philosophical instruments who worked between 1824 and 1846 at various addresses in Edinburgh including 25 Thistle Street (1825-27); 52 Hanover Street (1828-31); and at the sign of the Gilded Globe, 50 Hanover Street (1832-42). See his trade card in the image gallery.

Most instruments are engraved with the initials “GM,” while the name “H.B. Maxwell” is engraved on the lid. The Maxwells were Scottish Baronets whose family seat was at the 15th century Calderwood Castle in Lanarkshire. Sir Hugh Bates Maxwell (1797-1870), 9th Baronet of Calderwood, was the son of Sir General William Maxwell (1754–1837), 7th Baronet of Calderwood, who fought in the American Revolutionary war from 1777 to 1781. The “GM” engraved on the instruments is very likely the father, who was referred to simply as “General Maxwell” in contemporary sources. The name plate of H.B. Maxwell on the lid is slightly raised and appears to have been inserted later, which suggests that the instruments were initially made for the father – see his portrait in the image gallery.

A captain in the 20th foot regiment quartered in Ireland, Maxwell sailed from Cork in March 1776 with a large detachment of troops to North America to join General Burgoyne. At Freeman’s Farm on September 19th 1777, 102 members of his regiment were killed and he was taken prisoner for six months. He subsequently traveled to New York in 1779 with the 80th regiment for an expedition to Richmond, Virginia to destroy a large military depot. Maxwell continued to serve in Virginia, joining troops from Charleston under General Cornwallis who surrendered in 1781 at the siege of Yorktown. He returned to England in 1782, eventually attaining the ranks of Colonel, Major-general, and full general in 1812. He succeeded to the title of Baronet in 1830.

A fine set of drawing instruments in good condition with an interesting connection to Scottish history and the American Revolution.

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DE Instrumentum

Instrumentum specializes in high quality 17th and 18th century scientific instruments for architecture, mathematics and navigation. We have collected antique instruments for over 20 years with a focus on early and rare European architectural drafting sets, dividers, and rules. If you are interested in something particular please contact us at Image galleries of our inventory can be viewed on Pinterest and Facebook at the following links:

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