Wonderful Circa 1854 Burt & Bailey Solar Compass – Yosemite

Wonderful Circa 1854 Burt & Bailey Solar Compass – Yosemite

$9500 (Postpaid in the U.S. - Int'l Extra)


1854 - 1855

Country of manufacture

North America

Categories: Surveying Instruments & Mining, Engineering antiques, Other Technology Antiques


This is a really neat Circa 1854 Burt & Bailey Solar Compass that was almost certainly used to survey Yosemite National Park and San Francisco’s Hatch Hetchy Reservoir.

The Canvas bag is AMAZING – stenciled on top of the bag is U.S.D.S. Y.N.P. (United States Deputy Surveyor Yosemite National Park). Can you imagine the pride that Drenzy Jones, the U.S. Deputy Surveyor and owner of the Solar Compass, must have felted when he stenciled that on top of the canvas bag.

Burt & Bailey existed for only about 3 years in the mid-1850s, so it was easy to date this Solar Compass. William Burt of course invented the solar compass. Burt & Bailey was formed by two of William Burt’s sons and John Bailey, an instrument maker. You can read more about Burt & Bailey here.

This Burt & Bailey solar compass does not have a serial number on it. Burt & Bailey typically put serial numbers on their instruments, but in different places on different instruments. The serial number on this solar compass might have been on the sight vanes. The instrument has old Gurley sight vanes on it now, no doubt installed when the Gurley telescope was added to the instrument (probably 4th quarter 19th century).

This solar compass likey served a number of west coast surveyors. Oregon and Washington were just opening up in the early 1850s, so many of the solar compasses built went to those 2 states. I’ve seen references to several Burt & Bailey solar compasses in field notes.

The known owner of the solar compass, Drensy Jones, was apparently a colorful Northern California surveyor. Most of Yosemite was surveyed decades before Drenzy’s survey. But the GLO contracted with Drenzy to survey a few parts of Yosemite. Drenszy’s YNP was ill-fated however. The federal government changed the boundary of YNP in the middle of the survey, rendering much of Frenzy’s work moot. And Frenzy apparently has some quality control issues, so part of the remaining survey was rendered unacceptable. But some of Frenzy’s work was accepted and eventually Drenzy was ultimately paid for his YNP work. Some of the disputes over his survey are attached in the pics below.

Following the Yosemite Survey, Frenzy was hired by San Francisco to help acquire and build the Hetch Hetchy Water Reservoir – SF’s main water supply. Frenzy was one of the top surveyors and engineers on the project – a few of the pics attached below give a flavor of Frenzy’s involvement.

Drenzy’s ownership of this solar compass is documented two ways – he was the USDS for Yosemite, and there is a Lietz ownership tag indicating that the solar compass was the property of “Drenzy Jones”. The writing is very faint, but readable, especially the ZY at the end of the first name (which is unique among USDS’s as far as I can tell).

360 Degree Spinner View – With ZOOM View

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US The Compleat Surveyor

The Compleat Surveyor specializes in rare instruments and books related to land surveying. This initially was a family business - my father (F. D. Uzes) was a noted surveyor, collector and author (Illustrated Price Guide To Antique Surveying Instruments and Books - published in 1980). Having spent a lifetime surrounded by old instruments and books, I now run the business myself. I use my website (www.CompleatSurveyor.com) to both sell instruments and provide historical information related to land surveying.

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