Item NA16 - Ship Builder’s Bevel.  Single Brass Blade.  Dated 1843.

Surely the most spectacular ship’s bevel that I’ve ever encountered, this one has an awful lot going for it.  The bevel, closed, is 12 ¼ inches long, and being quite narrow, is just 3/8 inches wide and ¼ inch thick.  The single brass blade is graduated in inches (more about this later) on both sides to 1/8 inch increments.  The wooden body of the handle is made of ebony (or dark rosewood—but I think it is ebony, and this is enclosed between end ferrules of brass, each about 1 inch long.  The blade is pinned at one end with a pin that has raised square nuts on both sides.  The handle is graduated, on both sides, in three manners. 

First, there are hand stamped numbers (2 – 11, plus graduation marks in the brass ferrules) on one side; and (2 – 12 stamps, plus graduation marks on the ferrules) on the other side.  Second, the ebony handle on both sides is marked with small brass pins, inserted into the wood, that include 5 pins at the inch marks, 3 pins at the ½ marks, 2 pins at the ¼ inch marks, and 1 pin at the 1/8 inch marks.  Finally, at the 3, 6, and 9 inch marks, the indicator five pins on one side are embellished with a zig zag row of 5 additional pins.  On the other side, the 3, 6, and 9 inch marks are also embellished with additional pins (6 in number) in a square design.  I don’t understand the significance of these marks at the 3, 6, and 9 inch levels.


The brass ferrule at the base (0 point) of the bevel handle is capped with a steel plate, otherwise the entire bevel is constructed of brass and wood.

With the brass blade fully extended, the length of the bevel is 22 5/8 inches (measured with my modern (Stanley) steel tape measure.  However, the graduations on that side of the blade tip end at 24 inches (this is the side with the square embellished 3, 6, 9 inch increments.  The reverse side’s gradations end on the brass at 22 1/8”.  Clearly there are two”inch” sizes at work here.  One of these inches amounts to 22.625/24 = 1.06 of our inches.  The other side (with zigzag ornamentation) has inches that (by our standards) equal 22 1/8 / 22 5/8.= 0.98 inch.  These values are within the range of historical variances of European “inches”, including examples such as the French “pouce” at 1.07 inches, the German “zoll” at 0.95 inches, etc.

A final unique feature of this bevel, is that it is signed and dated.  On the open (steel plug) end brass ferrule (on each side) are stipple engraved, on each side, the initials and dates, “H. F..1843” (in script) and “H.F..1843 (in block letters).

In researching this bevel, the closest example that I can find is a bevel, distantly photographed, on page 24 of Sandor Nagyszalanczy’s “The Art of Fine Tools.”  This is described as a “long user-made brass and rosewood shipbuilder’s bevel.  Small brass form the numbers and increments” (from the collection of Don Rosebrook.  Yet, the embellishments, date, and inch conundrum on the bevel described here, are not reached by Don’s bevel.  Almost surely European in origin, my guess is that it is either French or Swiss.  Fine

Price -   $350.00

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