Drawing Instruments

Archaeological survivals show that a range of drawing instruments were in use in classical antiquity. Perhaps the most fundamental drawing device was the stylus, whose blunt point was used to scribe lines, which could subsequently be filled in with ink. The direct application of ink was achieved with the pen, whose principal feature was a blade which retained some ink. This could be achieved by bending a single piece of metal along its length; an alternative solution which remained current from antiquity to the Renaissance, was to have two blades whose separation was controlled by a ring sliding on the shaft of the pen.

Charcoal was an alternative means of producing a drawing. The use of another form of carbon to create a graphite pencil appears to have begun in the 16th century, and various designs of pencil holder date from this period.

Drawing straight lines required a ruler, and these could be either plain or furnished with scales for measurement. Set squares make the direct drawing of right and other angles relatively easy and the earliest parallel rulers (made up of two linked rules) date from the 16th century. Compasses were used to draw circles, with the same form as dividers but having either a pencil holder or an ink pen in place of one of the points.

All of these instruments were included in sets of drawing instruments which, by the end of the 16th century, were becoming one of the standard items provided by mathematical instrument makers. A case of instruments could be more or less grand, depending on the wealth and tastes of its buyer. However, the largest sets of instruments, with many trays to accommodate a very wide range of devices, only became common in the 18th century.

S. Johnston,"Drawing instruments"in R. Bud and D. Warner (eds), Instruments of Science: An Historical Encyclopedia (New York and London, 1998); M. Hambly, Drawing Instruments, 1580-1980 (London, 1988)

Stephen Johnston
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