The first source of information we’ll look at are the annual reports of the U.S. Naval Observatory, which typically reported the number of new sextants inspected during the year (1). The Naval Observatory’s annual reports were written on a fiscal year basis, which at this time began on July 1 of the calendar year, e.g., the Naval Observatory’s annual report for fiscal year 1916 covers the period from July 1, 1915 to June 30, 1916. In the table below, I’ve compiled the Naval Observatory sextant inspection data for fiscal years 1916 through 1922; a caveat is that the annual report for fiscal year 1918 gives the only total number of sextants inspected, new and old, so it is not clear how many of the 818 sextants inspected in this period were new ones. I will assume here that all the sextants inspected in fiscal year 1918 were new sextants; while that may not be precisely correct, I think information that will be presented later suggests that a large majority of them were in fact new sextants.
We can see that there was a rapid increase in the number of new sextants inspected at the Naval Observatory that coincided with the rapid increase in the production of Brandis instruments between 1917 and 1919 indicated by the Brandis serial number chronology. Not all of these sextants could have been made by Brandis; we know that the instrument manufacturers Keuffel & Esser and Buff & Buff also supplied sextants to the U.S. Navy during this period because about a quarter of the World War I era Naval Observatory-inspected sextants on Tighar’s sextant number list (2) were made by these two companies. However, the preponderance of Brandis sextants on Tighar’s list suggests that Brandis was the largest supplier of sextants to the Navy during World War I, and therefore the trend seen in the USNO annual reports must to a significant degree reflect the trend in production of Brandis sextants.
Information appearing in three publications brings Brandis’ wartime work supplying sextants to the U.S. Navy into sharper focus. The trade journal Jewelers’ Circular-Weekly in its October 10, 1917 (3) contains a brief notice stating: “An award has also been made to Brandis & Sons Co. of Brooklyn for furnishing 1,000 surveying sextants at $98,250”. This would seem to be the contract that initiated Brandis’ wartime production of sextants, and if what is reported in Jewelers’ Circular-Weekly was fairly recent news, then production of sextants by Brandis for the Navy began no earlier than October, 1917. I note that this article appears to have imprecisely stated the Brandis firm name, and so here we’ve missed an opportunity to better define the date of the firm name transition from the ‘Brandis & Sons Mfg. Co.’ to ‘Brandis & Sons, Inc.’, which is an important element in the Brandis serial number chronology.
|Jewelers' Circular-Weekly, October 10, 1917|
The Brandis advertisement in the December, 1919 issue of The Rudder, which was mentioned in the previous post, provides additional details about Brandis’ activities during the period in question. Here it is stated: “Each sextant has our guarantee to pass inspection at the U.S. Naval Observatory as did the 2400 furnished by us to the US Navy Department during the period of the war”. The key things we learn here are that Brandis produced a total of 2400 sextants for the Navy during the war, and that Brandis finished manufacturing these 2400 sextants before December of 1919, by which time it was once again making sextants for the civilian market (hence the need for an advertisement in The Rudder).
Finally, a publication called The Marine Review, in its February, 1920 issue (4), contains a brief piece that I suspect relies heavily on information provided by Brandis. The third paragraph of this article provides several relevant pieces of information:
“The company draws attention to the fact that its entire plant was devoted to the manufacture of sextants during the war, the whole output going to the United States Navy. Prior to the war, the output of American made sextants never exceeded 200 yearly. With the entrance of the United States into the war and the resulting upbuilding of an American Merchant Marine, sextant manufacturers expanded their facilities to meet the increased demand. In less than two years, the Brandis company delivered 2400 sextants to the United States Navy”.
Here again is the statement that Brandis produced a total of 2400 sextants for the U.S. Navy during the war, and we are also told that Brandis completed this work in less than two years, a time interval which is consistent with what the previous two sources suggest, that production of sextants for the Navy started no earlier than October of 1917, and was completed before December, 1919.
|Marine Review, February, 1920|
The Marine Review also tells us that the only type of instrument Brandis manufactured while fulfilling its Navy contracts were sextants, all of which went to the Navy. This implies that the Brandis serial number series should have increased by about 2400 between 1917 and 1919, and that all of the Brandis sextants made during this period were marked with Naval Observatory serial numbers. This is pretty much what we see in the Brandis serial number chronology: Brandis was making sextants with serial numbers in the 3200-3300 range in 1917, and sextants with Brandis serial numbers in the 5600-5700 range could well have been made in 1919. Additionally, an examination of the Tighar sextant number list reveals that all of the 48 Brandis sextants with serial numbers from 3243 to 5628 do in fact have Naval Observatory numbers (5,6).
It isn’t possible with the available information to give precise serial numbers or dates for the beginning or end of Brandis’s production of the 2400 sextants for the Navy, and while the Marine Review article indicates that during the war Brandis’s entire factory was dedicated to producing sextants for the Navy, it appears that there wasn’t a sharp transition from making sextants for the Navy to making instruments for other customers at the end this production period. This can be seen in the table below, which indicates the Naval Observatory serial numbers (if any) of the sextants with the five highest Brandis serial numbers of any that have come to light. The second sextant listed, Brandis #5687, does not have a Naval Observatory serial number, while the next two sextants, Brandis #5760 and Brandis #5851, do have Naval Observatory numbers. If the Naval Observatory serial number of the latter two sextants were higher than any made before them, one might reasonably think that they were produced after the war under a separate postwar Navy contract. But Brandis #5851 has a Naval Observatory serial number 1110, which is lower than all but a few of the Brandis sextants on Tighar’s sextant list, thus it is reasonable to assume that this sextant was part of the wartime run of 2400 sextants made for the Navy. We should probably also consider it possible that the outset of Brandis’ work for the Navy did not involve a distinct transition from civilian to Navy work.
The information provided by these various publications nicely jibes with the timing and magnitude of the increase in the production of Brandis instruments indicated by Brandis serial number chronology over the 1917-1919 period, and so provides independent corroboration of the accuracy of this portion of the Brandis serial number chronology.
This additional information is also helpful in somewhat narrowing the estimated date of manufacture of the hypothetical Brandis #3500/USNO#1542 sextant. As discussed in the previous post, the sextant with Brandis serial number 3243 is marked ‘Brandis & Sons Mfg. Co.’, while the sextant with Brandis serial number 3331 is marked ‘Brandis & Sons, Inc.’ Since this firm name change occurred sometime between July and December of 1917, some or all of the instruments with Brandis serial numbers between 3243 and 3331 must have been made in the second half of 1917. Brandis was awarded its first contract to produce sextants for the Navy before October 10, 1917; the sextant with Brandis serial number 3243 doesn’t have a Naval Observatory serial number, and thus was made either before Brandis began producing sextants for this contract, or before Brandis dedicated its entire manufacturing capacity to producing sextants for the U.S. Navy. The sextant with Brandis serial number 3331 does have a Naval Observatory serial number (USNO #1421), and would have been made early in Brandis’s production run of 2400 sextants for the Navy. I think it is reasonable to assume that Brandis started dedicated production of those 2400 sextants no more than two or three months after the first contract award, and given that Brandis produced an average of 200 sextants per month while fulfilling its Navy contracts, it seems reasonable to think that the hypothetical Brandis #3500/USNO #1542 sextant was made within a month or two of the start of dedicated production of sextants for the Navy. Thus, I think the most likely date of manufacture of this sextant would have been between one and five months of the award of its first Navy contract, i.e., sometime between November, 1917 and March, 1918.
The sextant with Brandis serial number 3331 would seem to be one of the early sextants made for the Navy’s first order of 1000 sextants. Given the relatively low rate of production of instruments by Brandis prior to the war, it seems likely that by the time Brandis issued serial number 3500, its manufacturing plant had reached the point of dedicated production of sextants for the Navy. Thus, besides leading to a somewhat narrow date range for the manufacture of the hypothetical Brandis #3500/USNO#1542 sextant, the information presented tells us that Brandis serial number 3500 was probably issued to a sextant rather than any other type of instrument Brandis manufactured, such as a surveyor’s level. In this post and in others, I’ve referred to ‘the hypothetical Brandis #3500/USNO #1542 sextant’, but it seems likely that Brandis serial number 3500 was assigned to a sextant, so what unclear is whether the Naval Observatory assigned their serial number 1542 to the Brandis #3500 sextant.
Readers may have expected me to also present a Naval Observatory serial number chronology to complement the Brandis serial chronology. It would be nice to have this additional dating tool, but developing a Naval Observatory serial number chronology would seem to be a difficult endeavor. One might construct such a chronology by searching for Naval Observatory inspection certificates with pre-World War I inspection dates, but no such inspection certificates have yet come to light, and I think the chances of finding any are fairly slim. Judging by Tighar’s sextant number list, there are few pre-World War I U.S. Navy sextants to be found; this is probably because the Navy did not purchase sextants in large numbers prior to World War I (7). Sextants were often re-inspected at the Naval Observatory once in service (8), and therefore if and when additional pre-war Navy sextant boxes come to light, there is a good chance that the inspection certificates they contain, if any, will indicate the dates of later re-inspections; I say ‘if any’ because it isn’t unusual for the inspection certificates to be missing from Navy sextant boxes of this era. Also, while the research I’ve done so far indicates that the Naval Observatory started using serial numbers in the 1880s, I am not sure that the Naval Observatory serial numbers were consistently assigned to sextants prior to World War I; but this is subject that I’ll leave for another post.
Finally, many familiar with Tighar’s sextant number list have commented on the absence of an obvious relationship between Brandis and Naval Observatory serial numbers. The absence of a correlation between these two sets of serial numbers suggests that the Naval Observatory made no effort to inspect sextants and assign Naval Observatory serial numbers to them in order of their manufacturer’s serial number, at least not during the 1917-1919 period. I speculate that at this time the Naval Observatory’s storage area for sextants often contained many hundreds of newly-manufactured, yet-to-be-inspected, Brandis, Keuffel & Esser, and Huff & Huff sextants, which were not carefully stored with regard to manufacturer’s serial number; batches of sextants would be retrieved from storage for inspection based on accessibility rather than with regard to manufacturer’s serial number (or even manufacturer), thus precluding a predictable relationship between sextant manufacturer serial numbers and Naval Observatory serial numbers. An additional factor contributing to the lack of a correlation is that while the bulk of the Naval Observatory’s serial numbers appear to have been assigned to sextants, at least some Naval Observatory serial numbers were assigned to instruments besides sextants, for instance timepieces, which also tended to reduce the correlation between Naval Observatory and manufacturer’s serial numbers. More can be said about the subject of Naval Observatory serial numbers, but this is perhaps should be discussed another time.
Comments, corrections, additional relevant facts, differing viewpoints, etc., are always welcome (no one will be banned, blocked, or castigated for offering differing opinions). Send to firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) USNO Annual Reports can be downloaded at hathitrust.org. Sextants were inspected prior to going into Navy service, and the term ‘new sextant’ in this context refers to sextants receiving their first inspection at the Naval Observatory; many, if not most, sextants were re-inspected once in service; see footnote 8.
(3) The Jewelers’ Circular-Weekly, Volume 75, Issue 1, page 59. Jewelers’ Circular Publishing Co., October 10, 1917. This can be found online at Google Books.
(4) Marine Review, Volume 50, February, 1920, page 127. Penton Publishing Company. This can be found online at Google Books.
(5) The sextant with Brandis serial number 3243 seems to have been inadvertently left off the Tighar sextant number list, or deleted from it.
(6) In addition these 48 sextants, the Tighar sextant number list includes five Brandis sextants whose serial numbers are known only from markings on their sextant boxes; since the Naval Observatory didn’t consistently mark boxes of inspected sextants with USNO serial numbers, it is not known whether the sextants these five boxes once stored were had USNO serial numbers. Tighar lists a sixth sextant in this range, Brandis #3702, as having no USNO serial number, but the discussion here: http://tighar.org/smf/index.php/topic,183.msg1696/topicseen.html#msg1696 indicates that this sextant has an illegible USNO serial number.
(7) Only 25 new sextants were inspected at the Naval Observatory in each of fiscal years 1916 and 1917; several earlier USNO Annual Reports I have had access to indicate similarly small numbers of new sextants inspected or purchased. Note also that the Marine Review article states “Prior to the war, the output of American made sextants never exceeded 200 yearly”; presumably many of these “200 yearly” sextants were sold to civilian customers rather than to the U.S. Navy.
(8) This can be seen by the many examples of U.S. Navy sextant boxes on the Tighar sextant number list containing inspection certificates that are dated many years after Brandis’ demise; also, sextant boxes containing two differently dated inspection certificates have come to light.