Blagrave's great universal instrument
By BLAGRAVE, John , 1590

Baculum Familliare, Catholicon sive Generale. A Booke of the making and use of a Staffe, newly invented by the author, called the familiar staffe.

Natural History, Science & Medicine
  • Author: BLAGRAVE, John
  • Publication place: London
  • Publisher: Printed by Heugh Jackson dwelling at Fleete Bridge, at the signe of S. John the Evangelis
  • Publication date: 1590.
  • Physical description: Small quarto (185 by 145mm) four preliminary leaves including title, dedication and table, [1]-70pp, woodcut illustrations to title, woodcut initials, decorations, illustrations and diagrams, title soiled, a few marginal repairs, library stamp to upper pastedown, modern cloth, title in gilt.

    Collation: A-K4, lacking final blank K4.
  • Dimensions: 189 by 150mm. (7.5 by 6 inches).
  • Inventory reference: 14782


John Blagrave (1561-1611) was a practical mathematician, who lived and worked in Reading. He practised as a land surveyor and was among the first to draw estate maps to scale. He also designed and made instruments, including an astrolabe, which he described in The Mathematical Jewel (1585), whose design modified a number of earlier instruments, particularly that of Gemma Frisius. Between 1589 and 1596 he enjoyed the patronage of Sir Francis Knolles, the dedicatee of Baculum familliare, the present work. The ‘familliare staffe’ mentioned in the work was an early example of the complex universal instruments, which Blagrave claims:

“readily performeth all the severall uses of the Crosse Staff, the Quadrate, the Circle, the Quadrante, the Gunners Quadrante, [and] the Trigon”

And can be used for the:

“shooting in great Ordnance, and other millitarie services, and may as well be imployed by the ingenious, for measuring of land…”.

Instruments such as Blagrave’s were quite in vogue in mathematical circles during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. However, due to their complexity they were often not adopted by the practical surveyors of the time. Blagrave would continue to publish works on scientific instruments, with his Astrolabium Uranicum generale (1596) on astrolabes, and his The Art of Dyalling (1609), on sundials.

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