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Microptic Theodolite


This is a theodolite contained in a green metal case (2012.ihpst.14.1), and accompanied with a tripod (2012.ihpst.14.2).

2012.ihpst.14.1: The theodolite is housed in a metal case that is painted a greyish-green with white and black speckles. The case is rectangular with a rounded top. It consists of a top half, which can be removed, and a bottom, in which the theodolite sits. It has a leather strap, attached on one side with a metal staple and on the other with a piece of plastic, with metal buckles on each end which latch the upper part of the case to the instrument base. One lowers the top of these buckles in order to open the case. The ends of the strap also have three little circles (buttons?) on them. In the bottom half of the case, in one corner, is a metal cylinder that holds a small weight with a string tied to the top of it. To the left of this, attached to the top edge of the bottom part of the case, is a metal projection that sticks straight up and has a silver knob on top of it, which is covered in small nubs.

The theodolite itself is covered in the same tone of greyish-green enamel as the case, although without the speckles. It has a rounded base and straight sides with circles at the top It has satin-chrome finish on its knobs and other attachments, as well as a 2-inch high ring around the lens. In the middle of the instrument, the main lens folds vertically for storage but can be flipped up into a horizontal position for use. The end you look into is black, as is a secondary, skinnier lens attached to one of its sides. A metal piece with an open circle on its end sticks horizontally out of the metal that holds these two lenses together. The remainder of the description will be based on the lens being in its vertical storage position, with the actual lens part being the “bottom.” To the left of the lens’s bottom, there is a silver knob with six short, squared-off spokes. To the right of the lens’s bottom, there is a round silver knob. Below and between these knobs is a hole that appears to be another lens. Below this and to the right is a silver knob that sticks out perpendicular to the hole/lens. On the side of the large central lens is a pill-shaped piece with a textured silver ring about a quarter of the way down it. Silver discs comes horizontally out of the side of the base in four places. On one short side/end, there is a thick metal knob. There is a short silver tube at the top of the instrument’s side. On the other long side, there is a levelling bubble directly below the central lens. On the side of the lens is a flat silver knob. There is a small thick silver knob near the bottom of the base next to the stick-like projection that is attached to the bottom part of the case. On the other end/short side, there is another pill-shaped attachment on the top right. Directly to the left of this is a round “door” that can open horizontally. Directly below this is a wide silver knob, and below that is a smaller silver knob. Below the knobs is another levelling bubble. Below the bubble is a long, flat mirror that can flip out horizontally. About three inches below this another circular “door”, and below it another pill-shaped attachment. Near the base is another small silver knob.

A small paper manual is included inside the container.

2012.ihpst.14.2: The tripod is composed of extendable wood and metal components. Each leg is composed of 3 wooden legs attached to adjustable tension hinges and dials at the top. At the bottom in between each set of dual wooden legs is a third extendable leg that come to a point. This third leg is released by an adjustable metal tension bracket. The entire bottom of the instrument is secured around with a leather belt strap. There are the remnants of tape with writing on it adhered to one legs.

Accession Number: 2012.ihpst.14.1-2

Alternative Name: Transit Theodolite

Primary Materials:

Theodolite: Steel, Brass, Leather, Plastic, Paper. Tripod: Wood, Steel, Leather, Plastic, Other metal


On the container the following numbers are painted on: “62” and “88293”.

On the base the following is inscribed on a plaque: “Watts, London, Hilger & Watts LTD., Watts Division, 48 Addington Square, London, England”.

“No. 88293; Watts, London, MADE IN ENGLAND PAT No. 574295; 62”, is inscribed on the instrument itself.

Dimensions (cm):

Transit container: Height = 33, Width = 17, Length = 20. Tripod (folded up): Height = 95, Width =10.7, Length = 10.7


A theodolite is used to measure angles, both horizontal and vertical, in surveying, meteorology and archeology. The user looks through the device, which is mounted on a tripod, much as one does with a telescope. The purpose of a theodolite is to record accurate angles for building roads and tunnels and to map precise locations of sites.


Case: The leather strap on the case shows a lot of red rotting and is worn especially badly under the metal staple that holds it onto the case on one side. The strap has cracking over its entire surface and has notch-like wear on its edges. The case has rust around the edges where its pieces meet. The paint is worn off near the bottom of the case all around. Underneath the strap where the top of the case meets the sides, there are large rust patches. There is a deep dent on the top of the case to the right of the “88293” marking. There is also a smaller, shallower dent to the left of this marking. There is a yellow paint drip on the bottom part of the case on the top edge. There are drips of red paint under the strap on the metal staple side and near the bottom of this same side. There is also a lot of red paint in a dripping patter from top to bottom on one of the wide sides.

Tripod: One of the tripod’s legs has residue on it that resembles old paper or masking tape. There are drips of both red and blue paint across the surfaces of all three legs. There is rust on the buckle on the leather strap that holds the legs together. There are nicks out of the wood of all three legs.

Theodolite: There are many but insignificant scratches all across the base. The plastic that holds the weight in its storage place is brittle and broken in places. The antenna-like piece is loose. The small wrench is covered in rust. On one end of the bubble, there is a significantly large paint chip. The black knobs all show signs of wear from touching. Paint is worn off of the edges of the bubble, the base, and the lenses. There are red paint drips on the bubble and various other places on the theodolite. The long metal stick-like piece near the bottom of the base shows signs of wear like it has been touched or rubbed a lot, meaning that it is no longer silver-coloured. There are small yellow dots on the base on both wide sides of the instrument.

Associated Instruments:

Manufacturer: Hilger & Watts, London, UK

Date of Manufacture: Likely 1953-1954


Donated to the University of Toronto Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology.

Additional Information and References:

Historical Notes:

1) Virtual Museum of Surveying. How old is my watts, hilger-watts? Available from <a href=”,_hilger-watts1.htm” target=”_blank”><wbr>how_old_is_my_watts,_hilger-<wbr>watts1.htm</a> (accessed March 5, 2012).

Anonymous. “The Watts Microptic Theodolite No. 2.” Bulletin Geodesique 34.1 (1954): 369-374.

Christie’s Auctions and Private Sales. “A Watts Microptic Theodolite No. 2.” Lot 115/Sale 8613. Accessed March 07 2014. “Theodolite.” The American Heritage¬ģ Science Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Company. Accessed March 04, 2014. “Theodolite.” Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. Accessed March 04, 2014.

Encyclop√¶dia Britannica Online. “Theodolite.” Accessed March 04, 2014.


  • Donated to UTSIC