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Barn find quadrant identified as one of Britain's earliest scientific instruments

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November 2, 2011

Both sides of the 1396 Richard II horary quadrant

Both sides of the 1396 Richard II horary quadrant

Image Gallery (3 images)

You just never know what you've got in the shed. This horary quadrant was found in a bag of old pipe fittings in a shed on a farm in Queensland, Australia, forty years ago. Last year the owner of the quadrant was surfing the internet and came across this article where he recognised not just the same tool, but the same stag-coronet insignia that was on his quadrant (he thought it was an astrolabe) signified it was made for King Richard II (of England).

He subsequently contacted the British Museum, which identified the item sitting on his desk for the last forty years as a 1396 horary quadrant. It will be auctioned next month and is expected to fetch between GBP150,000 and GBP200,000.

Perhaps even more remarkably, the simple quadrant which is used for telling the time, and had been in use for at least 1500 years prior to the making of this peice in 1396, has turned out to be the second oldest British scientific instrument ever discovered, the oldest being the Chaucer astrolabe, dated 1326, which is housed in the British Museum.

Dated 1396, the quadrant is one of four similar quadrants found to date (the others have been dated 1398, 1399 and circa 1400 respectively), two of which can be found in the British Museum, and the other in the Dorset County Museum, Dorchester.

The horary quadrant was the most commonly used way of telling the time prior to the invention of the clock. One edge of the quadrant was pointed directly at the sun, and a plumbline attached to the centre of the quadrant signified the hour of the day.

All four of the above mentioned quadrants were divided into equal hours, meaning they would only be accurate at one specific latitude, and all four are accurate at the latitude of London.

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About the Author
Mike Hanlon Mike grew up thinking he would become a mathematician, accidentally started motorcycle racing, got a job writing road tests for a motorcycle magazine while at university, and became a writer. As a travelling photojournalist during his early career, his work was published in a dozen languages across 20+ countries. He went on to edit or manage over 50 print publications, with target audiences ranging from pensioners to plumbers, many different sports, many car and motorcycle magazines, with many more in the fields of communication - narrow subject magazines on topics such as advertising, marketing, visual communications, design, presentation and direct marketing. Then came the internet and Mike managed internet projects for Australia's largest multimedia company, Telstra.com.au (Australia's largest Telco), Seek.com.au (Australia's largest employment site), top100.com.au, hitwise.com, and a dozen other internet start-ups before founding Gizmag in 2002. Now he writes and thinks. All articles by Mike Hanlon
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