The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
  • Dividers
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Italy
  • c. 1600
  • Steel, chiselled
  • Length: 52.5 cm, length
    Length: 40.3 cm, blade
    Weight: 0.87 kg
    Width: 2.6 cm, guard
    Width: 21 cm, when open
  • A1247
  • European Armoury III
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Pair of dividers, in the form of a dagger with spherical pommel; turned grip of baluster form; guard with scrolled ends, square in section, chiselled with bands of guilloche ornament terminating in acanthus leaves, twin blades each of triangular section forming a blade of diamond section when united.

    The entire piece is made of bright steel and split into two pieces which are hinged at the pommel; the twin blades open like the legs of a pair of compasses and can be extended to a right angle.

    Italian, about 1600.

    De Beaumont Catalogue, no. 97, Norman and Barne, 1980, p.289.

    Provenance: Joyeau (Un compas en fer ciselé du XVI ème 55 fr.; receipted bill, 25 September, 1865); Comte de Nieuwerkerke.

    The MS. of Antonio Petrini of Florence, 1642, a copy of which is in the Royal Armouries, makes reference to daggers of this kind and their use as a pair of compasses and to measure the calibre of guns and cannon balls. For the latter purpose the inner faces of the two blades were generally graduated; in the case of A1247 these surfaces are unmarked.

    There is a similar dagger in the Reubell Bequest in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, (no. 26.145.128; Dean, Daggers, no.214, pl. LXV). See also Zschille Collection (Forrer, Catalogue, 1897, pl. 152, no. 433).

    A dagger with divisable blade 'che serve per sesto e per sagoma' is illustrated in L' arte fabrile, by Antonio Petrini, 1642 (see Gaibi, Armi antiche, 1963, p.168). A dagger/dividers of this type appears in a portrait at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, of Ralph Simmons (1583-1603), the architect of the college.