Backstaff

American
1765
Artist Clark Elliott (1729–1793)


Object Place: New London, Connecticut

Dimensions

Overall: 59.1 x 35.6 x 12.7 cm (23 1/4 x 14 x 5 in.)

Accession Number

1993.533

Medium or Technique

Rosewood, boxwood, walnut, ivory

On View

George Putnam Model Ship Gallery (Gallery LG28)

Collections

Americas

Classifications

Instruments

Inscribed: “Made by C. Elliott in New London/ For Mr. [—-?] 1765” and “CE/ 346/ 1765”. Rosewood, boxwood, walnut, ivory. Backstaff with rosewood limbs and braces decorated with incised lines, punched stars, and applied bosses, with inlaid ivory plate with maker’s name, date, and owner’s name (effaced) on long limb; small 60 degree arc and large 30 degree arc of boxwood and engraved with graduated scales; maker’s initials, date, and serial number engraved on scrolled end of 30 degree arc, with punched stars; walnut horizon vane attached to long limb; other vanes missing.


The backstaff or Davis quadrant, used to observe the altitude of the sun at sea, was an important navigational instrument, often made of tropical hardwoods. The ivory nameplate indicates that Elliott, a well-known maker of navigational instruments, made this backstaff. The original owner’s name has been effaced, a customary practice as instruments often changed ownership.

Credit Line

Gift of The Seminarians