American Levels and Their Makers



We are very pleased to celebrate the publication of Don Rosebrook's new book American Levels and Their Makers Vol. 1 with this short exhibit. When I look back at material from the nineteenth century, I am continually amazed at the style and beauty of what are essentially industrial objects. One must also rememeber that when these tools were invented they were high tech and truly representative of the ingenuity of their time. - Bob Mathison, Curator..

Leveling instruments can take many forms. Among the earliest must have been the plumb level which utilizes a weight on a string to indicate the vertical or plumb position. When used in conjunction with a right angle device such as might be found in a square, the plumb level can be used to find a true horizontal or level position. The leveling instrument, sometimes called a plumb & level, has evolved in many ways since its earliest usage. Some of the forms of this device are the spirit level, the inclinometer, and the sighting level. Both of the latter two devices may incorporate the spirit level as part of their mechanisms.

Spirit levels are generally thought of as being carpenters', machinists', or masons' levels. Such levels may be made of wood or metal and can employ many woods and many metals or combinations thereof. Inclinometers may be manually or gravity actuated and may employ a weighted pointer, a weighted sector (of a circle), a rotatable sector, or a large circular liquid-filled chamber. Sighting levels, of the type that interests us here, will have no optics, but will employ a peephole on one end and a larger peephole or one with cross-hairs on the other end.

There are many exceptions to these generalizations and those exceptions have produced many fascinating leveling devices. The use of beautiful woods and sculpted metal forms have also changed what might be commonplace into an art form.

The devices shown in this exhibit include two wooden carpenters' levels, two metal carpenters' levels, a machinists' level, three inclinometers, and two sighting levels. Through these examples of beautiful woods, graceful metal filigree, and interesting decorations, the viewer may gain appreciation for this art form. The photographs are from the book American Levels and Their Makers, Vol. 1, New England by Don Rosebrook. Text is by Don Rosebrook especially for this exhibit.

To see larger versions of the pictures on the following pages click on the image.

Suggested further reading:

Next: 19th Century Wood Brace

Copyright 1999 01 Inc., NYC