American Levels and Their Makers


O. Hanks Patent, by M. Watkins & Son, Bristol, Connecticut

An element of mystery surrounds the "O. Hanks Patent" level. Although the level in the foreground is marked as being patented by Oscar Hanks in 1847, no such patent has been found. It is possible that Hanks obtained a patent prior to 1836 and its was lost in the Patent Office fire of that year. It is also possible that Hanks drew a sketch or showed the Watkins a model and they assumed that he had obtained a patent. A patent was granted 36 years later to two New York gentlemen named Ward and Burton. Their level was extremely similar to the levels shown here, contained no new features, and lacked both the adjustable endpieces of the front level and a cover the vial container (casket).

The levels feature a single vial, hinged on the right hand side. As shown on the uppermost level, the top piece of the level opens to reveal the upside down vial casket. The casket vial is then pivoted 180 degrees and lies flat in the channel to act as a level. The top piece could be closed with the cartridge in external position and the casket rotated back 90 degrees to make plumb measurements. The top has an adjustment screw on the right hand side to adjust the plumb measurement, and there is also a screw through the bottom rail beneath the external position of the cartridge to adjust the level measurement. The top piece has ears on the right side, one of which fits behind a brass leaf spring on the base to clamp the top in a closed position. The careful observer will note an iron piece containing a peep hole attached to each end of the base of the front level. These pieces were slotted and were adjustable vertically.

The top level is similar in most respects to the front level except for the absence of the signature cast into the top piece and the lack of adjustable sights. The only marking is "1839" stamped into the side of the level. The front level is 21 _" long while the top level is 19 " long and much more crudely made. It seems possible that the top level was made in the Albany, New York area because that is where Hanks was located in the 1830s.

The Watkins version of the level has yellow striping over black japanning and the remnants of it are observable on the sides of the base. The top of the vial casket has much more yellow decoration and is visible when the top is in the open position as in the upper most level.

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