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    Re: Buying a sextant- a cautionary tale.
    From: George Huxtable
    Date: 2006 May 1, 11:32 +0100

    This refers to my problems in trying to buy a Vernier sextant on eBay UK.
    Recent correspondence about my attempted sextant purchase has shown up some 
    confusions, between two mailing lists, which I will
    tackle under another threadname "Two lists with a common topic".
    I was owner of that sextant for a very short time, until the seller refunded 
    my cash without a quibble. The reason for its rejection
    was as follows. The fine arc divisions, at one-sixth of a degree, at the edge 
    of the arc where it meets the Vernier, were entirely
    missing between +5 deg  and -5deg (ie off the arc), and faint and very hard to 
    read between +5 and +10 . Elsewhere, where most
    celestial measurements are made, they were fine. These are the divisions that 
    have to be read (for coincidence) against the Vernier
    scale, so are essential for any accurate work.
     The coarser divisions, at 1 deg spacings, just back from the arc-edge, were 
    also missing, between +5 and -5. What could be seen,
    presumably because they had been incised a bit deeper, were a figure "0" and a 
    corresponding dot, further back still from the
    arc-edge, at the zero-point of the arc. These were so far from the edge of the 
    Vernier that it would be difficult to estimate where
    they lay, in relation to the zero-end  of the Vernier, to (say) the nearest sixth of a degree.
    The Vernier span (interpolating over a range of 10 arc-minutes) had the width 
    of 20 degrees of arc, as I remember, so when measuring
    small angles the lower quarter of the Vernier scale was unavailable, because 
    there was no fine arc-scale to read it against. The
    next quarter was difficult and nearly inpossible to use. When measuring angles 
    greater than +10 deg, the whole length of the Vernier
    could be used, with no problems.
    So, when measuring small angles(such as a zer-check) the curious situation 
    would arise that the Vernier was usable and could measure
    precisely, the excess over a multiple of 10 arc-minutes, if that excess was 
    greater than, say, 5 arc-minutes, but not if it was
    less. But there seemed to be no way of being sure which of those 
    fine-divisions, at 10-minute intervals, that excess would relate
    I considered the notion of offsetting the index error slightly, using the 
    mirror screws, so as to put it always at the upper part of
    the Vernier scale (to correspond to, say, 2 minutes off-the-arc). This 
    presumed that once it had been established, from other
    evidence, that the index-check position was correctly near to zero degrees on 
    the scale, within 10 minutes, it would never wander so
    far as to put that out, and the Vernier reading would tell me of any small 
    changes. And then I wondered how the sextant could be
    used for measuring small angles, such as the height of a lighthouse for 
    distance-off, as sextants are occasionally required to do,
    or a Moon diameter. That seemed impossible.
    So it didn't take long to decide that the defects in the arc made the sextant 
    unusable, and I was pleased to be able to back out of
    the deal without hassle.
    Those problems are now, for me, hypothetical, pleased to say, now that the 
    instrument has been returned. However, Frank appears to
    have up his sleeve a scheme for allowing such a defective instrument to be 
    useful, and it would be interesting to learn how. It
    eluded me.
    By the way, the sextant has reappeared on eBay, at-
    so you can check the information provided, for yourself. There is still no 
    indication of any defect in the arc divisions, except
    that in answer to a question, the seller has admitted that the markings around 
    the zero point are "faint". A picture has been added,
    but this shows another part of the arc, where no problem occurs. I have 
    suggested to the seller, since, that he should include a
    photo of the problem area.
    There seems to be little in common between the problem that that Vernier 
    sextant showed up, in making measurements of small angles
    and index checking so impossible, and Alex's experience with a micrometer 
    sextant, which appears to be significantly IN ERROR over a
    small region of the arc.
    contact George Huxtable at george@huxtable.u-net.com
    or at +44 1865 820222 (from UK, 01865 820222)
    or at 1 Sandy Lane, Southmoor, Abingdon, Oxon OX13 5HX, UK.

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