19th c. Water Bottle Level

The 19th century water bottle level.
Figure 1: The 19th century water bottle level.
I've obtained this level in 2008. The instrument is probably of French origin, but is unsigned and nor is there any signature in the box. In the Netherlands the water bottle level was also referred to as waterwaag.1

Use and diffusion
The instrument in this shape was first mentioned by Riccioli in a 1689 work by Philip de La Hire.2 This level is as basic as a level can be; two communicating containers of water joined together with a brass tube (see figure 1 and figure 5). Water would be poured into the system, at times coloured using a dye.3 Visors floating on mercury were also used as a more accurate alternative.4

The surveyor would look along both bottles, trying to maintain a sight line along the water surfaces. Any object at the same height as that line would be level with it. The instrument can be mounted on the same tripod as the graphometer. In contrast to the hydrostatic level there are no scales on this instrument.

Accuracy
It is difficult to say something about the accuracy of this levelling system, but it may be clear that little accuracy may be expected from it. The use of floating visors may have improved on the quality of the observations, but came at an unhealthy price of using mercury.

The instrument
The instrument came complete with a nice oak box (see figure 2 and figure 3). It has to be dismantled into five pieces in order to fit in it. To protect the hand blown glass bottles two additional parts are in the box; the brass tubular covers to protect the glass bottles when not in use. The tripod was acquired separately and most likely too is of French origin (both the instrument and tripod were bought in France).

Notes

[1]: J. Morgenster, J.H. Knoop, Werkdadige Meetkonst, Tonende Klaar en beknopt, hoe dat al 't gene een Ingenieur en Landmeter te meten voorvallen kan, wiskonstig met en zonder Hoekmeting, door de minste moeite gemeten word..., (Leeuwarden, 1744), p.153.
[2]: E.R. Kiely, Surveying Instruments, Their History and Classroom Use, (New York, 1947), p.132.
[3]: C.M. Bauernfeind, Elemente der Vermessungskunde ... Erste Abtheilung ... mit 580 Holzschnitten und 22 Tafeln, (München, 1862), p. 317.
[4]: F. Wind, Technische Meetinstrumenten en hun Gebruik. Handleiding tot het Terreinmeten, Waterpassen, Peilen en Stroomsnelheidmeten., (Amsterdam, 1920), p.123.


If you have any questions and/or remarks please let me know.

The box of the water bottle level.
Figure 2: The box of the water bottle level.
 
The water bottle level in its box.
Figure 3: The water bottle level in its box.

The water bottle level with protective covers.
Figure 4: The water bottle level with protective covers.
 
A close-up of one of the hand blown bottles.
Figure 5: A close-up of one of the hand blown bottles.

The level has a hinged tripod mounting.
Figure 6: The level has a hinged tripod mounting.
 
The head of the period oak tripod.
Figure 7: The head of the period oak tripod.

Surveyor's crosses Geodetic Sextants Theodolites Total Stations Levels Standards Tools Firms
20th c. hydrostatic level 19th c. water bottle level 19th c. Secrétan Egault 19th c. Tibaut Lenoir 1928 Carl Zeiss Nivellier I 1924 Carl Zeiss Nivellier II 1926 Wild NKII 1948 Wild N1 1951 Wild N2 1965 Wild NK01 1965 Wild NK10 1961 Wild N3 1970 Wild NK2 1977 Wild N3 1999 Wild NA2-GPM3 20th c. Cowley 1960s Jenoptik Koni 007 1960s Zeiss Opton Ni 2