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Moorsom's Stanchion - A Mystery Solved

Featured Artifact

Every tool used by U.S. Customs had a name and specific purpose. But that history was sometimes lost over time. This artifact was a mystery. It was clearly a gauge of some kind. But there were no pictures of it in old Customs manuals, and an online search showed that other historical collections didn’t have a name for it, either.

Finding the name and purpose began with careful study of the artifact. Two squared rods are side-by-side. One rod slides against the other, and is locked in place by a clamp. The scales on each rod are marked at 3, 4, and 5 feet, with these main segments further divided by ten. The rods extend to 5-9.

In examining the tool, it became clear that this measures something from the inside. The age of the tool pre-dates shipping containers. So, the logical conclusion is that it was probably used in ships’ holds. This was the vital clue that led to a search of ship manuals. And there it was: a Moorsom’s Stanchion. Now armed with a name, going back to Customs manuals proved that it was used in the interior of vessels to measure tonnage (cargo capacity).

Photograph of Moorsom's Stanchion
Moorsom's Stanchion Reference

Object ID# 2014.45.1
Two 36-inch rods, about 1-1/4” square each, one fixed and one sliding along the other
Wood with brass fittings
Manufactured by Kerby & Bros. Makers, S. Fulton St., New York

The printed description and illustration are from Instructions and Regulations Relating to the Measurement of Ships and Tonnage Under the Merchant Shipping Acts, 1894-1906, printed in London in 1907, and digitized by Google.

Last modified: 
December 11, 2019