Mathematical Instruments


Nicolas Bion engraving
Nicolas Bion

Nicolas Bion was a French author, instrument maker, and the King’s engineer for mathematical instruments. Among the many instruments he made were globes, calipers, compasses, sundials, and more.

In 1709 he published Traite de la construction et principaux usages des instruments de mathematique, which would become one of the most important books on scientific instruments of his time.

Cover of each edition
Title pages from every edition

Over the course of nearly 50 years, 6 editions were published: 4 French and 2 English as translated by mathematician Edmund Stone. The final edition—published in 1758—is considered the most authoritative and included an extensive supplement by Stone covering a variety of modern instruments for the time.

Title pages of the treatise, each book, and the supplement
Title pages for the last edition’s books and supplement

Throughout its eight books and a later supplement, the usage and construction of many common tools such as rulers, protractors, and compasses, as well as those that were more diverse like celestial globes, quadrants, and dials are described. Most descriptions included diagrams examining the tools’ details and calculations that could be completed by their use.

Excerpt from original and website comparing changes
Original (left) and reimagined (right)

This digital edition is a reimagining of Bion’s and Stone’s impressive work. Each of the nearly 500 figures from the 30 original engraved plates has been extracted and integrated into the text where they were indicated in the original copy for added clarity. References to key parts in the figures were also highlighted for ease of use.

How it was made

This project was a self-imposed design exercise to reimagine an important scientific publication and make it more accessible to everyone. Apart from the visual design, the original text remains unchanged with a handful of enhancements such as replacing the long s for legibility and added links to other antique publications referenced.

Text and images were extracted and edited by hand over the course of about a month using scans available from a 1972 reprint on the Internet Archive. While this is a modern reprint, its images and text are unchanged from the original, which is in the public domain.

Read the blog post for more on how it was made.


All of the restored figures have been released under the CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) license and can be used freely without any restrictions.

Site and poster design are copyright Nicholas Rougeux. Contact for usage