Q: "portagraion" -- a "mathematical instrument" circa 1745?

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sun Feb 5 22:26:13 UTC 2006

>>>What is a "portagraion", in the following quotation from 1745?  I've
>>>done my best in OED2 and googling with various possible
>>>spellings.  The mention just before of drawing pens suggests
>>>"pantograph", but that's not close to what I see.
>>>Stephen Greenleaf, Mathematical Instrument-Maker...;Makes and mends
>>>all Sorts of Mathematical Instruments, as Theodolites, Spirit Levels,
>>>Semicircles, Circumferences, and Protractors, Horizontal and
>>>Equinoctal [sic] Sun Dials, Asimuth and Amplitude Compasses,
>>>Elliptical and Triangular Compasses, and all Sorts of common
>>>Compasses, drawing Pens and Portagraions...; with sundry other
>>>Articles too tedious to mention.
>>Probably = "port-crayon" (also "porto-crion") (French "porte-crayon")
>>meaning a crayon holder (OED). "Crayon" was sometimes spelled "craion" (OED).
>Mightn't this also be a pencil holder, given that Fr. _crayon_ is the
>word for pencil?  I looked at the OED entry and it wasn't clear to me
>which gloss would fit better--maybe both of them, depending on the

I suppose the thing held something which was called a "crayon" at the time
-- maybe something like a modern pencil lead, or maybe more like a piece of
chalk or whatever, I don't know.

I don't have an 18th-century English dictionary immediately available
AFAIK, but the 1828 "Noah Webster's" dictionary on-line shows for "crayon":


1. A general name for all colored stones, earths, or other minerals and
substances, used in designing or painting in pastel or paste, whether they
have been beaten and reduced to paste, or are used in their primitive
consistence. Red crayons are made of blood-stone or red chalk; black ones,
of charcoal or black lead.

2. A kind of pencil, or roll of paste, to draw lines with.


The French Academy dictionary (4th ed., 1762) on-line shows something
similar for "crayon":

<<Petit morceau de pierre de mine, ou de quelque autre matière colorée
propre à marquer, à écrire, à tracer & à dessiner.>>

-- Doug Wilson

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