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Sextants

My youngest daughter took an active interest in geometry this past year.  She really seemed to be enjoying it, and even started playing with my old transit.  So, I thought this would be a good time to give her a real challenge, and teach her celestial navigation – only problem is, I don’t have a sextant.  I have a solution for this type of problem — go directly to eBay.  How expensive could a sextant be?  They haven’t really been used since the early eighties – there must be thousands of them around.

What I found is sextants from the 1800’s through the mid 1970’s, with most from the period 1920 through 1950.  I started bidding — estimating a fair price, placing a maximum bid, and letting the computer do my bidding for me.  After losing half-a-dozen auctions by just a few dollars, I realized this strategy wasn’t going to work.  Apparently, sextants have become collectible, and collectors are carefully monitoring the auctions.  I had already resigned myself to the reality that this whimsical purchase was going to be a few hundred dollars, and now realized that I would also have to set an alarm and make my bid at the last second to actually win one.  I was watching an item that was currently bid at $145, and there were three bids … with thirty seconds to go in the auction.  I frantically made three more bids in the last thirty seconds, and got lucky – I won the item for $375.  In the last thirty seconds, there were seventeen bids placed.  That’s an active market.  It’s really a race to see whose bid comes in at the wire.

There are new models still being manufactured — most come out of China, and all new models are plastic or composite.  These also sell at four to five hundred dollars.  If you’re looking for something to collect, this is an idea.  And if you’re walking through a flea market or browsing at a yard sale and see a sextant, pay attention – they have value.  I bought at the low end — the high end goes into many, many thousands of dollars.  If you have an old sextant gathering dust in the attic, dust it off.

After all of that preparation, and purchasing the necessary manuals, I finally had the chance to present it to my daughter.  She took one look at it and said … “Cool.”

Maybe her interest will perk up in a few years when she tries to sell it on eBay.

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