Marine Corps Transit Theodolite, ca. 1944

Value (2009) | $800 Auction$1,200 Auction

I bought this at a garage sale about five years ago. I bought it from a guy in the military, and he told me that it was a World War II Marine Corps transit that they used to sight artillery with.

Well, we know first of all that it is Marine Corps, because it clearly shows "USMC" in the center.


United States Marine Corps. The Marine Corps in general were very picky about the equipment that they used, and they had a lot of material custom-made for them instead of using material that was from the Army or the Navy, and they had a lot of independent contracts that produced their own binoculars, instruments, even weapons. This is technically what's called a transit theodolite. A transit theodolite is one of the more important surveying instruments, because it measures not only horizontal angles, but can measure elevation at the same time. It most likely helped them understand the terrain there. The main purpose of this instrument would have been for mapmaking. Certainly it could have helped the artillery folks understand the elevations and where to direct it, but it isn't an artillery sighting device per se.

Oh, okay.

The transit here is made out of a black painted brass so that it wouldn't affect the mag... the compass that's inside. And then it was blackened so that it wouldn't give off any reflections. And they used this wrinkle paint in order to dull the finish. What's also interesting is this case. Now, the Marines obviously were in the field, and they didn't want to have everybody know who they were and where they were. So they had a code for each individual division. This stenciled circle tells us that it was the Sixth Marine Division. And then the numbers inside tell us about the regiment, the battalion and the company that was involved. So we know for sure it was the Sixth Marine Division, and they were in the Pacific for quite a while. They were involved in Okinawa and a lot of other campaigns. So you have a crossover collectible here, really something that would appeal to folks with instruments as well as people in the military. The Marines in general are considered today and then an elite unit. So anything Marine Corps related is pretty scarce.


And a lot of things they brought to the Pacific didn't come home. In all, it's a great package. So you bought it a few years ago. What did you pay back then?

$125. I also got the tripod that comes with it.

APPRASIER: You got a tripod, too. That's even better. In today's market, even with the uneven economy, Marine Corps items remain popular and the interest remains constant. I would suggest that the transit with the division marked box, we're looking at, at auction, $800 to $1,200. A little bit more including the tripod.


It's a fantastic piece, and you'd get a lot of folks that would be really interested in it.

Yeah, that's really cool.

Appraisal Details

Gary Piattoni, Inc.
Evanston, IL
Appraised value (2009)
$800 Auction$1,200 Auction
Denver, CO (July 25, 2009)
20th Century
April 04, 2011: Shortly after this segment broadcast in April 2010, a viewer wrote to say: "As a graduate of the United States Artillery & Missile Officer Candidate School in 1967 and a former active duty 'Red Leg,' I can tell you that the theodolite was used to 'lay' a battery of howitzers so that they could all hit the same target area when fired as a group."

We passed on the comment to appraiser Gary Piattoni who confirmed the viewer's comment and responded: "Ultimately it is an exact copy of a typical surveyors’ transit theodolite which would have had many functions, [but] its primary use would have been for artillery."

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