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Bion, Nicolas

Bion, Nicolas

(b. ca. 1652;d 1733)


There are almost no biographical data available on Bion. His workshop was located on the Quai de l’Horloge in Paris, at the sign of the Quart de Cercle or of the Soleil d’or. This last sign may have been simply that of his printer-bookseller, Boudot. Bion had the title of king’s engineer for mathematical instruments, and his name was often mentioned in his time; however, very few of his instruments are extant and no important technical innovations can be attributed to him. Undoubtedly he was extremely clever and had excellent manufacturing facilities at his disposal. Less specialized than most of his colleagues, he seems to have made globes, sundials, mathematical instruments, and mechanical machines with equal accuracy.

Also unlike his colleagues, Bion published several works, and they as well as his instruments were probably responsible for his fame. Two pamphlets concern a sphere and globes executed for the dauphin and a celestial planisphere constructed to reflect the most recent observations made by the members of the Académie des Sciences. He also published three important treatises on globes and cosmography, on astrolabes, and on precision instruments in general. These writings had great success and went into many editions, the most recent of which were printed under the supervision of Bion’s son after his father’s death.

The Traité de la construction … des instruments mathématiques gives a fairly complete list of instruments normally constructed during the first quarter of the eighteenth century. It should, however, be noted that some of the instruments described by Bion—such as astrolabes, marine astrolabes, the jacob staff, and the Davis quadrant—were no longer used. There are deficiencies also in the descriptions of eyeglasses, microscopes, and micrometers. Bion apparently did not wish to have his instruments copied by others. All of his treatises were more for the user and the amateur than for the manufacturer.

The extant instruments are sundials of the Butterfield type, a pair of calipers, a proportional compass, an artillery calibrating compass, a theodolite, a graphometer, and a water level with pinnules of a special type.


Bion’s writings are L’usage des globes célestes et terrestres et des sphères suivant les différents systèmes du monde, précédé d’un traité de cosmographie (Paris, 1699; 6th ed., 1751); L’usage des astrolabes tant universels que particuliers accompagné d’un traité qui en explique la construction (Paris, 1702); Description de la sphere et des globes dédiés et présentés à Mgr. le Dauphin (Paris, 1704); Description et usage du planisphère céleste nouvellement construit suivant les dernieres observations de Messieurs de l’Académie des Sciences (Paris, 1708); and Traité de la construction et des principaux usages des instruments de mathematiques (Paris, 1709; 5th ed., 1752).

Another work on Bion is Maurice Daumas, Les instruments scientifiques aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles(Paris, 1953), pp. 109–110.

Jacques Payen

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