A short history of the compass
given here in
Miscellaneous/History. You will find more technical details about ships
compasses in the excellent book COMPASS,
A Story of Exploration and Innovation
by Alan Gurney (W.W. Norton & Co. NY, 2004) - For more books,
see also Miscellaneous/History &
Bibliography. Concerning modern
ships compasses, go to the website
of the Hong-Kong company AMEE & Co. : NAUTICAL
- A -
The Admiralty was a department of the Royal Navy (see WIKIPEDIA)
created in 1842.
The history of the Admiralty's Compass Department is
portraited in the book Steady
as she goes
(A. E. Fanning,
1986). It was headed by a Superintendent
The most famous ones were Johnson, Creak,
Chetwynd, Creagh-Osborne etc.
This dept. was also responsible for the aircraft
of the Naval Fleet until WW1.
The Board of Admiralty was abolished in 1964 and its functions
integrated into the Ministry of Defence.
PROFILE - Former U.S. manufacturer (more information HERE
See also pocket and lapel
and wrist compass
on the picture
for an enlarged view)
Pictures J. Houcke
92 Course Monitor (1958) - Technical
- Dimensions (height x diam. basis) : 5 x 4-1/2" (13
- Weight : c. 1 pound (500 gr)
- Serial no. of parts: P-4549 and P-4551
- Divisions: no divisions and cardinals but only the six
letters (every 60 deg.) ABCXYZ. The Y points North.
The pointer's position can be adusted within +/-30°.
The abbreviated axiis are engraved on the base rim: NS and EW
for North-South and East-West in a 90 deg. angle. (Copies of
description and advertisement available on request).
The normal compass was called NAUTILUS (no. 90).
item was meant to be used in addition to the normal compass.
soon as the boat was on course, the index pointer was set on the
nearest letter representing thus a target easy to follow.
PROFILE - Hermann (Hubert Josef) Anschütz-Kaempfe (*
3 October 1872 in Zweibrücken; †
6 May 1931 in
Munich) was a German scientist and the inventor of the compass gyro
patent DRP no. 182.855, issued 27 Apr. 1904). Since this is a
gyroscopic and not a magnetic compass, we do not deal with them in this
museum (see also Sperry pat. 1,279,479).
The company Anschütz & Co. was created
on 28 October
1905 in Kiel and taken over by Raytheon in 1995.
Labels on binnacle and connectors box
on images for enlarged views)
Fotos A. König
|Compass and binnacle
| Technical Data
- Height binnacle: 1080 mm
- Dia. compass: 245 mm
- Dia. base plate: 380 mm
- Markings: Eagle and svastika of the Kriegsmarine
nazi IIIrd Reich) above the Marine "
" and left of the S/N:
- German manufacturer (See also Wrist and Marching compasses -
more information HERE
3-letter-code during WWII was bxx
on link for pic.
In 1954, due to the existence of ASKANIA West Germany (FRG), the works
in communist East Germany (GDR) led to the name
change into VEB
Geräte- und Regler-Werke Teltow
at right courtesy
on the pictures
for enlarged views)
- Dimensions (L x H): ca. 200 x 200 mm
- Diameter of base disk: 150 mm
- Weight: ?
- Manufacturer: Askania VEB (East -Germany) between 1948-1954
- B -
PROFILE - Carl Bamberg was a German compass manufacturer located in
near Berlin (for more information click HERE
See also Pocket and Aeronautical compasses.
PROFILE - Francis Barker & Son was a British manufacturer (more
and in our LINKS).
See also Marching, Escape, Pocket, Survey and Wrist compasses.
Catalogue for the year 1930
by courtesy of TradeMarkLondon.com
Comment: This compass is a very rare item. It was made by Francis
Barker during his apprenticeship when he was 15. His signature on the
card underside and even his fingerprints on the balancing wax can be
seen. Read the full story here: TRADEMARKLONDON.com
Liquid and dry-card steering boat compasses in slide lid oak box - 1st
half of 19th C.
- Bowl and rings: brass
- Point: steel or iridium
- Cap: sapphire or agate
- Diameter (card): avlbl. from 3 to 8 in.
PROFILE - Professor Peter Barlow (Royal Military Academy) designed in
1819 a disk-shaped device representing the metallic mass of a ship and
which was placed near the compass to correct it. It was not as good as
Flinders' bar but was installed for many years in ships during the 19th
PROFILE - Former French compass maker located in Marseilles.
Jaypee - Musée de la Marine, Marseille
for enlarged view)
Built ca. mid 18th C.
- Divisions : rhumbs - see CARDINALS
PROFILE - French company, Division of AMSYS - see Bianchetti below
PROFILE - Former French company created in 1826 and located in
Marseilles also known as Ateliers Julien.
Partly taken over by
BEN (Bianchetti Electronique Nautique) in 1962.
(Description given in the late 19th c.)
A binnacle is a waist-high case or stand on the deck of a ship,
generally mounted in front of the helmsman, in which navigational
instruments are placed for easy and quick reference as well as to
protect the delicate instruments. Its traditional purpose is to hold
the ship's magnetic compass, mounted in gimbals to keep it level while
the ship pitched from waves. A binnacle may be subdivided into sections
and its contents typically include one or more compasses and an oil
lamp or other light source. Other devices such as a sand timer for
estimating speed may have been stored in the binnacle as well.
For examples see DENT, KELVIN, PLATH.
- C -
PROFILE - British manufacturer (more information HERE
Picture Michael Curtis
for full screen view - Note: long download time due to
large size picture)
Catalogue (c. 1876)
Casella catalogue showing two of the SHIPS' COMPASSES pages.
PROFILE - Captain Louis Wentworth Pakington Chetwynd (b. 15
December 1866, d. 18 April 1914, Coombe Neville,
Kingston-on-Thames, Surrey) was Superintendent of the Compass Dept. at
during the early 20th C. He resumed the work of other
inventors (see Crow, Creak) and patented several compass
(see also Wrist compasses).
Among his improvements was the design of a smaller compass card in the
bowl. This solved the problem called the "swirl error" caused
by the moving liquid during quick movements (like course
changes and heeling) of the ship. He became 1912 managing director with
Dent & Co. and Johnson Ltd.
also Marching and Wrist compasses and also WBT.
on the pictures for
Drawings at left: A. Schück, Der
PROFILE : Chinese compass, XIXth C. Description given by J.
Klaproth in Lettre
à M. le Baron A. de Humboldt
p. 103 and foll.,
"The 24 Tcheou
or steering directions)
consist of the twelve signs of the
12-signs-cycle*, eight of the 10-signs-cycle** (see below) and
four of the eight kua
(trigrams, see Compass types / Religion-China).
* (Usual on Japanese
Note: Klaproth marked
these with an asterisk (* - see table below). The two
signs used are
Ki (..?) and Wo (...?) .
Picture Jaypee -
Musée de la Marine, Paris
for enlarged views)
- Diameter: c. 150mm
- Height: c. 100mm
- Divisions: 24 Tcheou
(See also MISCELLANEOUS/
Table: the 24 Tcheou.
Lettre à M. le Baron A. de Humboldt)
The ten celestial stems
? - Appendix A.III)
PROFILE - Clement Clarke was a famous British optician who
microscopes and various diagnostic equipment. The company was
established in 1917 (Wigmore Street, London). Clarke
VI pocket compasses* probably manufactured by F. Barker & Son
some other compass maker like Dennison during WW1. In 1986 the
group was acquired by Boots Plc and in 1989 was purchased by the Swiss
based company Haag-Streit AG located in Berne.
on the picture for
an enlarged view)
Dimensions (approx.): 150 x 150 x 70 mm
Additional instruments: two levels, clinometer in the lid,
- Sight: two vertical tabs with a pin-hole each in the left and right
case walls. A foldable two-piece telescope. Centimeter ruler on the
NOTE: This bearing compass is a (worthless) contemporary
reproduction (see MISCELLANEOUS
/ Fakes). One can tell this by some details like the magnetic needle's
and the green central jewel in the cap. The clinometer's
arrow point is also at
least very unprecise. It is highly improbable
that Clarke ever produced such an antique
PROFILE - Captain Frank Osborne Creagh-Osborne (1867/1943) was
Superintendent of Compasses (successor of Captn. Chetwynd) at the
Admiralty and a British inventor.
(more details HERE
PROFILE - Captain Ettrick William Creak was Superintendent of the
Compass Dept. at the Admiralty. He developed in the 1880's a liquid
compass that worked
better than Sir William Thomson's dry card system but he was
unsuccessful at his attempts to have it chosen as the Admiralty's
Standard Compass because of Thomson's lobby.
PROFILE - Francis Crow was a watchmaker and silversmith of Faversham
(Kent, Great-Britain). He was awarded in 1813 a patent (GB no. 3,644)
for a liquid
dampened compass with a lens-shaped floating card. This revolutionary
idea was realized only much later (c. 50 years) by the U.S.
on the picture for
an enlarged view)
A - Copper bowl
filled with alcohol
B - Float or lens made from copper and painted on top with the points
of the compass.
C - Magnetic needle
D - Thick glass top
E - A ring of copper to prevent float from being thrown from the point
or center of action
F - A weight to keep the float in a horizontal position and to adjust
the pressure on the point of action to about twenty-four grains (36
G - The lubber's point
H - The arm or point of suspension coming from the bowl which is
supported by the gimbal ring in the usual way.
I - Inverted hollow cone
J - The point of action which is riveted on a copper plate and cemented
to the interior surface of the glass top.
- D -
PROFILE - D. C. ? Logo: an anchor and the initials - Department of
PROFILE - (Edward John) Dent &
Co. was established in 1814. The company still exists today. Its
website (www.dentlondon.com) only describes clocks and
watches. See also the Dent-made Air Compass Pattern
259 designed by Capt.
The Pattern 24 is the
earliest one, dating from around 1890/1900. It is the first model of
compass to be officially adopted as a service compass by the
It was first introduced on the early turbine torpedo boats of the
pattern 24 is significant because it broke the effective monopoly that
card compass had held for many years previously.
courtesy Nick Godridge - Click for enlarged views)
| Pattern 24
the transit case's lid
- Diameter: mm
- Overall dim.: mm
The transit case
| Pattern 182
behind the door
- Diameter: mm
- Overall dim.: mm
The Pattern 182 is a boat compass. It predates the 24,
but not in this form, which has the Chetwynd modified smaller diameter
Date: also around 1900.
- Diameter: mm
- Overall dim.: mm
- The Deutsche Seewarte
was in the late 19th and early 20th C. a department
of the Admiralty of the German Imperial Navy (Kaiserliche Marine
see below: Kriegsmarine
and read more
in Wikipedia). Its Second II. Department
(Instrumentenprüfung) was in charge with the control
of navigation instruments, i.e. also compasses, being thus the
equivalent of the British Superintendent of the Admiralty
of the Royal Navy
The book Der Kompass an Bord
(2. ed. 1906) comprises all necessary mathematical fomulae for the
installation of compasses on board of metallic ships but also a precise
description of the compass types utilised in those years, i.e.
(Lord Kelvin) system
improved version of Thomson's rose
This description is very similar to the entry Kompass
in the famous MEYER's Konversationslexikon
which is illustrated with several drawings of Hechelmann's compass
Since iron-hulled ships replaced large wooden ones (mid 19th
C.) a correction card
necessary to steer the vessel by taking into account the magnetic
influence of the metallic masses. For pictures of modern
correction cards click HERE
According to the ancient card displayed at
right, the ship would have to steer SW by her compass in order
to make good a course of WSW magnetic (Source: Alan Gurney, COMPASS
on picture at right
PROFILE - Emile Marin DUCHEMIN (who lived 11, rue de la Bienfaisance in
Paris) filed a patent in 1874 for this compass system he
had developed and called BOUSSOLE CIRCULAIRE (circular
was installed in ships for several trials at sea
described in the booklet (iss.
7, 1877, 47 p., photocopy available on demand). It is also listed the
famous German reference book Der
1910). The inventor tried to have his
system adopted by the French Navy and produced many reports from
officers with positive feedback. However, it is highly surprising that
someone clang to this obviously heavy design where the Admiralties of
England and Germany tried to develop the lightest solutions that could
be imagined (compare to the paper rose with magnets hung on silk
threads designed by Thomson
The idea was that the larger the magnet was, the better the stability
of the rose should be.
on the picture above for an
enlarged view of the drawing)
Short description together with the drawing on the title page: "an
external magnetized circle (A) is connected with an inner magnetized
circle (B) by means of a bar (C) made of aluminum or another metal. The
magnetization is maximum at the North and South points and diminishes
gradually towards the EAST and WEST points (n-n line)."
Pict. at r.: The magnetic circular needle.
instrument was in very sad condition. Its remains were glued onto a
grip like the religious tool called monstrance. The photographs
were taken at an antiques shop in Paris.
Above - Inscription on either side of the North mark: Boussole Duchemin
Bottom - Inscr. at the southern end: Dumoulin-Froment Constructeur
above for enlarged views -
Pictures courtesy Jaypee)
- Dia.: approx. 250 mm / 10 in.
- Weight unknown
- Inscriptions on the East side:
. inner circle: N° 1616 E.M.D.
. external circle: Emile Marin Duchemin - No. 1616
Patent No. 101,992 (50
p. with additions - copy can be ordered)
above for a view of the corresponding figure 2 of the patent)
NOTE: A complete binnacle is displayed in the Musée de la
Marine, Paris. See pic. in L'Instrument de Marine,
E - F
A Flinders bar is a
vertical soft iron bar placed in a tube on the fore
side of a compass binnacle (see
picture at right, KELVIN
Flinders bar is used to counteract the
vertical magnetism inherent within a ship and is usually calibrated as
part of the process known as swinging the compass, where deviations
caused by this inherent magnetism are negated by the use of horizontal
(or quadrantal) correctors.
It is named after Matthew Flinders (1774-1814) who wrote a
report in 1812 on
ships' magnetism for the British Navy.
the whole story in
by Alan Gurney
See also Flinders bar adjustment
- G -
System probably invented by Girolamo Cardano (Padua 1501-Rome about
who was among other specialties an Italian doctor and engineer. This
system which was called after him in French and German
la cardan / kardanische Aufhängung
to compensate for the movements of a
vehicle (ship or aircraft) so that the compass card always remains
horizontal (more details in Wikipedia).
Small compasses were also made for other usage.
Examples : pocket
(N & Z), tell-tale
(N & Z),
charm (see picture at right,
copyright TML, click for enlarged view)
Diam. spher. case: 19.5 mm; diam. mother of pearl card:
11.5 mm; weight: 12 g.
A gyro-compass is a... (Example: go to Anschütz)
est un dispositif à mouvement gyroscopique
servant à conserver à un système
indicateur de direction (rose des vents) une position stable
malgré les mouvements du véhicule porteur
(navire, aéronef, etc.).
Certains gyrocompas peuvent être asservis à un
signal émis par un senseur de champ magnétique
terrestre (vanne de flux).
Ces systèmes ne font pas l'objet du présent
musée qui est uniquement consacré aux
systèmes purement magnétiques.
- H -
- Former German compass maker
(Hamburg) who patented (D.R.P. 23.503, 1874) an improved
design of a paper
rose with magnets hung on silk
threads (see pic. at right). He worked in his own shop
from 1.10.1878 on until probably 1905 (source: Feinmechanik und Optik in
Gert Behnke, 2011). A comprehensive description was published in the
entry for Kompass
in the great German encyclopedia MEYER's Konversationslexikon
is also described in the reference books Der
Kompass an Bord
, 1906) and Der Kompass
(Schück, 1911). His competitor C.
also tried in vain to have his own system supported by the Admiralty of
the Imperial Navy (Kaiserliche Marine).
PROFILE - Former French company (more information HERE
Henri Isidore Houlliot and VION
were friends and decided not to compete.
VION built the big ship compasses while the small ones
were manufactured by Houlliot.
See also pocket compasses and DESOMBRE
scope (published in the catalogue
of the Industrie
Française des Instruments de
(130 x 84 mm)
(was offered in the 1932
catalogue of the
Sté des Lunetiers (S-L)
- Card dia.: 30* - 120 mm (* see pocket compasses)
- I -
Laurie Norie &
Wilson Ltd London
PROFILE - This manufacturer apparently makes now only charts. His story
is told in the
Makers of the Blueback
Charts: A History of Imray
Norie & Wilson Ltd
Susanna Fischer, 2001. Actual website: IMRAY
Menno Koper (Click
on the images for
- Card dia.: mm
- Age: mid 19th C.
- J -
PROFILE - Lieutenant Edward J. Johnson was the 1st Superintendent of
Compasses at the British Admiralty from 1842 until his death
- K -
- Kelvin Hughes
Ltd was formed in 1947 by the merger between
the scientific instrument manufacturing firms of Henry Hughes
Ltd, London, England, and Kelvin
Bottomley & Baird Ltd,
Scotland. The logos of one of the preceding companies (White,
consisted of the three initials WBT
placed on a black & white
graphic resembling the yin-yang
symbol (s. WBT in the section Wrist Compasses and pic. at
(Read also the full
Wikipedia - "Kelvin Hughes" and
Sir Wm. Th. Lord Kelvin of Largs) was a physicist. He invented a famous
binnacle with a compass deviation correction system. He is also
famous for the very special compass card he designed in 1876
which was standard in
the Royal Navy although the superiority of liquid dampened compass
card was soon proven and adopted in the U.S. and
Navies (read the full story in Compass
by A. Gurney and in Steady
as she goes
by A. E.
Fanning). Both German manufacturers C.
and G. HECHELMANN
developed their own version of this system.
Thomson wrote a
document entitled Terrestrial Magnetism and the
also was partner
in several companies which built the compasses he designed.
See also below, the booklet "Instructions
for the adjustment
The original light-weight
compass card had eight
magnet needles (M, see drawing at left below) but a later model improved to prevent
of the compass by the engines, or by the firing of guns
(patent no. 4923, 1889) possessed even 14 (pict. below at right)! The
and the graduated rim
with 32 silk threads (S) attached to the cap.
More details and pictures in Land
& Sea Collection
This designation refers to the German Navy after 1935 (see note). When
Germany was united to form an empire in 1871, it was called Kaiserliche Marine
(Imperial Navy). The compasses used on-board the German warships
featured a symbol representing the state, i.e. the imperial
or the nazi cross (swastika) and the letter M
The number is the catalogue reference similar to today's NATO
Note: After 1918, Germany was not allowed to have military