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Cary Singer's Patent pocket compass | Compass Library

Cary, London, Singer's Patent Compass c.1865

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An early example of a Singer's Patent pocket compass, dating from around 1865, with the serial number: 15878. The presence of the serial number means that the compass was certainly made before Singer's patent expired in 1868. The mother of pearl compass card is hand painted in the classic Singer's design, and marked 'Singer's Patent, No. 15878'. The card also has the maker's mark 'Cary, London'. The compass has a working transit lock. Originally, it may have had a push-fit lid, but there are no marks on the case to confirm this possibility.

Samuel Berry Singer (1796 - c.1875) was a master mariner from Southampton when he patented his unique design in July 1861. Its high contrast design was intended to be much easier to read in low light than conventional compasses of the time. He did not benefit greatly from his invention, the patent lapsed in 1868, and he ended his days living in poverty in Kincardine on the Firth of Forth.

Cary, London: William Cary (1759 – 1825) was an English scientific-instrument maker. He produced numerous scientific instruments including mechanical calculators, measuring instruments, telescopes, microscopes, navigation and survey equipment. William Cary had three brothers, the eldest George (c.1753 - 1830) was a haberdasher while the second brother John, was a mapmaker who also worked with William and the last, Francis (c.1756 - 1836) was an engraver. Cary learnt the skills for producing instruments as an apprentice of Jesse Ramsdan (1735 - 1800). After his death in 1825, the firm was taken over by Charles Gould, who may have trained briefly under William Cary. The company continued trading for almost 100 years, being run by various members of the Gould family, including Charlotte Hyde Gould (c.1797 - 1865).


In good condition and working order. The compass finds north, although sometimes a little slowly. The mother of pearl card is in good condition. The transit lock is in working order. There is a little dust under the glass and some minor wear to the case.

Dimensions: 35mm (Diameter)