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WW1 RFC Sketching Board Compass

J. H. Steward Bosworth's Patent Cavalry Sketching Board (1897)

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A very rare Bosworth's Patent Cavalry Sketching board, made by J. H. Steward Ltd of London, c.1897. The patent, No. GB189709492, for the J. H. Steward/W. J. Bosworth board was filed in 1897, so it would have been made around that date. Various other designs of Cavalry sketching board were being produced around this time, including those by Lt-Col. Willoughby Verner, Aston & Mander, and Houghton's, but the Bosworth type is much less common. I have never seen another example. It's most distinctive feature is the adjustable and removable compass, held in place by a brass bar and knurled nut on the rear of the board. The compass is signed by J. H. Steward, with the board being marked with both 'Bosworth's Patent' and 'Steward, Strand, London'. The board is very well made, of high quality wood and brass, and features a leather wrist strap on the rear.

The Cavalry Sketching Board: was originally designed by Colonel W. H. Richards, who taught military surveying at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst c.1880. The board was improved by Major Willoughby Verner who was also briefly Professor of Topography at Sandhurst. Verner patented his own improvements in 1887 and 1891 and the board became known as Verner's. W. J. Bosworth patented further improvements in 1897, and versions of the board remained in use until around 1930.

Cavalry Sketching Boards were designed to be strapped to the arm of a cavalryman on the bridle arm. The board was attached to the arm by a leather strap with a swivel joint. This enabled the user to twist the whole board on their arm to align the compass accurately. The board incorporated a compass for taking bearings, and the sketch was made on a paper roll which was wound around one of the side rollers. As a sketch was completed, the paper roll was advanced to supply more paper. During WW1 the sketching board was often used by pilots and observers of the Royal Flying Corps to make sketches of enemy positions and trenches.

J. H. Steward Ltd: James Henry Steward established his business in London in 1852. As a maker and retailer of optical, scientific, military and surveying instruments. J.H. Steward was the head optician of the company and had businesses at 406 Strand, 457 West Strand and 54 Cornhill in London. In the mid 1800s he became the optician to Her Majesty's Government and the National Rifle, and National Artillery Associations. James Henry Steward died in 1896. J. H. Steward Ltd was incorporated in 1912 and continued in business until the middle of the 20th century.


The sketching board and compass are in very good condition and full working order. There is some minor wear to the original leather wrist strap. Complete with an original roll of field sketching paper.

Dimensions : Board: 200mm x 215mm, Compass: 30mm diameter