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Singer's Luminous Compass, F. Barker & Son c.1875

Singer's Luminous Compass, F. Barker & Son c.1875

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A Francis Barker Singer's Patent luminous pocket compass, dating from around 1875-1880. The paper compass card is hand drawn in the classic Singer's design, and marked with Barker's pre-1875 'Trade Mark London' logo. Hand drawn cards of this type were rarely made after about 1890, when they were replaced by printed versions. The compass has luminous paint markers at the four cardinal points. This type of luminous paint, most probably an early version of 'Balmain's Luminous Paint' was a compound of calcium sulphide. The paint was made luminous by exposure to sunlight or by burning a strip of magnesium ribbon near the compass card. It was patented in England in 1877 by William Balmain, and was often used in compasses during the late 19th century. The compass has a jewelled pivot, brass hunter case and automatic transit lock. It would originally have had an oxidised or bronzed finish, and this can still be seen inside the lid. The lid is stamped with Barker's distinctive 'Trade Mark London' maker's mark, with the letter 'S' the right way round, denoting that it was made around 1875. There is also residue inside the lid from the oval instruction label which is often found in this type of compass. This would have given details of how to activate the luminous paint.

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.


In very good condition and full working order. The compass finds North well and the transit lock works perfectly, locking the card when the lid is closed. The case is in very good condition with a strong hinge.

Dimensions: 45mm (65mm including loop)