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Stanley Prismatic Naval Compass c.1960

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A Stanley prismatic naval compass, dating from c.1960. This compass is in excellent, near mint condition, featuring a distinctive battleship grey enamel painted brass case with a finely engraved aluminium compass card. In 1861 W. F. Stanley patented a number of improvements in the use of aluminium in the manufacture of mathematical and scientific instruments, and he was one of the first to produce this type of cutaway aluminium compass card. The compass has a transit lock operated when the sights are folded down, and black and green coloured sun filters at the prism. It is signed on the lid by 'Stanley, London'. It comes complete with its very well made, fitted leather clamshell type case. This type of compass was used for military, survey, and artillery work. Although there are no military markings, the battleship grey painted finish is often seen in Royal Navy instruments and equipment issued during and after the Second World War. Stanley were well known as suppliers of this type of equipment to the Royal Navy and M.O.D. throughout the 20th century.

William Ford Stanley
(1829 - 1909): was a British inventor with 78 patents filed in both the United Kingdom and the USA. He was an engineer who designed and made precision drawing and mathematical instruments, as well as surveying instruments and telescopes, manufactured by his company, William Ford Stanley and Co. Ltd. Stanley was a skilled architect who designed and founded the UK's first Trades School. He was also a noted philanthropist, who gave over £80,000 to education projects during the last 15 years of his life. When he died, most of his estate, valued at £59,000, was bequeathed to trade schools and students in south London, and he left one of his houses to be used as a children's home. Stanley was a member of several professional bodies and societies, including the Royal Society of Arts, Royal Meteorological Society, and Royal Astronomical Association. Besides these activities, he was a painter, musician and photographer, as well as an author of a variety of publications, including plays, books for children, and political treatises.

Stanley started his business in 1854 with just £100, making mathematical and drawing instruments at 3 Great Turnstile, Holborn, London. Stanley produced a 'Panoptic Stereoscope' in 1855, which was financially successful, allowing him to expand his business with additional shops at 3–4 Great Turnstile and 286 High Holborn. He did not patent the Panoptic, so it was soon copied around the world, but he had sold enough to provide the capital required to manufacture scientific instruments. Stanley brought out the first catalogue of his products in 1864. By the fifth edition, Stanley was able to list important customers such as several government departments, the Army, Royal Navy, railway companies at home and abroad, and London University. From 1865, he worked on improving surveying instruments, including designing a new type of theodolite.

Stanley designed and set up a new factory in 1875 (called The Stanley Works, it was listed in the 1876 Croydon Directories as Stanley Mathematical Instruments) in Belgrave Road, London, which produced a variety of instruments for civil, military, and mining engineers, prospectors and explorers, architects, meteorologists and artists. The firm finally moved out of the factory in the 1920s. By 1881, Stanley was employing 80 people and producing 3,000 technical items, as detailed in his catalogue. In 1885, Stanley was awarded a gold medal at the International Inventors Exhibition at Wembley. The rapid growth of his business led to the opening of branches at Lincoln's Inn, London Bridge, and South Norwood. The catalogue for 1891 refers to the company having 17 branches, with over 130 workmen. By the start of the 20th century the company was reputed to be the largest instrument maker in the world.

After Stanley's death in 1909 the company continued to expand, moving to a factory in New Eltham (The Stanley Scientific Instrument Works) in 1916. During WW1 the factory was requisitioned by the government. Between the wars, W. F. Stanley continued to expand its position in the market place for quality surveying instruments, although it was requisitioned again by the British Government during WW2. After the war, the company continued to expand, participating in many large projects – the RMS Queen Mary and Royal Navy ships used the company's compasses and other navigational instruments. The company finally went into liquidation in July 1999 – mainly due to decllining export orders, and the loss of Ministry of Defence orders following the end of the Cold War.


The compass is in excellent, near mint condition, with virtually no signs of wear or use. In full working order and finds North very well. The original battleship grey painted finish of the case is in excellent condition. The glass, prism, sights, filters, and aluminium compass card are in excellent condition. The leather case is in excellent condition.

Dimensions : 110mm diameter (125mm inc. prism), 30mm depth