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Mica Dial Francis Barker Pocket Compass c.1865

Mica Dial Francis Barker Pocket Compass c.1865

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A rare hunter cased F. Barker & Son pocket compass, dating from c.1865. This particular design features a very unusual transparent mica compass card. The mica is totally transparent and very thin, with a hand-painted compass rose, triangular North marker and circular South marker. There is a paper label inside the lid with instructions on how to render the compass luminous for use at night. The insert below the mica dial was painted with a luminous compound, most probably an early version of 'Balmain's Luminous Paint', a compound of Calcium Sulphide which was patented by William Ballmain in 1877. The paint was made luminous by exposure to sunlight or burning a strip of magnesium ribbon near the compass. The Mica Dial design was only made by Barker, and first appeared around 1865. From the pre-1875 Francis Barker ‘Trade Mark London’ maker’s mark stamped inside the lid (the letter 'S’ was reversed after Barker’s death in 1875), the compass can be dated to before 1875, making it one of the earliest examples of this design.

The compass has a jewelled pivot, brass hunter case and automatic transit lock. The case would originally have had an oxidised or bronzed finish, and this can still be seen inside the lid. The compass retains its original oval instruction label inside the lid. These labels are often found in this type of compass, with details of how to activate the luminous paint.

(Further details of the Barker Mica Dial compass design can be found at Paul Crespel's excellent website, and in his book Trade Mark London p.101)

Francis Barker & Son: were established in London in 1848, as a maker of compasses and scientific instruments. Francis Barker produced a very wide range of compass designs over the years, supplying major retailers such as Negretti & Zambra, J. Lizars, C. W. Dixey, Dollond, and many others. The company prospered until 1932, when it was taken over and became F. Barker & Son (1932). After WW2 the company changed hands several times and the name is now carried by Pyser-SGI. They continue to produce the renowned Barker M-73, widely acknowledged to be the world's finest prismatic compass.


The compass is in good condition, full working order, and finds North well. There is some wear to the brass case. The lid closes well, but does not fully snap shut. The mica compass card is in good condition, with some wear to the hand-painted lettering. The transit lock is working well.

Dimensions : 45mm (65mm including loop)