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Singer's Luminous Compass, F. Barker & Son c.1870

Singer's Luminous Compass, F. Barker & Son c.1870

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A rare version of the Francis Barker Singer's luminous pocket compass, dating from around 1870. The paper compass card is hand-drawn in an unusual variation on the classic Singer's design. The design is very similar to (and probably an early or prototype version of) the interchageable card that was used in Barker's 'Patent Universal Compass', which was introduced c.1875. A simplified version of the normal Singer's Patent style, the card has luminous markers at North and South. The type of luminous paint used was most probably an early version of 'Balmain's Luminous Paint', 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 brass case is marked with Barker's 'Trade Mark London' logo, with the letter 'S' the right way round, denoting that it was made before 1875. 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 various Singer's Patent designs and the Barker 'Patent Universal Compass' can be found in Compass Chronicles (2010) by Kornelia Takacs, pages 41-50.

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 good condition and full working order. The compass finds North well and the transit lock is fully functional, locking the card when the lid is closed. The compass card, glass and case are all in good condition. There is a little dust under the glass.

Dimensions: 45mm (65mm including loop)