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W. F. Stanley Prismatic Compass c.1880

W. F. Stanley Prismatic Compass c.1880

Price £295.00 Sale

A very fine example of a W. F. Stanley prismatic survey or artillery compass, dating from c.1880. This compass is in excellent condition, featuring a blackened or oxidised finish brass case with a beautifully 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. 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 red and green coloured filters at the prism. It is signed on the lid by 'Stanley, Great Turnstile, Holborn, London', and is also signed on the compass card 'Stanley, London'. This type of compass was often used for military survey and artillery work.

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. The company traded at Great Turnstile until 1914, then at 286 High Holborn until 1939, continuing at various addresses in London until finally being dissolved in 2001.


The compass is in excellent condition, full working order and finds North very well. The original blackened finish of the case is in excellent condition. The glass, prism, sights, filters, and compass card are in excellent condition.

Dimensions : 70mm diameter (90mm inc. prism), 20mm depth