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Francis Barker 'Skeleton' Dial Compass c.1860

Francis Barker Skeleton Dial Compass c.1860

Price £220.00 Sale

A very rare Francis Barker brass 'Skeleton Dial' Night Marching compass dating from c.1860. This Barker design was first sold around 1852. By c.1880 this type of compass design was being superceded by more modern designs, like the early service pattern compasses of the Verner type. Although this compass has no maker's or retailer's marks, it was undoubtedly made by Barker and supplied, like most of their products, unsigned to the retail trade.

This compass features an intricate, hand-painted, 'skeleton’ type, cut-out aluminium dial and a white luminous-painted bowl to aid visibility at night. It would have been painted with a luminous compound (most probably ‘Balmain’s Luminous Paint’), which was activated by exposure to very bright light, often created by burning a strip of magnesium ribbon. The instructions for rendering the compass luminous in this way would originally have been on a label inside the lid. This design was often described as a ‘Night Marching compass’ in catalogues of the period. The complex and finely made design was one of Francis Barker's earliest, first produced in the 1850’s, and it can certainly be attributed to Francis Barker & Son as this design was only ever made by them. The compass has a jewelled pivot, a large brass hunter case, a transit lock operated by a sliding button on the case, and a manual brake. The case would originally have had a black, oxidised finish, and this can still be seen on the interior of the lid.


The compass is in good condition, working order, and finds north - although quite slowly, and needs little shake to get it going. After 150+ years this compass is now a collectors item, rather than an accurate navigational instrument. The transit lock is in full working order. The skeleton compass card is in very good condition. The original glass is in excellent condition. The brass case is in good condition, with a few marks and the usual signs of age and wear. It has a strong hinge and closes well.

Dimensions: 50mm diameter (80mm inc. bow & loop)

Further details of this type of compass can be found in Paul Crespel's excellent book, Trade Mark London, (p.100) and at the website.