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James Parkes Georgian Pocket Compass c.1840

James Parkes Georgian Pocket Compass c.1840

Price £185.00 Sale

A rare Georgian or early Victorian wooden cased compass by the well known Birmingham scientific instrument maker, James Parkes. The compass has a wooden case with a lovely rich patina, fine blued needle with gilt North and South markers, brass hinge, '7' shaped clasp, and a transit lock operated when the lid is closed. James Parkes (1786-1877) was a manufacturer of telescopes who founded his company in 1815.  He was succeeded by his son and the company was renamed James Parkes & Son. Both companies traded from 5, St. Mary’s Row, Birmingham. Parkes's very distinctive trademark was a human left eye shown open together with an eyebrow. The company exhibited their scientific instruments, including a variety of pocket compasses, at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London. In their 1859 catalogue the company were described as 'Instrument Makers to the Board of Trade'.

James Parkes began his business in 1815. City directories described his initial business as a “gilt toy manufacturer” and “stamper and piercer”. As Parkes was not a goldsmith, “gilt” probably meant lacquered brass or other metals. At that time, “toy” referred to small items, such as snuff boxes, jewelry cases, and other metal items. James Parkes only son, Samuel, became a partner in about 1846, forming James Parkes & Son. A catalogue produced in 1848, described the business as “manufacturers of improved measuring tapes, land chains, mathematical instruments, miners’ and mariners’ compasses, watch keys, seals, &c., &c.”. An 1849 Birmingham city directory described them as “manfs. of mathematical instruments and gilt toys”. Their 1857 catalogue prominently featured microscopes and prepared slides. Samuel Parkes continued the business under the same name after his father’s death. Samuel had only one son, also named Samuel. That son, and a nephew, James Moulton, continued the business after the elder Samuel died. Moulton left the partnership in 1908, and Samuel T. H. Parkes continued alone for a number of years.


The compass is in very good, original condition and full working order. It finds north very well. The paper compass card is in very good condition. The wooden case is in very good condition. The transit lock is working well. The blued needle and glass are in very good condition.

Dimensions: 55mm x 55m x 10mm