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T & H Doublet 'Skeleton Dial' Compass c.1870 | Francis Barker & Son

T & H Doublet Skeleton Dial Compass c.1870

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A very rare Francis Barker brass 'Skeleton Dial' Night Marching pocket compass dating from c.1870. This Barker design was first sold around 1852. It has the retailers name and address, ‘T & H Doublet, 39 Moorgate St, London’, painted on the  dial. This was the address of the Doublet London showroom from 1868. T & H Doublet are recorded as working as 'Manufacturing Opticians' and instrument makers at City Road, Finsbury, London from 1853 onwards. By 1863 they also had premises at 6 Moorgate Street (opposite the Bank of England), before moving to 39 Moorgate Street in 1868. It is known that they made barometers, also retailing and exporting a variety of other scientific instruments. Doublet's 39 Moorgate Street address on the dial dates the compass to c.1870, although the design is more typical of the 1850’s, and the large hunter case was seldom used after about 1865.

By 1881 this type of design was being superceded by more modern designs, like the early service pattern compasses of the Verner type, and it is unlikely to have been produced much later than the early 1880’s. Although this compass was retailed by Doublet, it was undoubtedly made by Barker and supplied, like most of their products, unsigned to the retail trade. Doublet would simply have added their own details to the dial before displaying it in their showroom.

This compass features a 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 original instructions for rendering the compass luminous in this way can still be seen on the 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 very good condition and finds north well. The transit lock is in full working order. The skeleton compass card is in good condition. The original glass is in very good 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.