Jason Clarke Antiques

Mid-Victorian Cased Marine Compass by Louis Casella of London

£795

For sale, a mid-Victorian cased marine compass by Louis Casella of London

This ship’s steering compass is comprised of an oak case with sliding lid, the case sides hold a brass gimbal with a seven inch, brass compass bowl painted white to the inside and with a floating compass rose printed on card with a central brass and agate cap for balance.

The card is printed with an eight-pointed star with compass points in white relief. The North point being decorated with a large Fleur de Lys motif. The outer circumference is divided into 90 degree sections and the central circle is retained for the maker’s name, L. Casella, London – Maker to the Admiralty & Ordnance.  

Compasses such as these featured in both the Casella catalogues of 1860 and the 1870 catalogues of Negretti & Zambra variously described as marine or ship’s steering compasses and came in various sizes from seven to twelve inches.

The maker, Luigi Pasquale Casella was the son of a musician who came to The British Isles in the Early Nineteenth Century and the anglicised “Louis” was born in Edinburgh in 1812. His Father eventually rose to be a music tutor to George III’s daughters but by the 1830’s, his son had apprenticed to Cesar Tagliabue, a noted Italian scientific instrument maker who had been in London since the turn of the century.

Casella eventually married Tagliabue’s daughter in 1837 and shortly after formed the partnership of Tagliabue and Casella with his new father-in-law in 1838. Tagliabue was already known to have been exporting his products to South America and Europe and must have provided Casella with a perfect grounding in both instrument making and more importantly in the business of selling them.

It is somewhat strange that this partnership should ever had existed given that Cesar is known to have had three sons, John, Anthony & Angelo but presumably his focus was on providing his daughter and her husband an equally good opportunity in life. The numerous Tagliabue’s listed in trade directories of the period would suggest that the family remained close knit in any case and the son John also went on to form an early partnership with Joseph Zambra prior to the latter’s more famous partnership with Henry Negretti in 1850.

Cesar Tagliabue died in 1844 leaving the business to be solely managed by his son in law Louis Casella and the under his long stewardship became one of the most renowned scientific instrument making firms of the nineteenth century, providing products to the likes of Darwin and Livingstone. Cordial relations were almost certainly maintained with Negretti & Zambra over the years as Casella’s catalogue of the 1860’s shares numerous similarities with his competitor. Both were equally capable makers so it suggests that the parties were probably sharing manufacturing practises to create greater industry and both exhibited with great success at The Great Exhibition and the following Exhibition of 1862 where Casella was awarded a prize for his meteorological instruments.

By this point, his catalogues state that he was employed as an instrument maker to The Admiralty, The Board of Trade, Board of Ordnance, The War Department, The Royal Observatories at Kew and The Cape of Good Hope and numerous Governments and Universities.

Casella’s sons, Louis Marino and Charles Frederick both trained under their Father alongside other members of the Tagliabue family and also the latterly famous JJ Hicks who was perhaps the most promising of all of those that emanated from his workshop. He eventually died in 1897 whereafter Charles took over the sole ownership of the company.

Sadly, the younger son did not possess the same level of business acumen and skill as his Father and the business had become rather run down by 1905 but it was incorporated in 1910 and with the assistance of more adept management from Rowland Miall and Robert Abraham, manged to regain its momentum. The First and Second World Wars saw it engaged in numerous Governmental contracts but also saw the deaths of both of Casella’s sons, finally severing the link with the original family.

Casella is one of the few companies of this period that still remains in existence today, it continued to provide meteorological instruments throughout much of the Twentieth Century but the focus of the business has since diversified into environmental sampling and monitoring products.

An extraordinarily good early example of Louis Casella’s output.

Circa 1860

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