Jason Clarke Antiques

Victorian Cased Green Card Prismatic Compass by Francis Barker & Son


For sale, a Victorian green card prismatic compass by Francis Barker & Son.

Compasses such as these were first patented by Charles Augustus Schmalcalder in 1812 when the development of a prismatic sight and arm was introduced. The addition enabled the user to position the view finder at a specified location using the sight, and simultaneously read the bearing of the compass which is reflected to the eye by the prism.

This practical evolution for the compass did not come without controversy as the idea had already been developed by Henry Kater a year earlier. Both men used the famous London instrument maker, Thomas Jones of Charing Cross to manufacture their instruments so it is suggested that Schmalcalder must have seen Kater’s design in the Jones workshop. Schmalcalder’s prism design was however, the first to achieve recognition through a patent application and remains a standard to this day.

With the patent expiration in 1826, numerous other makers began to incorporate this design into their instruments including Francis Barker. This example remains faithful to Schmalcalder’s original with its hinged sighting vane and prism which fold flat against the compass bowl for transit. The green compass card is practically designed with numerical divisions on the outer edge and eight central  divisions denoting the main compass points, the north point being provided with a fleur de lys design which incorporates the Francis Barker trademark and with the makers name at the base, Francis Barker & Son, Makers London. The trademark with its recognisable B&S central symbol is a useful indicator of age as the S was reversed after the death of the founder in 1875.

The compass retains its original leather case. A fine example of its type.

Francis Barker & Sons has a history dating back to the 1820’s with the founder originally trained and employed by the compass makers J&G Simms. The company of Francis Barker & Sons was formed in 1848 and eventually consumed his old employer’s business upon their retirement. Largely a wholesale concern, the business sold its compasses to many of the top makers of the Victorian period. The founder died in 1875 leaving various family members to continue the business but by 1932 financial difficulties saw the firm taken over and renamed Francis Barker & Sons (1932) Limited. The reputation of this superb maker continues to thrive to this day under the stewardship of Pyser-SGI Limited of Edenbridge where compasses are still produced under the Barker name.

Circa 1880

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