Jason Clarke Antiques

William IV Dry Card Marine Sighting Compass by Hemsley of Tower Hill London


For sale, a large William IV period dry card marine sighting compass by Hemsley of 4 King Street, Tower Hill London.

Comprised of an eight-inch diameter graduated brass compass bowl suspended on a robust brass gimbal mount. This instrument sports a superbly detailed sixteen-point, green card compass rose under glass, with Fleur de Lys motif to the North point and a brass rim surround which is further graduated with a minute 360 degree scale. The centre of the dial provides the maker’s name, Hemsley, 4 King Street, Tower Hill, London” around a jewel and brass mount.

To the rim of the compass bowl are placed two sights which are similar in design to the original Kater/Schmalcalder patent prismatic design of 1812 albeit that was largely reserved for pocket compasses. His design was marketed widely by the famous London instrument maker Thomas Jones initially and was largely copied throughout the Victorian period.

The compass mount is affixed to the base of mahogany case with lift off lid which is secured by hook and eye fastenings to either side. The lid is also fitted with extended corner supports which allow it to act as a base for the compass and provide some height when it is in use (see images).

A fascinating and superbly engineered early example of this design of compass which I have not come across previously. It is manufactured with superb attention to the brass work and remains closely aligned to Schmalcalder’s design. The gimbal mount and its increased size reflects Hemsley’s approach in adapting this new style for maritime use.  

The Hemsley’s were known instrument makers from the 1780’s. Henry Hemsley was apprenticed to Henry Raynes Shuttleworth who also taught the famous John Bleuler (later Master of Spectacle Makers Company) within a similar timeframe. Henry began trading in 1781 and apprenticed his son Thomas in 1789 who eventually took over the business in 1801.

Thomas was the first to be recognised with an address at King Street and despite a short partnership by his sons, Joseph and Thomas (II) from 1826 to 1828, Thomas (II) eventually graduated to full and singular ownership of his Father’s business.

Thomas (II) continued to trade at King street for a further twenty years and is noted as an exhibitor at The Great Exhibition with mention of his “improved Ship’s Binnacle” in Class VIII.    

Little more is known of this competent maker although examples of his instruments are held within the Harvard Museum Collection. Given the supreme quality of his output and his ties to other well renowned makers of his era, it suggests that more research is required to give this family of maritime instrument maker’s a rightful place in the pantheon.

Circa 1835

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