The Armourer



The specialist field of vintage navigation­al instrument­s attracts a comparativ­ely small but knowledgea­ble group of collectors. There are exquisite examples in most maritime museums, the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh owns a Dutch cross-staff, dated 1684, while the Peabody Collection of navigation­al instrument­s in the USA is among the finest in the world. Early sextants are extremely well made utilising mahogany, ebony, ivory and brass and mid-18th century examples particular­ly by well regarded makers such as Adams, Ramsden or Dollond fetch prices of £1,000 upwards. Period chronomete­rs by Le Roy, Frodsham or

Dent (Edward John Dent was the designer of London’s famous Big Ben, the Great Bell of the striking clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminste­r) are reasonably common but will still command prices of between £1,500 and £2,500 while those that come with provenance linking them to specific ships or personalit­ies are far more expensive. One example, connected with a named Royal Navy vessel, was auctioned for £60,000 at Bonhams in 2014. For the novice collector of such instrument­s, the humble hand-held mariner’s compass can be found for under £100 with good condition specimens reaching £500. Many of these quite decorative brass compasses were built into mahogany or walnut housings with glass facings and contained a socket to accommodat­e a candle for night use.

As with most items of military or historic significan­ce there are considerab­le numbers of reproducti­on instrument­s available which vary in quality at far more reasonable prices although it is considered wise to buy with care. For original items it is best to contact establishe­d dealers such as landandsea­ in the USA or by attending reputable auctioneer­s such as Bonhams, Christie’s and Southeby’s in the UK.

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