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    Sale 5428

    Travel, Science & Natural History

    23 April 2008, London, South Kensington

  • Lot 400

    An exceptional Portuguese azimuth compass


    Price Realised  


    An exceptional Portuguese azimuth compass
    by Manoel Ferreira, 1755
    A highly decorative mariner's azimuth compass on gimbals in a mahogany case rotatable on a circular platform. Signed to the center of the compass card Manoel Ferreire Portugal a fes em Lisboa no Anno de 1755.

    The compass box: 10 x 10 x 6¼in., framed glass lid with cross-strings, the octagonal interior decorated with red, blue, green yellow and gold painted floral patterns, two of the panels with glass windows with vertical threads on the inner faces, the brass pivot to the centre with five punched points in the shape of a cross, with a second pivot on a brass weight, an arm beneath the pivot attached to a brass screw and thread on the outside of the box, enabling the card to be raised, on the exterior two brass alidades rotate on pivots above the windows, marked O and L, a brass handle pulls on a padded pin which stabilizes the compass card, a lead disc and balancing weight to the underneath of the box.

    The obverse of the compass card: the card of 8¼in. (211mm.) diameter, with a thirty-two-point compass rose, highly decorated in red, blue, green, yellow and gold paint, with the crowned arms of Portugal as the North pointer and additional foliage to the East pointer, divided 0°-90°-0°-90°, numbered by 10°, an outer scale subdivided to 5° and numbered for 5°s, a further scale alternately coloured for 1°; on the Eastern and Western sectors run two vertical scales from [65°]--[65°], numbered by 10°, subdivided to 5°, alternately coloured every 1°, tapering from 61°-65°, the exterior side of the scales numbered for 5°s.

    The reverse of the compass card: with six concentric circles, marked N and S either side of the steel needle, the ends flared and pointed, the North end marked with an incised 'N', the central brass bearing with glass inset, the card inscribed S.B. Haas L.a em 6 de Nov.bro de 1821=23 and in another hand Em 9 de Dezembro de 1825, red and black sealing-wax counterbalances.

    The main case: with brass gimbals, two decorative brass handles, two viewing windows, one with sliding cover and brass handle, attached on the base to a circular wooden disc of diameter 14¼in., resting on three rollers.
    14¼ x 14¼ x 9¼in. (36.5 x 36.5 x 23.5cm.)

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    A REMARKABLY FINE EXAMPLE OF A RARE EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY PORTUGUESE MARINER'S COMPASS. Developed in the 16th century, the azimuth compass was intended for use by seamen and incorporated sights which, through alignment with a celestial body, allowed the calculation of the variation between true and magnetic north. The instrument remained in use throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, and, by the 18th century, Portuguese instrument-makers were producing finely-decorated examples such as this.

    The contemporary British scientist Gowin Knight noted the advantages of this type of needle over the shapes adopted by English makers at the time in his 1749 article: 'For, being made broad at the Ends, and slender in the Middle, its Weight is removed as for as possible from the Centre: On which account, if it once point true, the Friction at the Centre cannot be so easily be put in Motion; and its Vibrations, when in Motion, will be slower; so that their Limits may more nicely be observed'.

    Although examples of this type of compass are found in institutional collections -- one by Ferreira in the Musée de la Marine, Paris and another by Joseph da Costa Miranda in the Whipple Museum, Cambridge (illustrated in Bennett) -- they are very rare at auction.

    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


    A la rencontre de Sindbad; La route maritime de la soie (Paris: Musée de la marine, 1994), p.147 for similar example by Ferreira dated 1744.
    Bennett, J. The Divided Circle: A history of instruments for astronomy, navigation and surveying (Oxford: Christie's, 1987), fig. 97.
    Hitchins, H. & May, W. From Lodestone to Gyro-Compass (London, 1955).
    May, E. A History of Marine Navigation (Henley, 1973).
    Knight, G. 'A description of a Mariner's Compass Contrived by Gowin Knight M.B. F.R.S.', Phil. Trans., Vol. 46 (1749), pp.505-512.
    Knight, G. 'An Account of Some Improvements of the Marniners Compass, in Order to Render the Card and Needle, Proposed by Doctor Knight, of General Use, by John Smeaton, Instrumen-Maker', Phil. Trans., Vol. 46 (1749), pp.513-517.


    Lisbon, Salão de Antiguidades, 1964