The Collections

Curator's pick: tried and tested...sometimes failed

Created: 31.03.11

These are all objects that have intrigued or fascinated me since I came to the Museum. Many are closely associated with attempts to determine longitude (a ship’s east-west position) in the 18th and 19th centuries, which is an important part of my current research. Others are simply intriguing objects I’ve come across – I’m particularly interested in nice ideas that never really took off. And, to be honest, the telescope is there because it’s long been my favourite in the whole museum. (Richard Dunn, NMM Curator of the History of Navigation)

  • Name
  • Artist / Maker
  • Date made
  • ID
  • Electron Utilisation Ltd
    about 1965
    Navicator (sic)

    Hand-held radio direction finder with an earpiece. The earpiece plugs into a socket on the bottom of the handle. On the back of the main body are the other controls, including a frequency selector, volume control and switch for the…

  • Kelvin & James White Ltd
    after 1876; compass card after 1900

    An experimental gyrocompass, believed to have been designed by William Thomson, Lord Kelvin (1824-1907). The compass card is of the sort Thomson originally patented in 1876 for magnetic dry compasses. It is marked in points and degreees, with two degree…

  • Walker, Ralph
    circa 1793
    Azimuth compass

    Azimuth compass, consisting of a magnetic compass in a brass bowl, hung in gimbals that are weighted at the bottom with lead. The compass card (diameter 6.5 inches) is made of paper and is graduated to 32 points and quadrantally…

  • Nairne, Edward
    Dip circle

    Dip circle or dipping needle, made of brass with gold pivots encased in copper. The needle is 12 inches (30.5 cm) long, and the circular scale is graduated quadrantally to 30 minutes. A dip circle measures the vertical component of…

  • Gilbert & Sons
    circa 1817
    Mercurial log glass

    The log glass was used in conjunction with a log and line to time the period during which a log line was allowed to unroll from the log reel and so estimate the ship's speed from the amount of line…

  • Bird, John
    circa 1758

    The sextant has a polished brass frame and limb, with a four-legged brass section on the back for the belt pole mounting. The detachable belt pole is made of brass and wood. The tangent screw and clamping screw, which are…

  • Unknown

    This Galilean telescope has the name 'IACOB CUNIGHAM' and the date '1661' stamped onto the objective lens cap, making it one of the oldest dated telescopes in Britain. The two draw tubes are made of wood covered in marbled vellum,…

  • Jennings and Company
    about 1818
    Jennings Insulating Compass

    A magnetic dry-card compass of a type patented by Henry Jennings in 1818 (no. 4259). The compass bowl is made of brass. The card is mica covered with paper, and is marked in points, with a fleur-de-lys at north. The…