Christies South Kensington (20/12% buyer’s premium)ARGUABLY the strongest performance in the scientific instruments section of Christie’s South Kensington’s sale was provided by this pearwood table compass by John Harrison (1693-1776) pictured right.
Harrison is of course best-known for his ground-breaking
marine chronometer, the pioneer project to which Harrison devoted
The compass was an earlier work made by Harrison in 1718 at the
age of 25. The 360 degree dial was drawn in ink on manuscript paper
and bore a 16-point wind rose with East and West transposed. It was
signed and dated to the centre of the rose.
The piece has been published in Maurice J. Kenn's John Harrison's
Unusual and Unique Magnetic Compass for the journal British Sundial
Society Bulletin volume 14.
The signature and lettering on the dial were verified as genuine
by Harrison expert Andrew King and the National Maritime Museum,
who hold a similar plane-table compass made over 50 years earlier
by Walter Hayes.
The piece had a cracked glass and some staining to the card but it
is thought to be the first Harrison compass to appear on the
Lack of a precedent is always a disadvantage when it comes to
setting estimates, but, given the Harrison associations, a
£6000-8000 estimate sounded low key and so it proved. The bidding
duly reached £45,000 with the hammer falling to a private collector
bidding over the phone.
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