Personal Effects, Nov. 18

Published 9:11 am Monday, November 20, 2017


Question: Jerry, my father was a civil engineer. He left the family several old engineering tools including this compass and his slide rule. He graduated from UK in 1938 and took a job with the Forest Service in Eastern Kentucky until the Second World War started. They gave him this compass that he used for many years. 

I think it is beautiful just as a little box to display. The case looks to me like mahogany, with a brass latch that still works. The compass itself works as well as it did when new. The face reads U.S. Engineer Dep’t. above and Herschede 1918 below. It has a glass cover. 

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There are no markings on the wooden case, which measures 3 inches square and 1 inch thick, closed. 

How many of today’s electronic and computerized tools do you suppose will still be working perfectly in 100 years? Is my compass collectible?

Answer: Your compass is collectible, not like that of a clock, but yes it’s collectible. Remember, as I always say everything is collectible to someone. 

Compasses have been around since China’s Han Dynasty, about 206 BC. It was the compass that made it possible for early explorers to venture out into the great blue forest and travel beyond the boundaries of “Here there be dragons.” The phrase “Here there be dragons” was a map maker’s explanation to unknown territories.

I have to admit that I had some trouble with this one. I found that there was a Herschede Clock Company but no mention of their manufacturing compasses. The clock company was established by Frank Herschede on the 30th of July 1857 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was very successful and quickly became an importer, manufacturer and retailer in a shop on Front Street in Cincinnati. 

He exhibited at the South Carolina and West Indian Exposition at Charleston, South Carolina in 1901 where he received a gold medal for his hall clocks. The company existed, amazingly enough, until 1984. But nothing about compasses. 

I’m assuming here, that during World War I he contracted with the U.S. government and sold these wooden cased compasses to the U.S. Engineers Department.

They are fairly common in the market place. I found numerous examples, including one that resides in the collection at the Kentucky Historical Society. I found several examples for sale in retail stores priced between $95 – $125. 

Be sure to keep it in an environment that’s comfortable for you. If you like to live there, the compass will be happy too. Thanks for sharing it.