Stock Number: 9044


For sale antique 18th century French tell-tale compass, signed by J. Perre and dated 1763. It is designed to be mounted upside down below deck, for the sleeping captain to monitor the correct route for the ship.


5 inch diameter card (12.5 cm)



Country of manufacture


Categories: Maritime, Navigational instruments


EIGHTEENTH CENTURY TELL-TALE COMPASS, French, c. 1763, signed on the marvelous floating compass card “Se vend chez J. Perre Maître Poulieur & Faiseur de Compas à Dunkerque 1763” (“For sale by J. Perre, Master Pulley-Maker and Compass-Maker in Dunkirk, 1763”) and “Gravé par Brochery.” The 5″ (12.5 cm ) diameter printed card is pinned to a bar-shaped needle, and held secure with red sealing wax. Additional wax was applied to the rear to level the card. There is printed a circumferential degree scale, plus a 32-point rose with a sort of floral cross to the East, and large fleur-de-lys North. Principal directionals depict three faces blowing the E, W, and S winds, separated by four charming vignettes of hands holding chart dividers, square, rule, and writing instruments. A brass pivot cap is centered on a heraldic device topped by a crown which is designed like that of the French King, surmounted by one fleur-de-lys and showing five others around the sides. The card floats within a 6″ (15 cm) diameter cylindrical brass bowl with white-painted interior and glazed lid with long pivot stem. The bowl hangs in gimbals with shaped support arm, and is designed to be mounted upside-down where it can be read by the skipper while in his bed or at the chart table. Condition is fine, the brass uniformly dark with age, the card with light stains.

This is a good example of ³tell-tale² compass, used below deck to assure the correct route was followed. The compass card is very special, being dated, doubly signed, and bearing these fine vignettes. Marcelin records J. Perre’s name on a tell-tale compass rose in the Maritime Museum in Dunkirk.

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David and Yola Coffeen both have enjoyed academic careers, as planetary astronomer and as linguist/educator. But since 1982 (yes, 1982!) they have been full-time dealers in early scientific and medical instruments, under the name Tesseract. Selling primarily by catalogue (over 100 issued so far) they also have a web presence at, and can be contacted at [email protected].

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