Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Brass Compass

I recently graduated with my master's degree in geology and as a bit of a graduation present one of my good friends, who is also a graduate student, gave me a little treasure he had obtained while overseas in the Army. This present is a brass compass, very similar to a Brunton.

The compass part of it still works great, and the dip-bubble works, although the leveling bubble is off-center, but I don't mind. The thing is more of a classy desk piece than a field tool (although I'd still use it). I believe it's made of brass because it's a good deal heavier than a regular Brunton compass. The pictures don't do it justice, it shines like a slightly tarnished penny.

Although the giver of this gift didn't know it, this meant a lot to me for a specific reason. At my undergraduate geology program they would award a gift to two graduating students based on their performance. They can choose between a Brunton Compass or a GPS. I chose the GPS because I'm really into the whole GIS/GPS thing, but the field geologist looks back sometimes and wonders why I didn't choose the compass. Receiving this antique showpiece brass compass has gone a long way of curing that, on top of the fact that it is a wonderful desk piece and conversation starter that has traveled across the world and given to me by a good friend.


  1. What compass is this exactly? I'm trying to find a really nice gift for my geologist buddy who has everything. I heard him talk about wanting a brass compass like that last christmas and thought it'd be a good idea to get it for him this year. Only problem is i saved all the information about the particular compass on a phone that ended up getting it's information erased.

    Also, are there any other compasses you would recommend if I couldn't find this particular one? I've been looking at one from Watts London but I just want to be sure I get a good one for him since I'm not a geologist myself.

  2. Hi Mark,

    I've actually tried to figure out exactly what make and model this compass is - it was given to me as a gift from a friend who bought it overseas. There doesn't appear to be any good identifier marks on it. From what I've gathered, it's a Stanley London Natural Sine brass compass - they seem to be fairly available on eBay or elsewhere, and even come in nice wooden boxes. Price seems to vary.

    These specific compasses for geologists/engineers/archaeologists are called Brunton compasses (although that's a bit like saying Jell-o or Band-aid instead of gelatin dessert or adhesive bandage - but we know what you mean).

    Brunton, Inc. makes most of them, but people would still call any imitators a Brunton. But here's the important part: What sets these apart from regular compasses is that they also measure dip angles (such as rock beds) with the aid of an internal bubble-level-arm. You place the compass on its side, and rotate the bubble-arm mechanism until the bubble in the tube is level, and then that gives you the angle that the compass is resting on its side (and therefore the dip of that feature). You can see sort of what I'm talking about in the second picture I posted above. Whichever style you're planning to get for your buddy, make sure it has this feature, otherwise it's just an ordinary compass.

    That Watts London compass you mention looks a lot like my Stanley London, but some of them also look like they're made for nautical navigating, so watch out for that when you buy it (your typical geologist doesn't need an astrolabe or sextant, although, if you're into astronomy, that might be a really cool compass to have). If your buddy likes military gadgets, the US Army has their own version called the M2 Compass, which is nearly identical in appearance and function to a standard Brunton Compass in every way, except it's in military colors and a sturdier carrying case. You might be able to find one of those at an army surpluss store or online.

    A new Brunton compass, depending on the model, will cost a few hundred dollars, but I assume your friend would already have a basic model. I think a natural sine brass compass from Stanley London or a military-surplus M2 Compass would be a great gift for a geologist (definitely a good conversation piece).

    Hope that helps!

  3. I received the very same compass/transit as a gift and would like to know if there is an instruction manual or owners manual describing how to use it? Any help to point me in the right direction would be appreciated!

  4. I received the very same compass/transit as a gift and would like to know if there is an instruction manual or owners manual describing how to use it? Any help to point me in the right direction would be appreciated!

  5. I've got one of those compasses and it's stamped,"India" on it. Is this a nock off or original.

  6. Hello gentlemen I will as giving a compass as you are discussing above I'm a Marine and know compasses very well by I'm stumped on this one. Mine has a stamped plate on the top and it says Natural Sine with numbers below and next to them *07 *08 and so forth and and at the bottom INDIA. It's all in working condition and the level works all ng with everything else. And info on this great price of history would be greatful

  7. Hi,
    I have just done some research on this following a visit from a Gentleman to my shop. It is a Stanley Magnetometer - used by Surveyers/Tunnellers/Miners.
    He has a small collection of them - one of them has 2 errors - SINE 16 should read 276 (not 296) - and SINE 36 should read 588 (not 688)
    He has another with only one mistake, not 2.
    He is looking for a third - the later correct one which i have just found on ebay - it looks genuine? The Indian ones are reproduction


  8. how do you open these compasses