Artifact Corner: Victorian Compass Pendant

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a small pendant. On one side we have a onyx stone, and on the other side we have a beautiful compass. The pendant is gold plated, and has some lovely scroll work at the top of it. This pendant was likely made in the mid to late Victorian period. Let’s learn a bit more about the history of compasses!

A compass is a device that indicates direction and is one of the most important tools in navigation. Magnetic compasses are the most well known type of compass, and our compass is a magnetic one. A magnetic compass consist of a magnetized needle that is allowed to rotate so it lines up with Earth’s magnetic field. The ends point to what are known as magnetic north and magnetic south. Historians are not quite sure when humans discovered the principles of magnetism. We do know that as early as 2,000 years ago, Chinese scientists may have known that rubbing an iron bar (such as a needle) with a naturally occurring magnet, called a lodestone, would temporarily magnetize the needle so that it would point north and south. Early compasses were made of a magnetized needle attached to a piece of wood or cork that floated freely in a dish of water. As the needle would settle, the marked end would point toward magnetic north.

Before the introduction of the compass, geographical position and direction at sea were primarily determined by the sighting of landmarks, supplemented with the observation of the position of celestial bodies. Other techniques included sampling mud from the seafloor this was something done in China. Some other techniques included analyzing the flight path of birds, and observing wind, sea debris, and sea state, which was a common practice in Polynesia and elsewhere. Some of the most incredible navigators, the Norse, are believed to have used a type of sun compass to locate true north. On cloudy days, the Vikings may have used cordierite or some other birefringent crystal to determine the sun’s direction and elevation from the polarization of daylight; their astronomical knowledge was sufficient to let them use this information to determine their proper heading. In their earliest use, compasses were likely used as backups for when the sun, stars, or other landmarks could not be seen. Eventually, as compasses became more reliable and more explorers understood how to read them, the devices became a critical navigational tool.

Our compass is in good shape. The dial over the compass is scratched, and can make it slightly difficult to read, but this is to be expected given it’s age, and how much use it probably had. This was designed to be worn on a chain, either as a necklace, or stored in a pocket. It’s a beautiful compass from the mid to late 1800’s and we are so lucky to have it in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by!

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles
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