Nautical Antiques & Marine Art at Land and Sea Collection™ Dive Helmets, Ship Models, Sextants

D. Filby Octant Predecessor to C Plath Hamburg

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D. FILBY Predecessor to C. Plath Hamburg Octant
 

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DAVID FILBY PREDECESSOR TO
C. PLATH - HAMBURG
 OCTANT WITH IVORY INSERTS Ca 1840
 
 
Presented is a very rare mid 19th C German mariner's sextant with ebony frame, ivory graduated arc and vernier, and bronze fittings. This instrument is so rare that most students of navigation don't know of its significance or have only read about it or seen pictures in a book. The D. Filby name is inscribed on the ivory plate set in the curving cross bar along with the number 943 that is set on end.
 
This is only the second Filby instrument we have come across. The first was a near twin in 2005, but it was without its case. This one would make a worthwhile contribution to a museum for someone so inclined, or as an important gift, or certainly it will be at home in a collection of rare instruments.
This carefully executed machining of its brass workings sets it apart from others of the same period. The instrument has a ribbed brass index arm measuring 11 inches. The arc is graduated from - 5 to plus 100 degrees. The horizon mirror is on an adjustable turntable and can be rotated by loosening a screw which locks the mirror's position. Other features include a ivory vernier scale, which reads from right to left from 0 to 20 arc minutes, a two hole peep sight with "flap", and three sun shades for the index mirror and two for the horizon mirror. The number 943 on the arc may be a serial number, but maybe not. The instrument's style is that of an octant, but it has some advanced features such as the ribbed index arm and tangent screw which, we believe, dates it pretty much in line with the first one we sold, which was number 1083, and dated as Ca 1840. The Filby sextant business was started in 1837, and it was only twenty five years until they sold out to Carl Plath. All of these  features indicate the instrument to be from the middle of the 19th century, or likely Ca 1840.
See Fredrich Jerchow history of C. Plath,
"From Sextant to Satellite Navigation, 1837-1987" particularly the picture on page 25 which is of a  later style single peep sight which is also threaded for a telescope. It is the one pictured with the green background below.
 
 
As shown in the C. Plath book "From Sextant to Satellite Navigation,1837-1987"

Some time after 1780, the addition of a tangent screw as fitted here allowed for fine adjustment and represented one of the two major changes in the basic operation of the octants and sextants for the next 150 years! The second was the fitting of telescopes. As was the practice with octants, only peep sights were fitted. Later a handle was added to sextants. All of these tell tales indicate it is one of the earliest of that type offered by David Filby making it a noteworthy instrument by this maker in more than one respect.

           Name Plate and Number 943
                     Old Style Vernier Scale
           Good condition horizon mirror
                     Horizon mirror with some thin grey lines

CONDITION: The instrument, its ivory name plate, sharply and precisely engraved graduated arc, and its hardware are in excellent condition. Most of its original lacquer finish remains. There is only the slightest evidence of age. All three bronze legs are present. Missing is the small ivory scribe. The horizon mirror is in very good condition with one small grey area, and the index mirror has a few vertical thin grey lines, but most of its area is good. The instrument has that gently worn pleasing look that comes with over 170 years of age.

The case has done its job in protecting the instrument and has received some gouging of the wood along a portion of its front top edge. It also has age cracks top and bottom and a small piece of the corner missing..There was a thin piece of wood missing along the top back which has been replaced. The case is strong enough to do its job. There are no labels or markings in it. A lock is present, but the key is missing.

This is an outstanding example from a historic German instrument maker which gave rise to the C. Plath sextant. It is in "Fine" condition with about 95% of its original lacquer finish remaining.

DIMENSIONS: 

  • Arc reads - 5 to +100 degrees
  • Length of index arm  11 3/4"
  • Radius of index arm   11"
  • Width of frame at arc  9"
  • Index mirror 39 x 30 mm
  • Horizon mirror 23 x 20 mm
  • Three index shade glasses
  • Three horizon shade glasses
  • Peep sight - two holes and flap
  • Weight octant   2 Lbs  1 1/4 oz.    Case 1 lb 11 1/2 oz.   Total weight 3 lbs 12 3/4 oz

Showing the back hardware and Machinery  above the case
 
HISTORY OF DAVID FILBY:  Filby was born in 1810 in Husum, Germany. His father was an innkeeper.  In 1820 the family moved to Hamburg which was a major seaport with vessels arriving and departing for Britain, France, Portugal and Spain, and the United States of America as well as to the Caribbean and South America.
 
Nothing is known about Filby’s youth.  In 1830, at age 20 he began a four-year apprenticeship as a “mechanics” in the workshop of Heinrich Johann Kosbu, an instrument maker for Physics.  Kosbu’s workshop was adjacent to what was then the inner port in the center of Old Hamburg,  Those who worked on the Kehrwieder came into daily contact with the ships, the captains, the mates and the crews from countries all over the world. After completing his apprenticeship, he continued to work for Kosbus until he set up his own business in 1837 at age 27.  To legally be in business his firm had to be registered, and the owner had to be a citizen of Hamburg which was a separate State. Filby did not achieve citizenship until 1840 having operated his company illegally for the 3 preceding years. Years later, this beginning caught up with Filby due to a clerical error in filing the notice of the sale to Plath. He was brought before the commercial court and fined 15 marks, a cause of embarrassment since he was by then a delegate to the city parliament.
 
The Filby shop was on the Vorsetzen directly on the so called “Rummelhafen” where large numbers of sailing ships frequently blocked the view over the Elbe.  In his shop he stocked charts, nautical literature and increasingly nautical instruments, which he first imported from Britain, the country then known worldwide as producers of the best instruments.
 
As was the practice, Filby had the first instruments he sold, marked with the name of his firm, D. Filby, Hamburg”.  He soon set up a repair workshop for nautical instruments,  which grew in the course of the of the next few years into an independent factory for the production of nautical instruments comprised mainly of sextants. For the next 25 years the firm devoted itself to serving the needs of seafarer's by providing nautical instruments of the highest quality, and their sextants were known through out the maritime industry as some of the best.
 
These efforts quickly brought him success and public recognition.  For reasons not known, he sold  his business to Carl Plath in 1862, when he was just 52 years old. When Plath acquired the Filby firm he chose to name his new company, "C. Plath, D. Filby's Successor", indicating the high esteem he had of Filby's business and his intention to maintain Filby's tradition of importing, making and selling navigational instruments.
 
After the sale, Filby devoted himself to numerous honorary offices until his death. 
 
In 1882, three years after Filby's death, Carl Plath sold the nautical literature and charts department of the business to the newly established firm of Eckardt & Messtorff, a bookshop which is said to exist today keeping the nautical instrument business as the foundation of his own.
 
The Filby Foundation for the relief of poor and needy seaman and seamen’s widows in Hamburg” and “The Filby Foundation Prize for the Hamburg School of Navigation were established in 1894 and operated until 1923.
 
C. Plath ceased sextant production in 2002 after 137 years. 

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