Magnetic compass divided into four 90 deg sections
from - Wrinkles in Navigation - Lecky, S.T.
19th edition
page 16

click on image above to see larger version.

A direction description on this compass might be given as " S 79 W " which would be equivalent to 259 degrees on the modern compass. (See wording on 19th ed. of Lecky, page 30.) From the previous example one might assume that 150 degrees on the new compass card would equal " S. 30 E. ".
When Lecky discusses steering courses on pages 33 and 34 his directions use the more ancient points system for the helmsman to follow, such as " W. by S. one half S. ". Note: the 19th edition was published some 17 years after Lecky died, and was revised and enlarged by William Allingham.

A fascimile reprint of Lecky's first (1881) edition of Wrinkles in Navigation is available Elibron ( and various editions of Wrinkles are available in the used book trade - always check for edition - there are many different editions, both English and American. I doubt that the editions that came out in the 1940 s have the same information and flavor as the earlier editions.

A more modern compass card.

note the 4 cardinal points are at
0 deg = North
90 deg = East
180 deg = South
270 deg = West

An early example from the mid part of the 1700's uses this 90 degree system. The collection of the Royal Observatory has this example, a compass signed as made by William Farmer circa 1750 which shows this 90 degree system on the outer ring, with a 32 point compass rose in the middle. see their article in the National Maritime Museum, UK . (It should be noted this practice was not imediately universally adopted and that compass cards made later than 1750 often used only the points system, dividing the compass into 32, 64 and 128 divisions.)
The British Royal Navy used this 90 degree system as its standard for a number of years.
From Bowditch - American Practical Navigator - 1962 edtion - noted on page 137.

From Bowditch - American Practical Navigator - 1938 edtion - noted on page 28.

Note that both the 9th edition (1909) and 11th edition (1911) of Encyclopedia Britannica show the 90 degree compass as the standard mariner's compass.

An actual compass which is marked in the 0-90 standard.
This example exists in the Maritime Museum in Victoria, BC, Canada.
Note the very finely divided graduations of the old points system on this compass card.
There are 32 measurements in 90 degrees... 128 in the whole circle.

This was made by HUSUN which was the H. Hughes and Son Company of London.

The firm begun by Henry Hughes in the 1830s became H. Hughes & Son in 1875, and H. Hughes & Son, Ltd. in 1903.
After a merger with Kelvin, Bottomley & Baird, Ltd. in 1947, it became Kelvin & Hughes, Ltd. The "HUSUN" trademark was in use by the 1920s.
        Ref: Gloria Clifton, Directory of British Scientific Instrument Makers 1550-1851 (London, 1995), p. 144.

The Smithsonian in Washington, DC has a HUSUN Compass 360 degrees which is the more modern measuring system.

History of Compass page.

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-- update 3 May 2006