Evaluating Nautical Antiques

Antique Sundial CompassAntique Sundial Compass

All nautical antiques are popular for collecting and decorating. Because of their popularity, it is important for the buyer to know how to evaluate them. 

There are plenty of scammers and con artists out there. Here are some tips you can use when you go antique shopping online or off. The tips are arranged according to the type of antique. There are other types. These are just some of the most popular.

Antique Compass

Antique Brass Executive Desk Gimble Compass 8 inchAntique Brass Executive Desk Gimble Compass 8 inch


Antique compasses typically come from ships. They vary in size. Some are pocket-sized, apparently used by individual sailors. Some are very large and would have been attached to the ship.

Compass prices vary greatly. A seller who has one that is known to come from a manufacturer that has been out of business for many years will put a higher price tag on the item.

It’s a good idea to take the time to learn a little bit about the manufacturers and other attributes of the compasses before you buy. This is true of other antique types, as well. The more you know, the better equipped you will be to make a wise purchase.



Nautical Antique Ship Lights 

Antique Copper Admiral Nelson Oil Lamp 12 inchAntique Copper Admiral Nelson Oil Lamp 12 inch
Antique Copper Admiral Nelson Oil Lamp 12 inchAntique Copper Admiral Nelson Oil Lamp 12 inch

Antique ship lights are popular for decorating. One popular type is a handheld lantern that was carried around onboard and is sometimes called a captain’s light or captain’s lantern. These lanterns are not that different from the ones used in mining, on the railroad and for other purposes. In other words, they are not necessarily nautical antiques.

If you want something that is definitely a ship’s light, you might consider purchasing the port and starboard lights that are colored red and green. These lamps are unique to shipping and there are not as many copies. When you see a pair, they are probably “real”  antiques.

Clock and Barometer Sets

The clock and barometer sets commonly used on ships are popular for decorating. Because of this, there are many replicas. If you want to be sure you are getting a true antique, there are several things to look for.

The finish of an antique piece will not be perfect. The originals were exposed to salt air. Even if they have been carefully maintained, there will be some imperfections.

The maker of the clockworks is another tip that will help you decide whether or not the piece is original. Clock manufacturers typically made compasses, as well. So, it’s a good idea to read up on the clock and compass manufacturers that were popular in the late 1800s or early 1900s.

Salvaged Antiques

Antique Brass Rose Compass 23 inchAntique Brass Rose Compass 23 inch

Many antiques were salvaged from shipwrecks. Most of them have changed hands many times over the years, although new pieces are found on occasion. Beachcombers usually have quite a few pieces of salvage.

Various parts of the ship may be salvaged and sold. These can be cleaned up and used for decorating. They are also incorporated into other decorative items. Coins or “doubloons” are also popular items.

Evaluating nautical antiques is something of an art. It takes practice. There are lots of books and resources available to help. The best piece of advice is to take your time. Quick decisions and impulse buys are often regretted. 

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