Everyone likes a
bargain. However, keep in mind that in the case of antiques a low
price could be an indicator of questionable authenticity or
condition. For surveying equipment, an average authentic antique
piece could range in price from $500 to several thousand dollars.
New reproductions of this type typically range from $50 to several
pieces today carry what would appear to be legitimate colonial era
markings. Although modern reproduction pieces are frequently made
in India, you will find many (but not all) reproduction pieces are being
marked with names of European or English cities, such as
"London." Also, many new pieces are being marked with
what would appear to be the maker's name, such as "Stanley,"
and in addition, may carry a four-digit number such as "1902"
which would give the impression of a year of production. A
reproduction manufacturer meets all legal customs requirements by
affixing a removable paper label identifying the country of
origin, such as "Made in India." Craftsman's marks of
yesteryear are easily copied and forged. A better test of
authenticity would be to examine how the piece is made.
One of the first
questions to ask yourself upon inspection of a piece would be, "Can
this instrument reasonably perform the function it was designed
for?" Authentic antique instruments were generally designed
for a specific task. If a piece cannot perform the specific
function for which it was designed, then it should be considered
suspect. A person does not need to be schooled in the use of an
instrument to be a good detective of authenticity. Simply use
Any part of an
instrument that is supposed to move should move. Levers, arms and
dials should freely move. Knobs should tighten and loosed easily
and not be frozen in place. For pieces with an optical system,
like a telescope, you should be able to bring the lens into focus.
On instruments which measure angles, check the degree markings to make
sure that they are located correctly. For example, make sure that
the 90 degrees mark is at a right angle from 0 degrees and 180 degrees
is directly opposite the 0 degrees mark.
Try to be thorough
in your inspection of the mechanical components of an instrument.
On a detailed inspection of many of the new reproductions one can find
the use of modern materials such as plastic. Small plastic washers
have been used, and buried deep inside a pocket sextant could be a lens
housing made of plastic. Often these parts are smaller than
1/4" and quite frankly could be easily overlooked, especially when
they are part of an intricate mechanism. Best advice--be as
thorough as possible.
inspecting the instrument's surface finish. A finish that shows
grinding marks or has a rough surface would most likely be a sign of a
reproduction. Instrument makers of yesteryear crafted beautifully
made, precision machines. An authentic antique instrument may have
a few dents and scratches from normal use and wear, but these should be
random in size and placement. Modern power tools generally leave
grinding marks that are regular in size and often in an obvious
Another area for
inspection is the quality of the calibrated markings, such as degrees,
inches, angles, etc. The markings found on most antiques were
carefully scribed or engraved with sharp, fine lines and remain clear
and easy to read even after years of normal use. However, on many
of the reproductions the markings may appear either faint, shallow,
irregular, oversized, hard to read or crude. Some of the
reproduction markings are stamped by machine rather than engraved, a
process which tends to squash the outline of the numbers making them