Find Your Own Way – Vintage MKIII Marching Compass – Part 2

How to tell a fake from the real thing. In this post we will be looking at side-by-side comparisons of this writer’s own genuine MKIII Marching Compass, and one of the most common of the fake types.

Closed side view:

Fake-closed-side-view

real-closed-side-view

  1. Sometimes the lid-lifting tab is installed backwards on the fake.
  2. On the fake, the prism housing often extends past the edge of the lid lifting tab.
  3. The thumb/lanyard ring is NOT round on the fake, it is square with a rounded edge.
  4. The indices on the side have index marks which do NOT run through the cardinal points on the fake
  5. The bezel-tightening knob on the fake protrudes too far from the body of the compass case. Additionally, the knob has external screw thread visible.
  6. The lid’s hinge is external on the fake.
  7. The East/West indices on the case lack disassembly screws on the fake.

Open top view:

fake

real

  1. The thumb/lanyard ring is NOT round on the fake, it is square with a rounded edge.
  2. The prism housing on the fake is too long and has two screws
  3. The bezel ring and glass are usually not secured on the fake. It can usually be lifted right off.
  4. The compass capsule does not have screws securing the glass dial window on the fake. Additionally, there is no lubber line.
  5. The capsule is usually not oil-filled on the fake, since it cannot be sealed and would leak like a sieve.
  6. There is usually no attempt at applying illuminating paint to the dial of the fake.
  7. The dial card itself is clearly plain or textured plastic on the fake rather than semi-opaque mother-of-pearl as on the real deal.
  8. The hinges for both the lid and the prism housing on the fake appear “clunky”.

Closed Quarter View:

Quarter-view-closed

real-Quarter-view-closed

  1. Sometimes the lid-lifting tab is installed backwards on the fake.
  2. The hairline sighting window is too small on the fake.
  3. The raised rim of the hairline sighting window of the fake lacks the  small holes at top and bottom which allow a thread to be tied on in the event that the hairline sighting window’s glass is broken.
  4. The lid lifting tab on the fake lacks the aiming notch.

A note about the base of the fake compasses – These may be marked in a variety of ways with dates ranging from the 1830s (!) to the 1940s. Usually the listed maker is TG Co, but examples marked F Barker or Ross have been noted. The friction ring on the base is usually missing on the fakes. If present, it may be thin cork or thin, soft neoprene.

Base of a genuine MKIII compass. Note that although this Canadian-manufactured example was made in 1943, the date is not stamped on the base.

Base of a genuine MKIII compass. Note that although this Canadian-manufactured example was made in 1943, the date is not stamped on the base.

Since not all genuine vintage MKIII compasses actually work anymore, this fact alone is not enough to identify a fake. Also note that there are fake MKIIIs out there assembled using genuine junked parts. Therefore you should look for most of the identifying features shown above before declaring a compass to be fake.

Please note that the later M73 Compass, while very, very similar to the MKIII has a number of differences, including a lack of indices on the side of the case and a differently-shaped hairline sighting window guard. These are perfectly genuine in most cases. Thankfully, these don’t seem to have been faked… yet… 

M73 Prismatic Compass. Ver, very similar to the MKIII. Major differences include a mils-graduated card dial, a lack of indices on the outside of the case and the different shape to the hairline sighting window guard.

British MOD issue M73 Prismatic Compass. Very, very similar to the MKIII. Major differences include a mils-graduated card dial, a lack of indices on the outside of the case and the different shape to the hairline sighting window guard.

STOP PRESS:  Yep, they’ve been faked. See http://www.asmc.de/de/Ausruestung/Orientierung/Orientierung/Kompasse/Britischer-Lensatic-Kompass-Metall-Repro-p.html

Fake M73 Prismatic compass. Easily identified by the Kasper & Richter style graticule on the sighting window. Thankfully sold as a replica.

Fake Chinese-manufactured M73-ish Prismatic compass. Easily identified by the German Kasper & Richter style graticule on the sighting window and the dial glass markings. Thankfully sold upfront as a replica. It’s actually a pretty good attempt. I wonder if it works?

There is also a completely functional “fake” version of the M73 and its successor the M88 manufactured in the 60s, 70s and 80s by a now-defunct UK company called ENBEECO. ENBEECO was a part of the same group of companies as Francis Barker & Sons (a primary contractor for British Ministry of Defence compasses), so it’s entirely possible that ENBEECO compasses are re-branded F Barker & Sons compasses.  The ENBEECO prismatic compasses were made in England and are very close to the original military specifications. These were chiefly manufactured for export to Middle Eastern armed forces and graduated either in common degrees for infantry use, or in the Russian 6000 mils system for artillery. Iraqi army ENBEECO M73 and M88 pattern prismatic compasses were commonly souvenired both in the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq and come up for sale from time to time. ENBEECOs were also favoured on the civilian marketplace as a more traditional field compass for  field and survey work and for recreational use. Indeed, this writer has an ENBEECO civilian M88 type “lightweight” prismatic compass graduated in degrees.

A civilian-market ENBEECO M88 style prismatic compass. A completely functional and reliable compass.

A civilian-market ENBEECO M88 style prismatic compass. A completely functional and reliable compass.

In the next post, we will cover disassembly of a genuine WWII MKIII compass as well as discuss how the user may get rid of bubbles in the damping fluid.

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18 thoughts on “Find Your Own Way – Vintage MKIII Marching Compass – Part 2

  1. I thought I’d add an addendum in the form of a reply. I was in the enviable position of being able to handle one of the fake Indian-made MkIII compasses yesterday.

    My private concerns about the prism in the fakes being difficult to use were completely unwarranted since there is no prism!

    Additionally, the bezel ring is not secured to the capsule – it literally just sits there, held on via the magic of that mysterious force known as gravity.

    The “compass” is also not made of brass. It’s some brass/aluminium alloy which feels “plasticky”. One of these might look good next to a leather blotter and brass telescope on your nautical-themed executive-level desk at work, but it’s going to be completely useless out bush.

  2. Pingback: Inexpensive “Training” Telescope | THE JUNGLE IS NEUTRAL

  3. Hi there, I have one of these genuine MKIII compasses, but I’m not sure how much they are worth exactly. It’s the same one that is in your pictures and I have looked at the pointers you said to see if it is fake but it is in fact real.

    Please could you help me with your expertise so I have an idea of how valuable this is? It has not been tampered with in any way and has all original parts.

    Also, could you tell me what the difference is between the marching compass and the prismatic one?

    Thanks in advance.

    Mark

  4. Hi Mark,

    Value of a MkIII compass really depends upon the condition.

    If it is in good condition and actually works, the value could start at around US$100 and move upwards from there.

    A marching compass can be a prismatic compass, lensatic compass or even a mirror compass. Prismatic means that you flip up a small prism and use it to read the bearing on the compass while you’re sighting. The MkIII has a flip-up prism, so it is a prismatic compass. It and the later British M73 and M88 prismatic compasses were also marching compasses since they were used by military personnel to navigate from point A to Poit D via Points B and C.

    Cheers

  5. Hi, I enjoyed reading your article; it’s surprising what goes on out there.
    You stated that In the next post, you will cover disassembly of a genuine WWII MKIII compass as well as discuss how the user may get rid of bubbles in the damping fluid. How do I access that article?
    Many Thanks
    Malcolm, [ex 1 Para]

  6. I thought I left a message on how to replace the damping fluid to get rid of the bubbles, I haven’t seen anything yet, maybe I posted the response incorrectly?
    Anyone have detailed instructions please?
    Malcolm

    • Hi Malcolm,

      I was advised not to provide a detailed teardown guide for MKIII prismatic compasses due to the radiation hazard. Back in the day they used radium for the illumination and over the years the radium’s binder will have broken down, and the dust will have entered the damping fluid. I’ll give you an overview of how to do it, but I am not responsible for any future injury, disease or death from messing around with a 70 year old compass.

      First things first, wearing latex or nitrile gloves and wearing eye protection and a respirator, apply a seal of clear nail polish to the radium illuminated marker on the inside of the case. Let it dry and it’ll be sealed for decades.

      Next, go here – to this thread and follow Peter Laidler’s instructions. However, be aware that the damping fluid is NOT alcohol (although isopropyl or methylated spirits would work), it’s a purified kerosene. Don’t use normal kero. Instead look for pure lamp oil or similar. Depending on where you are in the world it may have a different name. Here in Australia they sell it at a large chain hardware store and it’s called pure lamp oil. I got the specification from an Indian government document on construction and refurbishing of (genuine) MKIII compasses. Here’s a link to the correct stuff at Bunnings – http://www.bunnings.com.au/classic-unscented-lamp-and-torch-oil_p3340273

      As for bubbles, there are a couple of ways to deal with them. First, there should be a bubble trap in the compass capsule, so move the bubble around the rim of the compass until it disappears. If it doesn’t disappear, then place the compass on a window sil in direct sunlight for a day or so. As far as I can tell, the heat causes the damping fluid to expand and then forces the bubble into the bubble trap under pressure. It also works with plastic baseplate compasses which develop a small air bubble.

      Good luck!

  7. Hi, first of all, thank you for your very informative and useful article! I’ve used it to find what I think is a genuine WWII MKIII compass on eBay. Although instead of being stamped with T&G Co on the base as the maker, it is stamped E.A.C. Could you tell me please if you know if this is a listed maker?
    Many thanks,
    Kate

  8. I just picked up what appears to be a genuine MKIII per the tips on this article. But the markings on the bottom seem different. On the base, next to an arrow with a hashmark on it, it says: Comp.Prism.Liq.MK3A, (next line down) RG.No (on one side of a hole, and on the other side of the hole there are two lines) top line: CQ, above an original number that appears to have been over-stamped with a larger number. Below the hole is a number 6605-000009. next line down: O.F.D. Is there a place where one might identify what these numbers mean?

    • G’day Robert, thanks for posting.

      Unfortunately I don’t know much about the MK3A compass except that it was the compass model issued in the British Army between the WW2-era MKIII and the later M73. I believe it was introduced into service circa 1948, but I have seen 1970s dated examples.

      As for the data on the rear of the compass case, it should break down as follows:

      “Comp.Prism.Liq.MK3A” – Compass, Liquid, Prismatic Model MKIII/A
      “RG. No” is a catalogue number. There should be a number following this (not the national stock number).
      “6605-000009” is the National Stock Number for this model of compass. It’s the forerunner of a current “NSN” and is similar to the old US “FSN” numbers.
      “CQ” – I have no idea. Perhaps it’s an acronym for “Company Q-Store”?
      “OFD” usually appears on these compasses above a date such as 1971 or 1950. I believe it’s the manufacturing or acceptance date, but I have no idea what the acronym stands for.

      Yours would also have had a broadarrow marking on it somewhere.

      Sometimes you see these compasses with the broadarrow, date and other data missing. Usually the data has been removed crudely with an engraving tool or similar. What it means is that the compass went missing from the Q-store at some time during its service life and was “sanitised” before being on-sold down at the local markets or second hand store. Since the MK3A has been out of service since the 1970s, I wouldn’t worry too much about that aspect of it. If yours has been similarly “sanitised” it just adds a bit of flavour to a nice piece of vintage navigation equipment.

      I hope it’s helpful info. Cheers!

      Craig

  9. Hi, thejungleisneutral,

    Beware the commenga US copies. The extra alloy forming the rule on the one side is enough to pull the needle by as much as 15 deg to one side or the other. Utterly useless and dangerous. The insert with needle and dial appears to work well, and with a semi decent dial. Will fit it in a plastic jig for my particular use.

    ps. the name thejungleisneutral caught my eye. read the book several times aeons ago, late 50’s. Most impressed.

    cr

  10. Hi
    I am in aw of the amount of information on this.I was so intent on buying a mark 3 compass but now I am scared as the amount of radiation that may come with it.I was wondering if I should be.
    Warmest Regards
    Tony

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