Wittnauer compasses are compasses made by the Longines-Wittnauer company for the U.S. military forces at the start of World War II.
Background and Description
The Wittnauer company was established by Swiss immigrant Albert Wittnauer and his brothers in New York in 1890, focused on watchmaking.
In 1907, due to their reputation as precise and reliable, Wittnauer watches were used by the U.S. Navy in aviation tests. Wittnauer began to cater to the growing world of scientific and private exploration, and the company’s watches, timepieces and navigational instruments were used by explorers, aviators, navigators, astronomers and the U.S. army.
Wittnauer had a relationship with Longines watches from 1880. In 1936, the two merged and began producing military issue watches for the Second World War.
Watchmakers fleeing Europe at the start of World War II were given jobs manufacturing navigational instruments and other war products at Wittnauer. Due to Wittnauer’s long relationship with the American military, the company was given a contract to produce compasses for the U.S. military forces in 1941. Most of the Wittnauer compasses you see come up for sale were made this year. They were included as part of a survival kit for U.S. aviators, and were frequently seen as Officer’s compasses.
The compasses have nickel cases, with glass fronts and jewelled flat needles.
Collecting Wittnauer compasses
1941 U.S. military Wittnauer compasses are extremely collectible. Produced in great number, they generally have an interesting history, having been used by a member of the armed forces during World War II. With Wittnauer’s reputation as a quality watchmaker and brilliant precision navigational instrument manufacturer, these are popular items. They were made to last, and most of the time are still in fine working order, the needle pointing north, despite being over 70 years old.
A genuine Wittnauer compass is signed Wittnauer, and often stamped ‘U.S.’ on the front of the case. The compasses are more valuable if they retain their original U.S. military issue paper box and cloth pouch.
Wittnauer compasses are sometimes sold as part of an aviation/air force collection, e.g. with flight helmets, watches, shoulder boards, badges, photographs etc. These collections can be extremely valuable, fetching upwards of $1,000.
Compasses can be found at antique stores, flea markets, rummage sales, in army surplus stores etc.
Wittnauer compasses generally sell for between $30 and $300 on auction websites such as eBay.
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