An Obry apparatus, as designed and trialled by Robert Whitehead -  made by Whitehead & Company, circa 1897,
Lot 66
An Obry apparatus, as designed and trialled by Robert Whitehead - made by Whitehead & Company, circa 1897,
Sold for £1,800 (US$ 3,011) inc. premium
Lot Details
An Obry apparatus, as designed and trialled by Robert Whitehead -
made by Whitehead & Company, circa 1897,
instrument No. 871,
with mostly bronze cast body, solid bronze rotor in twin axis polished steel gimbal cage, heavy spring coil within open shroud, pressurised oil-fed lubrication chamber, auto-alignment forks when spring tensioning is undertaken, mounted in polished oak case with front flap opening, lid with now vacant pocket for relay valve, stamped Hodges hinges, brass stay handle to top, numerous stamps of the instrument number and foundry marks, with original winding key; with accompanying letter from the Greater Manchester Museum of Science and Industry dated 2nd May 1986 sent to a former owner confirming a date for this piece - 7.1/2in. (19cm) maximum instrument width, the case width 9.1/2in. (24cm)


  • Robert Whitehead (1823-1905) perfected and started mass-producing the gimbal-held spinning gyroscope in 1895, based on a design by Jean Bernard Leon Foucault for his 'loose mass Gy-ro Scope', first drawn up in 1852.

    At that time, there was no real scientific use for it apart the obvious note that the rotor maintained a fixed linier plane if spinning at high speed at a fixed axis. This snowballed Whitehead's breakthrough of designing the first hydrostatic plate to drive a rudder for keeping underwater crafts at a fixed horizontal and it was further advanced by his work on direction finding. As early as 1866, his torpedo experimental developments involved components which controlled torpedoes on both the X and Y planes.

    The company continued to produce Gyroscopes after Whitehead's death in 1905, until 1923 when Whitehead Company was taken over by Vickers Armstrong Engineering Company - sealing the success of their engineering practices which was required in the run up and right through WW2.

    The design of this piece incorporates a high-tension round-spring, wound, without the use of a ratchet, one full turn for full capacitance. The hold bar then actuates a gimbal stay, so that once the spring drum is released by a lever, the rotor pinion is automatically lined up with the radial rack.
    This winding process can be extremely dangerous, notably as there is a lack of ratchet or safety check and also the amount of mass of metal from the male key which engages with the spindle, is border-line adequate.

    This could be a demonstration model; however, why place instrument number 871, fully operative with the winding key in a polished captive oak box? Later repairs to the case due to spring power have in fact made the clearance of the winding key almost impossible.
    Details of designs for a master gyroscope which starts slave gyros within instruments and torpedoes, were drawn up around the time this instrument was manufactured - this example thought to be one such model from the drawings.
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