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C. Plath halts classic sextant production

Jan 1, 2003
From Ocean Navigator #122 May/June 2002

From Ocean Navigator #122 May/June 2002

When Carl Plath acquired the David Filby firm in 1862, he choseto name his new company, C. Plath, D. Filby's Successor, indicating his intention to maintain Filby's corporate tradition of importing and selling navigational instruments. An entrepreneur in his own right, Plath took advantage of Germany's burgeoning inyustrial revolution to develop new methods by which sextants could be produced more rapidly without sacrificing quality.

   Image Credit: Weens & Palth

Today, C. Plath sextants are considered second to none by most navigators, and many sailors look forward to the day when they will own one. Unfortunately, three years ago, C. Plath stopped sextant production altogether. Even as a merchant of navigational goods, I was not greatly concerned about their fading rapidly into history, having been told the company still had several units in their warehouse.

However, I learned recently that Annapolis, Md.-based Weems & Plath had purchased all the C. Plath sextants left in Germany — a total of 16 units! That's not sixteen hundred, or even 16 dozen. It is just plain 16. One could speculate as to how long it might be until production would resume. After all, there would always be some need for such fine, low-tech instruments — right? Apparently the folks at Weems & Plath thought so; they offered to purchase the molds. However, it was not to be, and two years ago the molds were destroyed.

With the ever-diminishing size and cost of GPS devices, we are assured that the sextant market will never again enjoy the vitality of its youth. Thus, these words are not meant to bemoan the passing of a legend, but rather to serve as a two-minute warning to those who have always wanted a new C. Plath sextant but have been content to hold off plans for another day. There may never be another day for such finely crafted sextants. As of press time in mid-March, there were just four left.

William J. Cook