In the first few years of collecting, there were one or two telescopes in each category that were easy choices for “best of gallery” and a couple telescopes were readily identified as “best of collection”. However, with the addition of many more high quality telescopes the choices are no longer easy. The choices are more subjective and in terms of value, even then, the selection has become more difficult. I will leave it to the reader to make his or her own selections. In many respects the collection is a display of art forms as well as optical and mechanical design produced by the old masters.
The number of collection acquisitions over time resolved itself to be a double-hump curve where good intention intervened briefly in 2004 with a rapid decrease in the number of acquisitions. It is not clear what might have ensued without this momentary loss of acquisition momentum - perhaps a calamitous exponential growth to this day? Even so, a serious relapse to increased telescope collecting did reemerge in 2005. Finally in 2006, the reality of the magnitude of the investment and the seriousness of the addiction finally set in, along with a better perspective of the restoration that would be required. Hence, the acquisitions began to slow substantially. It would appear that by 2008 the beginning of the end was in sight, but it took a couple of more years to bring the collection acquisitions to a close, but not before I picked up a rare Ramsden reflector. I am now operating under newly formulated Antique Telescopes Anonymous guidelines imposed by Mrs. Wolf.
I have learned at least two important, but unrelated, facts while collecting telescopes. To my knowledge and experience, I have yet to meet or deal with a dishonest telescope seller (perhaps one or two a bit shady?). I am sure there are some out there, but I have been most fortunate not to come across one. I think perhaps this speaks to the character of those who appreciate and respect old scientific treasures and workmanship. Secondly, I have found that without exception whether it is a Dollond, a Ross or an Utzscheider und Fraunhofer handheld telescope – if it is signed on the second draw, it is a pancratic telescope, i.e., a variable magnification eyepiece, first invented by Dr. Kitchiner and passed on to the Dollond dynasty for commercialization.
This collection of one hundred eleven telescopes is presented in eight galleries, but before we come to the details of the collection presentation, I wish to provide a few highlights of the collection. About 30% of the telescopes come from the 1700s, 56% come from the 1800s and only 13% come from the 1900s; there are 36 floor-standing instruments, 37 tabletop telescopes, and 38 handheld telescopes (including binoculars). About 70% of the floor-standing telescopes have finders, and about 30% have wood (mahogany or walnut, solid and/or veneer) optical tubes, of these 63% are tapered. Finally, 47% of the floor-standing telescopes have slow-motion manually controlled mountings either altazimuth or equatorial, while 38% of the library or tabletop telescopes have slow motion controls.
The galleries are presented by type of telescope. Within each gallery the instruments are presented in chronological order of acquisition. This provides a random sequence and amplifies the diversity of the collection rather than grouping by maker or some other identifier. Each gallery begins with a mosaic or collage photo of the telescopes within that gallery followed by a brief introduction followed by a 7-column table of information about the telescopes with their collection identification number (ID) cross-referenced with the name of the maker as signed or struck on each telescope, the estimated date of manufacture, the diameter of the objective lens for refractors or the diameter of the primary mirror for reflectors, tube length, whether or not a finder, tube material and mount type. Signatures shown in all of the tables are as close to the originals signatures as the font selection on my computer permitted. Actual signage can be viewed in the photographs that accompany the descriptions of each telescope. Within each gallery each telescope is presented on a single page. The “Directory of British Scientific Instrument Makers 1550-1851” by Gloria Clifton was used to establish approximate dates of British made instruments. Twelve 3-ring notebooks contain most of the rough documentation for the collection and require about 3 feet of lateral shelf space.