This collection evolved from my early interest in old scientific equipment. Over the years, I have collected a few old chemical balances, and other odds and ends, but with no real direction. One of my better cherry wood chemical pan balances came from Princeton University where I did post doctoral studies. The balance was in the back of a pickup truck headed for the local trash dump along with about 20 other nice balances – I wish I would have had the foresight to say yes to all rather than just one! Later, my wife and I had the good fortune to spend a sabbatical year abroad at Cambridge University, Cambridge, England during 1986-87. I was a visiting fellow commoner at Trinity College and spent some of my spare time in The Whipple Museum of the History of Science. These visits to the Whipple Museum must have stirred this quasidormant desire, which some fifteen years later has emerged to become a rather serious affliction of collecting, documenting, and restoring historical telescopes.
In the spring of 2001, I became involved restoring telescopes and writing descriptions for Don Yeier, President of Yeier Optics, Candor, NY, as he began to assemble and document instruments for his 2001 Premier Scientific Instrument Auction. Don, never to miss a sales opportunity, talked me into buying an important telescope he just happened to have, Dr. Henry Paul’s 4-inch Bardou and Son [author of Telescopes For Skygazing, Third Edition 1966]. In the beginning, I did not know whether I was buying for resale, i.e., as a trader/dealer or whether I was a collector and restorer? Since I had no desire to sell any of my telescopes and enjoyed restoration, I decided I must be a collector. Over time I have learned much from the literature and, in particular, from Mr. Robert Ariail’s advice on restoration both written and verbal. As a result, I believe, I have gained an appreciation for quality, both apparent and restorable. With respect to quality and value, I have limited my acquisitions, where possible, to instruments signed by their makers. If an instrument is not signed, it was purchased for its uniqueness and/or because I was pretty sure I knew its maker. Only five telescopes out of the 111 in this collection are by makers who remain unknown.
I also believe in completeness and functionality where possible. Therefore, I have tried to acquire telescopes with as many accessories as possible. Almost all of my telescopes are functional both mechanically and optically, albeit some with dim “light”. I have adapted a few same-period accessories to some of the telescopes (e.g. filar micrometers). I have re-glued and re-felted more storage cases than I care to think about, and gently buffed more brass than perhaps an 18th century trumpet maker, but I still enjoy carefully restoring, adapting and repairing an old telescope when required. Restoration is a perplexing topic, and whether or not to restore even more so. Many collectors in the United States prefer bright shiny brass while the more historical European collector will often prefer no restoration. Restoration was only initiated within this collection to prevent further deterioration of the telescope or to bring it back to near original functionality and beauty without affecting originality where possible.
Originally, my goal was to collect only refractor telescopes on wooden tripods. I did not want to deal with the heavy cast iron piers and did not believe “spyglasses” were significant. Besides, is there anything more beautiful than a large gleaming brass refracting telescope mounted on a beautiful mahogany tripod? But I drifted off into important period library or tabletop refractors and then reflectors, and of course, a plethora of spyglasses, or hand-held refractors, a few binoculars, and three surveyor’s instruments. This final wide range assembly of telescopic instruments does indeed provide comprehensive valuable snapshots over time of the magnificent craftsmanship of the old masters and their very able apprentices. Associated with antique telescope collecting is the need to establish quality provenance where possible. Old manufacturers' catalogs are important, as are books and periodicals that refer to the instruments of that period in history. Good historical books on telescopes are nearly as rare as a stand-alone tripod for a particular telescope. I have found a limited few, which are listed in the References. There are a wealth of websites for references to old telescope makers and for other historical information. I do wish to draw the readers' attention to the extensive and a most important collection of world-class telescopes at South Carolina University, The Robert B. Ariail Historical Astronomy Collection in the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library at http://library.sc.edu/ariail/.
The purpose of this publication is to document and preserve for posterity with descriptive text and digital color photography the quality and beauty of a large number of special old telescopes, some of which are quite rare, and nearly all of which are of museum quality. A digital photographic record is not new by any means, but combined with descriptive documentation for this particular collection of 111 telescopic instruments made by 70 different instrument makers working in 8 different countries over parts of 5 centuries seemed like a worthwhile project. It has also been of great value to me in understanding and appreciating the quality and diversity of my collection. I hope that this catalogue will serve as an important reference for interested collectors, for historians of scientific instruments, and for other scientific instruments enthusiasts to access, to study, and to enjoy the masterpieces of some great artisans from the past.
This collection provides a relatively small cross-section of telescope size from roughly 1-cm to 15-cm optical diameters (a 225-fold in light gathering ability). However, the telescope evolution over the last four centuries has moved to larger and larger diameters and huge systems. For the general public, it all started with Galileo's handheld refracting spyglass. In reality it began with Hans Lipperhey in Holland in 1608. See Yuri Putrunin's nice account of Lipperhey's discovery in his publication "The First Telescope" at http://telescopehistory.wordpress.com/. As with many discoveries, hard beginnings are sometimes hard to establish, even Lipperhey had contemporary competitors in Holland.
It then progressed to much larger diameter refractors that were mounted on huge 100-foot long scaffolding and followed by large reflectors with speculum metal mirrors that weighed more than a ton (e.g., The Great Melbourne Telescope's mirror was 4 ft. in diameter x 4.5-inches in thickness and with its box weighed over 3600 lbs,) to glass mirrors for the 200-inch diameter glass honey-combed Palomar reflector, to Keck's 10-meter adaptive optics mirrors, and now to intercontinental arrays. Visible photon optics occupies only a very small range of wavelengths available, albeit quite an important range of wavelengths, in the arsenal of astronomical telescopes that now include gamma ray spectroscopy to radio astronomy for exploring the known and unknown universe.
My wife and I had the unique privilege and exhilarating experience of walking out on the catwalk to the 900-ton suspended antenna platform, and looking down 500 feet below to the 1000-ft diameter spherical mirror at Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico. Much insight awaits future discoveries as we search for and enjoy the extent of God's magnificence in the vastness of outer space. I have been privileged to have had microscopic glimpses of this magnificence in my limited exploration of inner space, i.e., nanotechnology.
So please, I invite you to “stroll” leisurely from gallery to gallery through this virtual museum of historical telescopes. I hope that in so doing, you will garner some of the enjoyment that I have had in the hunt for these fine instruments and in preparing the telescopes for inclusion in this collection. In some cases I share some personal experiences and information revealed in the acquisition, which augment and provide a little "flavor" to the technical aspects of the telescope. Most importantly, I hope you gain an appreciation for the craftsmanship of the old masters and their able apprentices. They accomplished with modest technology what we have difficulty reproducing with today’s advanced technology. Have any of you collectors/restorers out there found a machinist that can reproduce a 1700s wire knurling? Finally, as stated above, I hope the site can serve as a useful resource to collectors and scientific instrument historians. Please enjoy and appreciate the legacy of all the fine craftsmanship that is represented within this collection over five centuries of progress.