Matthew Berge 5 draw, late Ramsden


This is a time warp telescope. The design is of the type you might expect to see from Troughton and Simms, or Negretti and Zambra, or Dollond, around the turn of the Century – that is, going into the 20th Century, around 1900. What makes this one really unusual, is that it dates from the end of the 19th Century, around 1800, when the majority of telescopes, if of this size, were of the long wooden barrel design with a single draw. If they were three or four draw brass units, they were not as big, i.e. they were smaller in diameter and shorter (see the examples quoted on this site from Jesse Ramsden).

DSC00213aWhat makes this one different is that it comes from “Berge, late Ramsden”. Jesse Ramsden was arguably the best telescope maker in the 18th Century, and while he did not invent the Dollond patented dual element objective lens, he did have enough common sense to marry Peter Dollond’s sister, Sarah, so presumably had a good relationship with Peter. While Ramsden worked in the period 1760-1800, Matthew Berge worked for him during that time, not as an apprentice but as a skilled employee, and became his natural successor: when Ramsden retired to Brighton due to ill health, Berge ran the business. When Ramsden died, in 1800 Berge took over, styling himself as “Berge, Late Ramsden”. He worked under his own name from 1802 to 1817, in London, at 199 Piccadilly, so possibly the transition period 1800-1802 was a period where he might have styled himself as ‘Berge, late Ramsden’, but this is just a guess at a narrowed time zone.

What makes this telescope really different?

It is the care and thought behind the engineering design. Added on top of a five draw construction, each 6” long, which was very advanced for the time. Each draw has an overlap and mounting sleeve to the larger one behind of about 2”, which gives the draws stability, holding the optical axis solid. This is also helped by the small differences in diameters of the draws. The only failure is in the first draw, where there is some play evident, mainly because the diameter difference is larger to allow the lens assembly to be screwed in with a knurled ring at the end, obviously the knurled ring diameter could have been bigger.

DSC00216aThen each draw has an air eject hole, to equalise pressure when closing or opening the scope. Other telescopes have done this, but this telescope in addition has a location arrow that enables each draw to be positioned consistently in the original orientation when the scope is opened, just in case there is a difference when the lenses are rotated with respect to one another. These marks are visible on the photo here.


The telescope is very long – you can’t hold the wood when looking through it, the stretch is too far. So it needs a ship’s rigging to hold it in place maybe. But also this might explain why the wooden barrel is relatively bashed about: the wood is only around 4mm thick, and in restoring it to operation there were about 5 or 6 longitudinal splits that had to be glued back together. The wood is also very brittle, after 200 years! The objective assembly has been pulled out of the wooden barrel, by damage or dropping it, several times, and I have yet to drill new holes for the grub screws.

What’s missing? What was it used for?

The telescope has an eyepiece flap cover, but no objective lens cap. It is designed to take the latter, but it has obviously got lost. Probably over the side of a ship. It was probably intended for high magnification, long range use on a ship at sea: it is too heavy and long for use on a country estate, or on a horse, in the cavalry. It cannot focus on relatively close objects, which would need the eyepiece pulled back further than it can travel, so would not appeal to a man on a country estate looking at birds or foxes etc. There are no owner’s marks to give any clues as to who used it.

A different view on the telescope and its modern associations is given on the other story about iPad lenses, see

Where did it come from?

DSC00215aIt came from an Ebay auction, but I don’t really remember how long ago and for how much. Maybe it was in 2012, and maybe it cost £120-150, because that is about my normal limit – obviously no-one else saw it on Ebay or I would not have won it. The diameter is 2.125”, and overall length 42” open, 10.25” closed. I have numbered it as #203. It was bought because it is a really big scope, by a really good maker, in good condition.

It has two style characteristics of late 1700/early 1800 telescopes: (1) a flat eyepiece construction, and (2) the engraving is on the right hand side of the first draw, ie, the B of Berge is closest to the eyepiece end. This changed in 1810-1820 latest.

I consider it unique for its time, in size, magnification, and quality, plus it is by a good maker who did not produce that many telescopes – so it is not easy to put a value on it! I have another Berge, which is conventional single draw wooden design, and cannot recollect seeing another with his name on, on offer on Ebay. [Note added 2017: As the stock list shows, I have now seen several others on Ebay over the past three years, and bought three of them!]

Renovation involved polishing the brass, gluing up the cracked barrel, and also reseating the five grub screws in the brass objective  assembly, which had all been pushed out of the wood. When screwed down, in fact, the draw nearest the barrel actually hits these grub screws, pushing them out of the mahogany. Just a slight hiccup there….

This telescope almost poses more questions than it answers! But it is really beautiful, and easy to use, despite the length!

Accession Number #203.


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