This is a telescope referred to me by a correspondent in Vienna, Austria, to whom it was given as a birthday present from a friend. The background history was that it belonged to the friend’s Grandfather, but it had not been used for at least 50 years.
The Grandfather had travelled frequently from London, where he lived, to South Africa, where he had had a business in Pretoria. This takes the ownership back to maybe the late 1800s, 1880-1900, so not quite as far back as when the telescope was made. After cleaning for 5 hours, using Brasso equivalent on the brass, and cream on the leather covering, this beautiful telescope emerged, with the name Ramsden, London, engraved on the first draw.
Quite reasonably the question arose as to whether this was indeed from Ramsden, who died in 1800, so he asked for a review of the design to see if it was genuine. Some of the extensive photos supplied of the unit are shown here.
Ramsden and small telescopes
Ramsden made 3-draw telescopes, and even one example of a 4-draw was presented on EBay recently. If this 8-draw multi-draw scope is genuinely a Ramsden it will be one of the earliest multi-draws produced. For a Dollond or any other maker from that time, it would be difficult to prove that it pre-dates 1800, as many of them continued trading using the same names well into the 1800s. The question is as to whether there was the capability available in the brass tube industry to draw tubes of the many diameters needed to make such a unit, back in the 1790s.
The second question would be as to whether there might be a demand – nowadays we would say a market – for such a design, when many of the scopes were used on-board ships. There, on board, there was plenty of space, and the small (pocket?) size (when collapsed) would not be needed. Ramsden, and Berge who followed him, also served the market for the country gentleman, who wanted a smaller, easy to carry telescope: see the “Gentleman’s silver telescope” on this website, and the Ramsden 3-draw units. There was also a market with cavalry officers, who needed units they could easily either carry in a small leather tube, or pack onto a horse. Watkins produced such scopes, as we see in the story about Captain Gerrard on this site, who used it later in the C19th, or also see the Bianchi 3-draw scope used by Lt Rolfe in the Peninsular War (1807). So it seems the demand would have been there.
The details of the design are just what would be expected from Ramsden, and are very high quality: I would say beautiful but that would make it subjective. The connectors between the draws are built with the threads recessed into the receiving draw by around an inch, and with a shoulder under the end of the receiving draw tube, to increase/improve the rigidity of the optical axis of the scope. The thread length used is also longer than average. This approach is also used on the examples of multi-draw telescopes produced (later) by Cary, Abraham, Cox and Carpenter, that I have in my own collection. It was not used on any of the 3 or 4-draw telescopes produced by Ramsden or Berge that I have seen.
The internal lens cartridges and lens mounts are well constructed, and all the threads on this example are easily unscrewed: even the objective lens pair and its mounting. It has an objective lens cap, for protection, but no sunshade: this is similar to the other designs of smaller scopes, and the multi-draws quoted above.
The Ramsden signature is on the first draw, with the letters starting at the objective end of the scope, which might indicate a later build date, around 1890-1900, as earlier the lettering might have been reversed (ie written on the other side of the draw): the Ramsden and Berge telescopes I have studied have the signature in the same orientation as this one, so are all presumed later models.
The knurling on the connectors – which can be used as hand-holds to extend the draws, but the wider diameter is also needed so that the draws are not pushed into the next larger tube – is very well defined, not showing any bashes or dings: indeed the whole scope is remarkably free from dings. In the photo the knurling looks quite sizeable, but remember this is a relatively small diameter scope.
The photos above show the objective lens pair and mount components.
The barrel is brass, covered with black leather. When closed the telescope is only 15cms long (approx. 6”), but once fully opened the total length is 73cms (nearly 29”), giving a high magnification capability. The quality of the image, and the magnification, is quoted as very good.
The Hiccup on the 4th draw?
My colleague who has this telescope considers the 4th draw to be different in construction, but I regret I can’t understand what function the difference might have, or whether it is real. There is a separate photo of this draw, it is possibly a shorter length, reduced by 12-15mm at least, with a separate (mounting?) ring on the end of the connector. It might be that this element (draw) had a problem in production, and the extra ring was needed to ensure the correct mounting position/alignment of the tubes? Or did it just reduce the full extended length to make the focus easier to locate?
Questions or Comments?
If you have any comments that might help our study of this telescope these would be welcomed. It is suggested that this is one of the first and earliest brass 8-draw or multi-draw designs of telescope, produced by Ramsden in the late 1790s!
Subsequent correspondence has been fairly sceptical, from the point of view of the multi-draw design and tube availability not dating back to the 1790s. However one significant feature that I missed is the shaping of the eyepiece. This triangular style is not a shape that was used in the 1790s, when they were flat sided, or bell shaped. One comment was that this was more likely to be a French in design, from the late 1800s.
I would think the only further test (so far not possible) would be to check the optical quality of the scope, to see whether this aspect aspires to the normal high standard from Ramsden.