Spencer & Co Victorian telescope

dscn4875A well-known name in London telescope making at the end of the C18 was the partnership of Spencer, Browning & Rust, based in Wapping, near the Pool of London. They started working together from 1784, but the original founders had all died by 1819, and their respective successors continued in business, effectively separately. Spencer, Browning & Rust operated from 66 High Street, (Hermitage Bridge) in Wapping.

William Spencer, one of these founders, retired in 1815, and died in 1816: his successor, possibly one of his sons, who also may have been called William, continued in the business, and from around 1816 to maybe 1820 operated under the name “Spencer & Co”. There were so many people named ‘William Spencer’ in this time that the relationships are confusing: one of them had been apprenticed to Samuel Browning in 1801, so possibly he took over in 1815 – and was said to have continued working (under his own name) until 1839. Another partnership, Spencer, Browning & Co, was quoted to have started work at #66 in 1840, they are also quoted to have used the alternate name of Spencer & Co: the company was later known as Browning & Co.

The telescope

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This telescope is a single draw, oak-barrelled model, nearly 2.5” diameter at the objective: closed it is 19” long, and open it is 34” long. The large diameter draw tube splits in the middle to give access to the second cartridge of lenses, and at the eyepiece itself there is another cartridge around 2” long.

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The engraving on the drawtube says “Spencer & Co, London, Day or Night”.

This design appearance is more typical of early Victorian fashion, than the 1820 Georgian period. It is therefore considered to date from around 1840, rather than 1820. Another story on this website features a more advanced design of Spencer, Browning & Co telescope, which came from the wreck of the ‘Eagle’.

Restoration history

The telescope was acquired on Ebay, for repair, from a reseller in Bexhill-on-Sea, in March 2016. Only four of the original five lenses were present, and unusually it was the first eyepiece lens, along with the eyepiece itself, that was missing. The eyepiece lens and assembly that screws into and holds the first lens cartridge in place was replaced by a gilded eyepiece that came from an apparently US built telescope acquired in 2001, a four draw unit made by the Criterion Co of Hartford, Connecticut. This latter one was found on a Yahoo auction site, and was shipped from North Carolina.

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The rather ugly steel screws previously used to hold the brass end fittings to the wooden barrel were replaced with more modern brass screws: The diameter of the brass shoulders used suggests that the telescope was designed to have these shoulders fitting over the OD of the barrel – but it was obviously felt to be too tight to fit, and the barrel has been turned down at the ends, making a poor fit on the brass shoulders.

Subsequently the barrel length has been reduced by 0.25″ at each end, allowing both shoulders to extend further onto the barrel, and fit smoothly over the wider OD of the main barrel section. This actually shows the versatility of these wooden barreled designs for naval use, they could be repaired or modified by a ship’s carpenter, repositioning the brass fittings as needed.

Hermitage Bridge

The map of London in 1805, shown at Chawton House in Hampshire, shows Hermitage Bridge crossing Hermitage Dock on the North bank of the Thames, just East of the Tower of London. I have not found High Street as yet.

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Accession Number #271

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