Watkins & Hill “Customs” scope

This telescope has all the features that you would seek for in a vintage instrument. Apart from that it is a classic design of three draw, mahogany barrel telescope, medium sized at 23” long extended, and complete with leather case – and it works well.

The first major good feature is that the maker is engraved on the first draw as Watkins & Hill, located at 5 Charing Cross, London – with the engraving being “Crofs”, in the old style of script. This Francis Watkins was the grandson of the Francis Watkins who partnered with John Dollond in taking out the original patent on the achromatic doublet, and indeed his Grandfather had run his business from these same premises, at 5 Charing Cross. In partnership with William Hill they operated from 1822 until 1856, when the business was taken over by the Elliott Brothers.

There is another engraving on the first draw, and also on the brass sleeve at the end of the wooden barrel, which is “CUSTOMS 1827”. Not only does this tell us that the telescope was made in 1827, it does indicate that it was bought by the Customs authorities for issue to their officials, presumably for use in ports or lookout towers. So just this engraving confirms the date and the first use made of the telescope.

Smaller features

The telescope has some further interesting features, first all the screws into the wooden barrel are the original screws, very neat and flush with the brass sleeves. Second the first draw has a mark around the brass to indicate the focal point for distance viewing, to assist the different users. Finally, as an antique it is good that all the screw threads run freely, so the lenses are easy to clean. The exception to this is that one of the lenses in the second cartridge, at the end of the first draw, seems to be cross threaded, and is not going to move. A possible reason for this is that while all the draws are labelled with an assembly ID of “II”, this cartridge is labelled “VI”, so possibly this has been accidentally swapped from another telescope, during a Customs cleaning session. Nevertheless the assembly works fine.

When closed the scope is 7.5” long, and it is 1.5” OD. The slider that would close the eyepiece has been removed. The mahogany of the wooden barrel is still well polished, and has a lovely colour.

Recent history

Bought on Ebay in 2017, this scope was offered earlier on Ebay but the buyer failed to pay up. On the second round I managed to win the scope – at over 20% more than the previous winning bid! It came from the estate of an antiques dealer in Nairn, Scotland, and he had owned it for at least 30 years. So possibly the scope was used by the Customs in Scotland somewhere!

Watkins & Hill

This firm was a well established supplier of good quality telescopes, and worked “By Appointment to” the Dukes of York and Clarence in the early 1800s. They were also suppliers to the East India Company and to London University. At some time they  worked in co-operation with Negretti & Zambra, according to Gloria Clifton.

DSC05556

Telescope with the possibly original case

Accession number 314, bought October 2017.

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