Andy Macnab’s Ross telescope

I was quite surprised to find Andy Macnab’s telescope in an antiques saleroom: this was way back in 1995, in Beacon Marine Antiques, in Swanwick, near Hamble, UK. In fact the saleroom was in a barge, called the ”Bernadette de Lourdes”, moored on the Hamble River near Moody’s boatyard.


The telescope was made by Ross, and is engraved “Ross, London” and gives the serial Number 58140. I don’t know whether there is any reference book to find more data about these Ross serial numbers, maybe someone can tell me? Ross became part of Avimo in Taunton in 1975. It looks and feels like a 1930s built telescope. The feel is also just right, it’s relatively small, solid, easy to focus, light and easy to carry.




It is a two draw brass telescope, 24” long when extended, 10.5” closed, nearly 1.75” diameter. The barrel has a stitched leather covering, with a sunshade, and the objective lens cap has two holes to allow it to be retained with a leather thong or cord. The eyepiece has a sliding shutter to cover the lens. Inside, the lens cartridges are well engineered, and conventional. Bothe sliders are lined with felt, to give a very tight joint: the air inside is able to escape through an air exhaust hole under the sunshade.


The telescope came with its own leather case, which carries the initials AJM for AJ Macnab.

A J Macnab, the owner



Well, I wonder who AJ Macnab was? At least we know he was the owner, probably the first owner, as the telescope is engraved “A.J.Macnab, From A & J”. Presumably A & J were his parents, and it is reasonable to postulate that this was a gift maybe when AJM left home to join either his first ship or his first Regiment.

I have not found him as yet. It is not really likely that this was Andy McNab, the well-known author of “Bravo Two Zero”, and other stories about a Sargeant in the SAS in the Gulf War, as first this was just a pen-name, second, if he had this telescope when he joined the Army in 1930, he would have been about 80 years old in the Gulf War, and thirdly, he spelled his name in a different way! Plus if he was in the SAS, he surely would not have used a bright polished brass telescope when trying to hide in the desert sand!


Current use

This telescope has been one of the first choice units for me to take away on holiday, or on any leisure trip, for the past twenty years – usually accompanied by the Carpenter multi-draw, which fits better into an anorak pocket. It has also been to lots of air displays and events. It was acquired in 1995, and is Accession number 26.


Not a telescope I am going to part with!

N&B Petrel 1960: where it all started!


When I was 13/14, we moved home back to Leeds, and my bedroom, at 53 Cookridge Lane, overlooked Yeadon aerodrome – or at least it was on the top of the next hill. This started me off as an aeroplane spotter, particularly as the approach to the main runway at the time, runway 28, came straight past our house.

I tried using my Dad’s ex-Army binoculars, but could not get on with those, so decided I needed a telescope, to identify any interesting aeroplane (mainly light aircraft) visitors. My favourite photographic shop in Leeds was Beckett’s in “The Headrow”: I think we went there: and without much other choice I bought this N&B “Petrel”, a pancratic x25 – x40 aluminium bodied telescope. I honestly don’t know how much it cost, but when I worked full time at the airport five years later, in the holidays, I earned an enormous wage every week, of £12/10/0: to me that was a fortune, so it could have cost as ‘little’ as that!


Long range spying

Google maps are now able to tell me that it was 1.75 miles, or 9000 feet, from my bedroom window to the main apron at Yeadon: at x40 trying to use the scope hand-held was impossible, even if the aircraft was parked on this apron. But the small window with hinges at the top could wedge the scope while it was pointing in the right direction: and standing on a little chair I could get my eye up at the other end. Given reasonable climatic conditions, and no heat haze from the airport tarmac, I could just read the registrations on the airliners, like the BKS Dakotas and similar: you could certainly read the airline names. So, if when you come home from school there is something interesting sitting there, the procedure was to jump on a bike and cycle the 5 miles or so to the airport – a lot further than the crows or aeroplanes would have to fly!

Spotting light aircraft ‘on approach’!

The next problem with a narrow angle/field of view of a telescope was finding the aeroplane in the sky – something that had caused a problem with Dad’s binoculars too. But with a telescope and a Meccano set the problem was soon solved. I used my right eye to look thru the telescope, so the left eye was still available and sort of looking in the same direction. The simple instructions are:

Strap a Meccano right angle bracket to a rubber/eraser (the thing you use to remove unwanted pencil marks) using elastic bands, align the Meccano bracket in the same plane as your eyes, and use the left eye to point the telescope so that the aeroplane is in the hole at the end of the Meccano strip – ‘hey presto!’ the aeroplane appears thru the scope view in the right eye. After training your brain/eyes for a while, they work independently, and later, you can throw away the Meccano, as the left eye knows where to put the end of the scope.


dscn4906The  pictures show the nearest I can reproduce to the original location system these days: I lost the Meccano set when my parents moved house and I was at University – by the way, if you live at 53 Cookridge Lane, you’ll find it by crawling under the floor of the lounge!

The telescope

Nowadays I know that N&B Ltd stands for Newbold and Bulford. The scope is black anodised aluminium – which on occasions got very hot sitting on the bedroom windowsill, with two sections extended and focussed, ready for action. After 60 years the anodising has worn off the main draw: there are three draws in all, one for magnification and the second for the focus, with a knurled finger grip. Closed it is just over 12”, open fully it is 28”: the objective is 1.5” OD. The sliders are all felt covered, to keep them tight. While the knurled ring releases the first draw, the second and third draws have to be removed thru the objective end.


Many years ago I replaced the plastic type cover on the barrel with some green leather. It was then that I started in a quest to find a decently built brass telescope, to replace this well used unit – but mainly well used at airports and on aeroplanes! You can find all my aeroplane pictures from the 1960s era in the FlickR albums on

Accession Number had to be #0 (zero).

Concorde Memorial Galiled (sic) Telescope, 2003


This is quite an effective, but modern telescope, produced as a corporate gift and specially engraved by some trading house to be a tribute in memory of the Concorde airliner. It is therefore engraved with the Concorde name in the BA logo form, and etched with a Concorde silhouette.

dscn4882Just in case you thought this was a well-engineered British product, that myth is dispelled as soon as you see the title on the box is “Galiled Telescope”, so maybe it was made in space by Martians, or maybe Chinese people, who cannot spell Galileo. Inside it claims to be designed exclusively as part of the British Airways Concorde Collection, to celebrate 27 years of commercial supersonic flight. However it is a very highly polished, chrome-plated brass, with what appear to be two plastic lens cartridges in conventional positions in the first draw. Plus the focal action is a combination of pull out to full length, and then twist to gradually adjust into focus, because the first draw has some sort of preferred spiral/screw thread action (which can be over-ruled by a definite push intended to close the draw.


On the box and on the other side of the objective ring to the Concorde name logo it states the magnification x field as 25x 30mm.


The scope is a three draw, 5.5” when closed, and 13” when open fully, The objective is a fairly standard doublet: the third draw unscrews from the main barrel conventionally, and the mounting slider is retained by a plastic end cap: it is removed over the eyepiece. The slider itself is a smooth run along the draw, since the mount has a plastic liner. Even the inside surface of the barrel is chrome plated and highly polished.

What I have not managed to do is dismantle the first and second draws to get at the second lens cartridge! Modern stuff is not as straightforward in assembly as Victorian models!

Extending the market

Despite the exclusive design claim, I have also seen variants of this scope offered on Ebay, not just with a Concorde logo and tribute, but also with a version offering a tribute to the Hubble space telescope. This one was new, and cost about £48, in 2005, which was then a fairly standard price.


The manufacturer’s model number is quoted as LP-888, with the BA Warehouse Code of OP, and Product Code 1402. There has been another offered on Ebay recently labelled as made by Opticron. My Accession Number was #108.

Using a telescope – with Glaucoma

I have no history of glaucoma, none in the family, and was initially, maybe 10 years ago, treated with drops to reduce my eye pressure, picked up in eye tests as being too high. This continued for many years, with more drops, stronger drops, but eventually the field tests showed that I was losing vision in the lower two quadrants of both eyes, initially the left lower quadrant in one, and the right in the other, so I did not lose any overall vision when using both eyes.

I eventually changed hospitals as the specialists in the first were just rubbing their heads, giving more eye drops, and sending me away for another 12 months – they never mentioned Glaucoma: but they lost my notes continually, so started again twice and did not treat the condition seriously. In the second Hospital I was told I had severe open angle Glaucoma, told to advise the DVLA, and take a driving fields test at an opticians – that led to my car driving licence being withdrawn.

The driving field test does not really demonstrate to you how badly your vision is affected. When I can see the effect of the combined blind spots, just under my eye line, it is when talking to someone at normal face to face distance, maybe 2 feet, when if I look into their eyes I can’t see their lips moving: in fact I can’t see their mouth at all. It’s also surprising how a significant part of effective hearing relies on also observing the lip movement.

After 3-4 years at the next Hospital I had moved up the priority list, having been using two different drops to try to reduce the eye pressure – ineffectively. So I reached the end of a waiting list for an operation called a Trabulectomy.

A Trabulectomy

It’s a frightening operation, more from the point of view of your own worries and not for any pain. The eye is immobilised, and anaesthetised, and my surgeon was very skilled. Nevertheless I would have liked some form of tranquiliser into the line they put into a vein in the back of my hand. Maybe I was so paralysed by fear, they thought I was calm. The objective is to put a slit into the eyeball, to allow the internal fluid to drain out through this slit, rather than through the normal route, which has probably furred up. (Maybe we should have bought a better water softener?) From the instrument engineer’s point of view, it’s a drain hole like a safety valve, an over-pressure valve, to let fluid out when the pressure gets too high. Say at over 20mm Mercury, to reduce the normal eye pressure – to the desirable level of 12-15mm Mercury.

The drops used after the operation are of two types: one seems to be an antibiotic, to stop germs getting inside; the other, a corticosteroid, is to ‘stop inflammation and swelling’. This also delays the healing process, so allowing the slit put in the eye to settle down without the edges healing together across the slit, keeping a drain slot open once the eye recovers. So the drop delivery immediately after the operation controls the slot width/gap, and the objective is to make this the right size to suit your condition – – and so it takes some tweaking. Hence the frequent return trips to the specialist to see what is happening.

What happens next?

Now I have one eye operated on, getting better after about three weeks, hopefully the pressure is going to be lower. I am now thinking about the next eye needing the same operation, but next time I’ll ask for something to tranquilise me. It’s a fairly long operation, about half an hour, with them working on the eye and you just lying there, so you can get a bit worried.

After effects are interesting. I’m an optical/telescope/photography guy, with a collection of over 200 telescopes, a few binoculars and other optical things: I’ve always worn glasses and could never bring myself to use contact lenses. I studied physics at University and specialised in wave theory, optics, refraction, etc. So I can see my own blind spots, know that the left eye (yet to be operated on) has a blind spot almost impinging on the centre line, to the right, such that I can check text reading backwards more easily than forwards, etc. Alternatively you can tip your head to the right so the line of text on the PC screen is angled above the line between the eyes.

Apparently the eye has a membrane over the outside surface: when the eye pressure is reduced, maybe this membrane does not shrink, like the outside of the eyeball does. So it is a little loose on the eye. The slot, that somehow in the operation they put in the actual eyeball, leaks fluid out as far as the inside this membrane (which somehow maybe they repair in the operation): it forms in a “bleb”, ie a bubble of fluid, like a lump, on the eye surface, and slowly disperses through the membrane. I think in the operation they inject something to form the basis of the ‘bleb’. Bleb is a real technical term.


But when like me you work on a PC, at night, with light radiated directly into your eye mostly, it appears that the folds or ripples in the surface of this membrane can appear to move across the pupil, and at certain angles the light is refracted into the eye, so you see occasional hair like white lines of light running across the field of vision. This presumably will stabilise/disappear as the membrane does shrink, and the eye diameter stops going up and down with pressure variations. I asked the Consultant about this, and he just commented that I was too observant. Trouble is, understanding what I could see, is what made me interested in optics to start with.

Just a final comment: how do you still use a telescope, with almost total blind spots in the lower two quadrants? I use them on aeroplanes, to see the registrations. These you read by almost taking a snapshot of a good sighting into the brain and processing it. The answer I thought was to use binoculars, but it’s not the same. The answer is that you have to use the top half of the eye view, the top two quadrants, for the snapshot, ie aim the telescope below the target of the registration, or whatever. Thank goodness for autofocus on digital cameras!

The future

If the eye pressure is reduced by the dual Trabulectomy, the damage will be arrested, and I will not lose any further vision. But what has been lost, is lost, as it is caused by pressure damage cutting the optic nerve where it leaves the eye: so until they can get little biotic nerve bridging robots to repair that break (and spinal chord breaks in people who have neck injuries), that area of vision will remain cut off. The technique is being developed, with the research on stem cells etc, but not that fast.

Maybe there will be a follow up blog later. But I have to work out whether this is a post that should be used on the “Insider” process control marketing blog, where I always promote the use of optical techniques for process analysis and control, or this Telescope Collector’s blog! The answer is both….

Update December 2016

The Summer was good, plenty of aeroplanes to spot: a bit frustrated I suppose – by lack of trying to use a telescope, in the fear that it would be bad – I called in at a camera shop and asked if they had any image stabilising binoculars. At least that would overcome the standard binocular jitter, but might help the glaucoma.

Came out with the only one in the shop, just traded in, second hand, Canon 10×30. Absolutely brilliant! Maybe not as high powered as my telescopes, but really stable, a lot more time available to snatch a registration when everything else is right. OK, still not converted, but they are the go to pair for fast spotting of overflying aircraft….

Much to my wife’s displeasure I still buy at least two new scopes a month, the older and more dilapidated the better, cos they are cheaper.

AA Radar Telescope from HMS Gloucester

DSCN2346This is a style of telescope that is not normally a collector’s item, because it’s pretty difficult (normally) to do anything with them. This telescope belongs to the categories of: military equipment, heavy and bullet proof, un-damageable, gun-sights and range-finders. But the history of this one is why it’s so interesting.

As described on Ebay it is a Gunsight Elbow Telescope AA Radar L6 A1, which was one of four such telescopes in service on HMS Gloucester, a Royal Navy Type 42 Destroyer. This was offered for sale when HMS Gloucester was decommissioned in Portsmouth in 2011. The wooden box which holds this scope identifies it as 6650-99-965-3364, and on the outside of the lid it is marked as belonging to the “Aft 909”, presumably the location and the ID of the radar antenna.

DSCN2348The telescope itself is painted a grey colour, and labelled as Telescope Elbow AA Radar L4 A1, with the (presumably NATO) number 6650-99-962-6007. It has a 2” / 50mm OD main tube, with an objective aperture of 18-19mm: at the other end of the 12.5” / 32cm barrel, the diameter increases to 60mm where there are mounting slots/grooves to attach it to the radar aerial. The eyepiece is on the side, at 90 degrees to the optical axis, as you might expect from an elbow telescope. Focus is via a knurled knob on the rear end of the main barrel. So far it has not been dismantled.

The view through the telescope is good, although it offers quite a wide field of view, and limited magnification, compared to any other telescope. In the centre of the view there is a square measurement grid, showing two squares of angle off the centre line of view, one marked 10’ and the other 20’. Presumably these markings are minutes of arc, where 60 minutes is one degree – this seems to work out OK in measuring the observed thickness of a lamp-post at a distance. The eyepiece has a soft rubber cover.

DSCN2351Also in the box is a separate push-on lens (Lens L1 A1, 6650-99-965-3365) to cover the objective, in a black housing, labelled “V.I.Y. for targets 25ft to 28ft”. It enables focussing the system on objects closer to the observer.

HMS Gloucester

The Destroyer HMS Gloucester was built by Vosper Thorneycroft in Southampton, and launched in November 1982: after commissioning in 1985 she served in the Royal Navy as D96, alongside the other 13 Type 42 Destroyers of this class. Two of these were lost in the South Atlantic, fighting to regain the Falklands – these were HMS Sheffield and HMS Coventry. After decommissioning, Gloucester was finally towed out of Portsmouth harbour on 22 September 2015, to be taken to a scrapyard in Turkey.

HMS Gloucester being towed to the Turkish scrapyard

HMS Gloucester towed to the Turkish scrapyard

HMS Gloucester achieved distinction in the First Gulf War, in 1991, serving with the Task Force in the Persian Gulf. A previous HMS Gloucester, the Light Cruiser launched in 1937 and eventually sunk in the Mediterranean in 1941, had earned the name “Fighting G”, after ‘heavy service’ in those early years of WW2. The nickname was earned by the later HMS Gloucester primarily from the coalition task force US partners in the Persian Gulf, after the downing of an Iraqi Silkworm missile by a Sea Dart missile.

The entry in Wikipedia gives a useful outline of her full naval career:



Gloucester served in the Gulf War in 1991 under the command of Commander (later Rear Admiral) Philip Wilcocks where her most notable action was the firing of a salvo shot of Sea Dart missiles to shoot an Iraqi Silkworm missile that was threatening the US battleship USS Missouri and allied minehunters; the first successful missile versus missile engagement at sea in combat by any Navy. The ship also survived attacks from two naval mines and conducted numerous boardings using her boarding party consisting of Royal Navy and Royal Marine personnel. The ship’s Lynx helicopter also engaged seven Iraqi warships. She spent the longest period upthreat of any coalition warship. As a result of her endeavours, her captain (Commander Philip Wilcocks) and flight commander (Lt Cdr David Livingstone) were decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross; the operations officer and flight observer were both mentioned in Despatches. After this service Gloucester was rebranded with her nickname of “The Fighting G”.

In August 2010, Gloucester also intercepted and arrested the yacht Tortuga in the Caribbean, which was attempting to smuggle £4million worth of cocaine. This was during HMS Gloucester’s voyage out to the Falkland Islands, where she was deployed from August 2010 to early 2011.

What was the purpose?

HMS Gloucester (

What is the function of a telescope on a modern (1985 vintage) radar antenna? If you know please tell me!

By the description the radar is an anti-aircraft radar, ie presumably controlling a missile battery to launch the missile with a lock onto the right target being selected for tracking by the radar. Whether the initial radar target acquisition is intended to be confirmed visually by the operator looking through the telescope, (putting the target inside the graticule, if that is the right word) is unknown, maybe someone can tell me, but it seems the most logical duty for an Elbow Telescope on top of an AA Radar.

HMS Edinburgh firing a Sea Dart missile ( Today (13-04-2012) HMS Edinburgh conducted the final Sea Dart Missile firing at the North Eastern Scottish range of Benbecula. The Ship fired five missiles, three single missiles and a two missile salvo at an Unmanned Drone target. This is the last time the 30 year old Missile system will be fired as it is due to be replaced by the new Sea Viper system fitted to the new Type 45 Destroyers.

HMS Edinburgh firing a Sea Dart missile (

The Sea Dart missile required a separate radar illumination of the target to lock-on, and be guided to the target: Sea Dart firings where the missile was launched unguided were not successful. HMS Sheffield tried to disrupt their fatal attack by Exocet missiles by launching an unguided Sea Dart. In the action in the Gulf over the SilkWorm missile attack, the USS Jarrett guided missile Frigate launched a close-in defense missile system, in auto-engagement mode, which then (unfortunately) locked onto the defensive chaff already launched by the Missouri, and missed the missile. The Sea Dart salvo launched by HMS Gloucester was already locked onto the Iranian missile, presumably by the pre-launch lock – maybe achieved with the help of one of these four Elbow telescope systems on board.

Telescope from HMS Temeraire…?


This is a classic design “Officer of the Watch” telescope, but it has no maker’s mark. Having said that, after a good deep clean it turns out to be an expensively presented telescope, with good quality silver plating on all metal surfaces. The name of the owner is engraved on the bezel at the eyepiece end of the barrel, and it is S.E. Forster, RN. So this is the only clue to the history, except that the style of the scope and the engraving looks like late Nineteenth Century.

Captain Stewart Evelyn Forster

From data given on an Auction site relating to a sale in 2009 of Commander Forster’s medals:

Internet Image 1

Stewart Evelyn Forster was born in Wellington, New Zealand in December 1866, and entered the Royal Navy in the training ship Britannia in July 1881, aged 15 years. He was present as a Midshipman in HMS Temeraire at the bombardment of Alexandria on 11 July 1882, and was awarded the medal relating to the Egypt and Sudan campaign 1882-89. He enjoyed varied service and advancement in the period leading up the Great War: whether he had the telescope on board Temeraire is dubious – maybe he only acquired it after being promoted to a higher rôle than Midshipman, but whether he was still with the Temeraire is not known.

Separate research documentation shows that Commander Forster, when King’s Harbour Master at Dover in 1911, was one of the original 25 men who founded the Dover Aero Club, with club flying grounds established on Whitfield Hill, about three miles out of Dover. [My personal interest was triggered by learning that another founder member was Rev GH Andrews, Chaplain to the Duke of York’s Royal Military School: my father was an infant at that school, as an orphan of a soldier, from around 1913. But also this implies that this Forster telescope was one of the first telescopes liable to have been used for looking at aircraft, at the Aero Club grounds – which is what it is being used for now, in 2015, over Hampshire].

Forster was placed on the Retired List as a Captain in October 1913. Quickly recalled in August 1914, Forster was awarded his 1914 Star in respect of services as a Divisional Naval Transport Officer at Calais, in which post he remained employed until removing to the Immingham base Wallington in March 1917, services that resulted in the award of his Belgian Order of Leopold (London Gazette 22 June 1917 refers), in addition to a mention in despatches (London Gazette 4 January 1917 refers). His final wartime appointment, from June 1918, was as Deputy Superintendent and King’s Harbour Master at Pembroke. His medals were sold with a file of research, which I would love to consult!

HMS Temeraire

The HMS Temeraire that served off Alexandria in 1882 was not the ship painted by JMW Turner! That was the “Fighting Temeraire”, a 98 gun second-rate launched in 1798, which became a prison ship, and the picture showed her being towed from Sheerness to Rotherhithe – to be broken up – in 1838. This ‘Temeraire‘ played a distinguished role in Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, after which she became known as the ‘Fighting Temeraire’.

HMS Temeraire (1876) was an iron-hulled screw-propelled ship launched in 1876. She carried two ‘Disappearing guns’ on board, which fired over a metal parapet and then swung down below the parapet for re-loading. She became a training ship and was renamed Indus II in 1904, Akbar in 1915, and was sold in 1921.

HMS Temeraire (1876) as depicted in Harper's Monthly Magazine, Feb 1886

HMS Temeraire (1876) as depicted in Harper’s Monthly Magazine, Feb 1886

There have been three ships of the same name over the years before 1798 and after 1904, and two shore establishments. The original Temeraire was captured from the French in 1759: the name means “Reckless”.

The telescope

DSCN1526DSCN1527As bought on Ebay, the telescope had seen better days. Overall length, closed, is 17.25”, and open focused is 23”: the largest diameter is just over 1.5”.

The metal parts looked very dull, on receipt, and the canvas covering seemed to have lost a layer of beading or similar around the edge of the canvas wrap.







After cleaning the metal came up as silver, with a real shine: there was a problem as to how to replace the canvas wrap economically, so it was covered with white material based tape. The result is reasonable, and maybe shows that the telescope looked “Top of the Range” when new. The tape used was adhesive backed, and very effective – see



The only question remaining, having packed the moving joints with leather ‘sliders’ to tighten them up – similar to the felt padding seen in other telescopes of that era, is that the objective does not seem right. There is slight mould apparent between the objective pair, and it will not disassemble. This whole lens assembly does not screw in to the end of the barrel, and therefore the sunshade and objective can just be pulled off. There is either a retaining ring missing, or the objective assembly is a replacement unit, and too big in diameter to fit the original design. With no screw thread available or in evidence at the end of the barrel, something must have been an interference push-fit, to make the assembly secure. Currently the damage at the end of the sunshade retains the objective assembly in place.


Who knows. But I like it. It cost me £46 from a supplier in Kent, which is presumably where Forster and family settled after 1911 and after WW1, until his death in August 1937: he lived to the age of 70. It’s #240 in my collection, and I would suggest this is the oldest known telescope to almost certainly have been used to look at the oldest aircraft, flying. Anyone in 1911 setting up an aero club and owning a telescope like this would have used it to see what was happening around the airfield approaches. So it’s worth more to me than most other people!

Postscript: {Obviously I use my Eighteenth Century Dollond on modern, and some old, aircraft, but that’s not the same!}. Re-reading this story, I need to find the telescope from the “Fighting G”, with the G being for HMS Gloucester, who also earned the description “Fighting“, but more recently….

…..This telescope has a tenuous link with the Fighting Temeraire! a photo of JMW Turner’s picture is shown below.

19202_original (1)

A Dollond 8-sided telescope, from 1760

This Dollond telescope is of a type of design that I honestly thought I would never be able to own, or afford if the opportunity arose. I believe that it is said that the 8-sided design was introduced to create flat sides, so that the telescope would not roll around on a ship, and fall on the floor etc.

8 sided 1bThis was in the late 1700s, when ships were made from wood, and every ship had at least one crew member who was a carpenter, and plenty more crew who were accustomed to sorting out and fixing wooden planks! So it defies belief that any ship’s deck would not have been equipped with wooden retaining slots, hooks or pegs that allowed a telescope to be secured, not just from rolling but also from being thrown into the air!

This is not to say the flat sides of an 8-sided telescope do not provide a more secure surface to place the scope safely on a table: this is useful. But the main body, or the barrel of the telescope is not what normally touches a large flat surface, the metal rings at either end are larger in diameter than the flat faces, so it is on these round rigs that the scope sits, when you put it down on a table. So it still rolls! To put it down safely on end has to be hanging off the edge of the table – which introduces the hazard of being knocked off by passers-by.

Some of the collection in August 95.

Some of the collection in August 95. The paving slabs are 2 feet wide.The sunshade on the 8-sided Dollond can be seen to have lost a lot of the silver plating: as have the rings at either end of the main barrel. Below is a brass bodied Cousens of Swansea scope and a Dolland scope from Walney Island, of which more later.

Why 8-sided?

The reason Peter Dollond built this style of telescope for his naval captain customers I think is the same reason that this is the one I have preferred to use every time I want to identify a passing aeroplane, for the last 20 years. It gives a good magnification, with a relatively wide angle of view (for a telescope). But, as it is nearly 4 feet long to achieve this magnification, many alternate designs built at that time would have had to use a relatively more solid wooden barrel, and this becomes heavy to use. Probably with an eye at one end, you are not comfortable if required to support a heavy weight from a pivot point (hand hold) about 2 feet down the tube, unless you have an extra long left arm.

This telescope is constructed from what might be described as flattened C-sections of mahogany, making up the barrel, in the same way as a split cane fishing rod was designed as the lightest rod that could provide strength, for fly-fishing. So the result is a very light weight and easy to handle tube, which can support the heavy weight of the objective lenses and sun shade mounted on the end, without warping. This makes it very easy to use (for me) pointing up in the air looking for aeroplanes, where you rarely have a support pole to work alongside. But on a ship, you might be on a rocking deck, with the support structures attached to the hull being buffeted by waves: much better to have a scope you can hold freely and without effort, to counter the wave action. Significantly, no telescopes after this date really solved this problem, except for the tapered wooden barrelled versions made in the early 1800s.

Why are they so rare?

Actually, 8-sided scopes are not rare: there are models sold regularly. But these tend to be 12-24 inches long, and are made from a solid wooden tube, planed into eight flat sides: why I am not sure, maybe it was the fashion. There are very few 8-sided scopes around made from eight separate bits of wood. This is probably because they are subject to damage, the wooden pieces split apart or break when dropped. They are not strong enough to hold the objective lens construction really, and this pulls off.

This has happened to me, with this telescope: an accident broke off the objective. What would a ship’s captain do? He would give it to the carpenter. Actually, its an easy job to shorten the tube by 1cm, file it down to be round to take the ring that holds the objective, make some new screw holes, and its complete. And the focus – well the eyepiece tube just has to be pulled out by an extra 1cm, it’s a built in next generation feature.

A slight design criticism, or frailty, is that the objective lens screwed on to the far end is very vulnerable to being knocked against things, and when the telescope is 4 feet long I guess the end can fall off overboard! So maybe that explains why there are few complete units around: bits of them fell off ships. Another problem is that they are very long: for many years this one lived on two brass hooks above the dining room door, so that I could grab it on my way to the back door to go outside and catch a passing aeroplane. The inevitable accident was that it fell off the hooks one day. Now it is fitted with two cable ties, which have secondary ties in a loop over two different hooks in the ceiling rafters just inside the patio door: a new exit for me to catch the passing aeroplanes. It is also well away from passing children and Hoovers.

This telescope

8 sided 1aThis unit, apart from the wooden barrel, was designed and produced as a single draw made from brass, plated with silver. The fittings on the end are both of copper and brass, typically the rings I think are copper, and were also silver plated, when the scope was built. When I bought it in 1995, the sunshade was badly bashed about, and with not much silver plate left. Similarly both of the connection rings to the wooden section were lacking silver plate, as was the eyepiece finger hold, which presumably from the wear of fingers over the years, was reduced to brass.

The mixed brass and copper connection rings, with the plating worn away.

The mixed brass and copper connection rings, with the plating worn away.

The option available to me was to recover the most damaged/unplated parts by bright nickel plating, which I organised. The silver plated draw tube and the very end of the scope at the eyepiece were left as originally silver plated. The draw tube shows some wearing away of the plating at the finger pressure points: the end plate on the eyepiece bears the stamped name of “DOLLOND”, with “LONDON” in italics, ie it pre-dates when they engraved on the first draw. I guess they only had to buy stamps for those three letters too. The guys doing the stripping and plating of the sunshade commented that they had a lot (!) of trouble removing the original plating off the copper/brass. So the 18th Century platers had done a good job really! The connection rings onto the wooden barrel have been left as found, ie with plating worn off, and therefore shown as brass and copper.

Eyepiece in 1995, before replating

The eyepiece of the Dollond 8-sided scope when purchased in 1995: the maker’s name is engraved on the end face. Silver plating has worn away from the finger pressure points on the first draw, and almost completely away from the cast eyepiece housing.

The eyepiece after re-plating

The eyepiece after re-plating

The effect of re-plating of the eyepiece can then be seen in the next photo, where the flat end, which unscrews, is left as was, and the copper rim can still be seen around the edge, but the bell section is re-plated. The black cable tie is used to hang it securely on hooks in the ceiling.

The whole objective end of the telescope is fitted to the wooden barrel using one of these connection rings, on a press fit which is not that secure: how this was originally secured is unknown. I would just not poke the end over the side of a ship, or a high building, it’s just not worth the risk!

The four eyepiece lenses in two separate modules are screwed in to either end of the only draw. There is no end cap over the objective, but there is a cover over the eyepiece lens, which is contained within the eyepiece (so does not stick out and hit you on the nose!)

Objective end OD is 2.375”, with the closer connection ring 2.5”. Flat to flat dimension max on the barrel is 2.25”. Total length fully extended 51”, focussed length around 45”.

Where to find one

So, its pre-1995, and you have attended the annual London Scientific Instruments Fairs, looked in all the local antique shops: then actually you have to take some products to a photographer for PR shots, and in talking to him he mentions that he had used a telescope in a recent photoshoot, but he had a real problem getting hold of one. Eventually he had been told to go to a “Compass Adjuster” in Hamble, called R. W. Robinson, and he had loaned one. So you learn that Robinson has a shop, and as a sideline to compass adjusting on oil tankers, he sells antique nautical instruments, like telescopes, and other things.

One summer your aunt visits from the USA, and in finding somewhere to take her for the day you happen to pass by Hamble, and call in on the way to the riverside pub. Mr Robinson had this fairly beat up 8-sided telescope – it looks like it’s just come in – so I think to myself, “It will be about £350, or even more: I think I’m going to have to push the boat out to get this one”. Obviously I did not look too interested, because he only asked for £200, which I ‘reluctantly’ paid.  I then skipped all the way to the pub: Aunt Hilary did me a real favour! What’s it worth now? Well obviously I rate it highly, but I have not seen one for sale since 1995: it’s probably worth about £1000: but it’s just not one that I would ever sell. I can just relate to it.

Where/when does it fit in?

This is obviously a naval scope, for use where there is space on deck, and where the light body and magnification were useful, like Royal Navy ships, on the bridge, or for the Masters of East Indiamen I guess. It pre-dates the telescopes of around 1800, but because it uses the Dollond patented dual element objective it must be after say 1760. So a reasonable estimate is 1760-1780, around 240 years ago.

The fascination for me is that it works as well as it did when it was made in the late 1700s, after nearly 250 years, for me to spot and watch the aeroplanes flying over my house now, that were could not even have been conceived of at that time. They were looking for sails on the skyline, or hazardous rocks no-one had seen before – and maybe birds in the sky, or the moons of Saturn. But what else did the previous owners see through there, and where has it travelled to? There are no clues to that, no names stamped on the body or the wood.

It is actually perfectly balanced to enable the long body to be held up in the air, fairly stable, to find and observe an aeroplane. It has a good field of view and a good magnification. So that is what it has spent the last 20 years doing!

Accession number 25 in my lists, bought in June 1995.

2016 Update

June 2016: Heavy use for the last 20 years has stressed the joint between the objective assembly metalwork and the mounting ring onto the wooden barrel. The soldered joint between the tube behind the sunshade and this ring has failed, and the actual joint overlap is only a couple of mm. So it is dangerous to point the telescope into the air! It has gone away for re-assessment.

Oct 2016: the scope is back in use, mounted on hooks over the door so it can be grabbed on the way out into the garden. The end joint between the mounting ring and the tube leading to the objective lens is resoldered, with help from a colleague in Lancashire, so it is solid once more. A light polish has brought back the shine too.