This telescope was a recent purchase on Ebay. For some reason I seemed to be the only bidder! There were two John Gilberts listed on Tower Hill, in London: they were father and son, covering the periods 1719-1749, and then 1751-1791. Both were quoted as located in Postern Row, Tower Hill.
The scope is classic C18 construction, a single draw, with a small diameter objective (single) lens, and a split draw with three eyepiece lenses. The single draw is retained in the barrel, so possibly indicating a later date in C18.
The engraving on the first draw is oriented with the first letter close to the eyepiece: it states ” J. GILBERT – Tower Hill – LONDON, and the three lines use three different fonts.
The body is a reddish mahogany, fairly heavy: the two brass end pieces are retained with some form of nail rather than a grub-screw, as was adopted later. Neither the objective assembly nor the opposite end supporting the single draw appear to unscrew. On the objective, which is maybe a lens of about 1cm diameter, there was once a sliding cover, but this has been lost, maybe when the mounting was damaged.
The overall diameter is 4 cms, and the closed length just over 13″. When extended, the total length is 20.5″. Within the barrel the three lens eyepiece has the lenses equi-spaced: this presumably makes it a Schyrlean eyepiece, as developed by a Capuchin Monk, Schyrleus de Rheita (1597-1660).
The Gilbert family
John, the son quoted above, had more sons: one was also called John (III), and also William. Both were trained as apprentices in the business, and William transferred to be apprenticed to Dollond in 1769. William and his sons eventually worked in the Navigation workshop at 148 Leadenhall Street, amongst the experts there.
Date and Purpose
There is no way to tell exactly: it is pre-1780, probably, but maybe not earlier than 1750. It was well made, solid, and has survived well – it is a good quality telescope. Probably used on board a ship of some form. It is interesting to compare this scope with the octagonal one from James Chapman, as they are much the same in sizing.
When trying to date very old telescopes, the obvious starting point is anything associated with a maker’s name engraved on there – often on the first draw, or eyepiece of the telescope. The plan then is to go to historical records, to see when that maker was active and creating instruments. First stop is the “Directory of British Scientific Instrument Makers, 1550-1851”, by Gloria Clifton.
Sometimes that does not help, as the maker, or his sons and heirs, worked over a long period: for example Dollond, the most prolific and long lasting name in the industry!
The next clue is where the maker’s name is engraved: if it is written with the initial letter nearest to the eyepiece, on the first draw, then this was the style adopted up until about 1800, plus or minus 10 years depending on the maker. If the last letter of the makers name is closest to the eyepiece, then the scope is probably later than 1800.
If there is no name
The design of the scope is the only pointer if there is no name. Often this produces a debate between the various ‘experts’. Areas of discussion include the shape of the eyepiece cover, the diameter of the objective; the presence of apertures inside the barrel; and whether the objective seems to be a dual/compound lens or a single convex lens. But consider the basics: what is the telescope made from? Earlier than 1800 there were mainly wooden barrels, and mostly a single brass draw: larger diameter brass tubing was not readily available in this period, so telescopes were small in diameter, and typically had one draw only. Mostly the lenses were in pairs at either end of the first draw: an alternative was to have splits in the first draw at each of three lens positions along the draw, to give access, as well as a lens at the eyepiece (and the objective).
The major discussion about the objective is whether it is a compound lens, as Patented by Dollond. Made of one convex lens (crown glass) and one concave lens (flint glass), or it is a single convex lens.
Another reference book, “Collecting and Restoring Scientific Instruments” by Ronald Pearsall, gives some useful reference dates.
1729: Chester Moor Hall combined two lenses of opposite powers, to produce an objective lens that overcome the chromatic aberration present in single lenses, particularly at higher powers. This was the birth of the achromatic lens, although the term was not applied until 1766.
1752: John Dollond and his son Peter set up in business, and applied for a patent on the use of the compound lens in telescopes, to avoid chromatic aberration.
1758: Peter Dollond, a very astute businessman, persuades/encourages John to apply for a Patent based on Moor Hall’s (unpublished) work (nearly 30 years earlier).
1761: The Patent is granted, but John Dollond died: Peter Dollond carried on in the business. Frances Watkins, a “partner” in the Dollond business, left the business and joined many of the other independent instrument makers to petition to have the Dollond Patent revoked: these included James Champneys, Francis Watkins, Addison Smith and Henry Pyefinch. Note that supplies of the imported flint glass were difficult to obtain, typically were often low quality, but expensive.
1762: Jesse Ramsden sets up his own business, and works as a subcontractor to Peter Dollond: however the “Eyes Right” record of the history of D&A suggests that Jesse was an “assistant” to Dollond. Jesse was not one of the people who joined the petition to have the Patent revoked.
1763: Peter Dollond introduces a triple lens objective, to overcome another chromatic aberration problem.
1765: Jesse Ramsden marries Sarah Dollond, Peter’s older sister: part of his dowry was a share in the patent revenues. Ramsden arguably took the lead in telescope development towards the end of the C18, and his protegées, like Matthew Berge (Berge was his foreman, and he took over the business when Ramsden died in 1800), Thomas Jones and William Cary continued the dynasty. [There was also a John Berge apprenticed to Dollond]. Berge’s apprentice Nathaniel Worthington took over from Berge when the latter died in 1819. Ramsden also worked for George Adams at this time: Adams had joined the petition against the Patent.
1766: Peter Dollond moves to new premises (59 St Paul’s Churchyard) and is joined by brother (John). Berge’s apprentice Nathaniel Worthington took over from Berge when the latter died in 1819
1766: When the petition to revoke the Dollond Patent failed, Peter Dollond sued those who had been selling achromatic telescopes using the dual lens objective. These included James Champneys, Francis Watkins, Addison Smith, Francis Matthews and also Henry Pyefinch (who had not been a party to the petition).
1783: The Dollonds start to use brass draw-tubes, based on a Patent taken out in 1782 by Joshua Martin. By this comment I think Pearsall means the tubes became more easily available to produce two and three draw telescopes economically. He suggests this allowed Dollond to no longer use paper covered vellum tubes. (Previously it had been my impression that such paper based tubes had been phased out about 30 years earlier than that!- Ed). Interestingly, pictures of Dollond refractors dated as in 1744 and 1760 show them with square tubes and (in 1760) two square draws. Certainly a Dollond “pocket” telescope of 1785 is pictured with a brass barrel and a single drawtube.
1790s: Increased demand for telescopes for naval warfare, with the rise of Napoleon: first major sea battle is the battle of the Nile in 1798, where Nelson is instrumental in destroying most of the French fleet, when they were invading Egypt.
There are other reference books giving the history of various telescope makers, but these have not yet been consulted in reference to this paper.
OK, not really a telescope, but German Hensoldt binoculars
These Hensoldt Wetzlar binoculars were acquired in 1993. At that time I had just started this new passion, acquiring and analysing optical instruments… My son, at 19, had a Saturday job at the Rod Box, a fly fishing equipment shop in Kingsworthy, near Winchester, and one of his workmates, aged over 70, another fly fishing advisor and salesman in the shop, had some interesting binocs, 8 x 30. He had bought these binocs in a shop in Parchment Street, Winchester, in the 1950s, but was interested in parting with them, if they could be replaced by a good modern pair.
The deal was done, my son swapped some modern Praktica sport binoculars, from Argos, for these old, unknown and uninspected binoculars, for me. When they arrived, they appeared really neat, small, military style field glasses, very like the ones my Dad had in Burma in WW2 – which I have never found. Much fingered and worn on the leather, but not showing any signs of wear or damage.
Marked “Hensoldt Wetzlar” on one side, and “Berlin & London” on the other, the base had “Sterior” marked on the centre focussing end stop. But more interesting, on either side at the base the inscription/engraving reads: “Baron Dimsdale” on one side, and “Meesden Manor Buntingford” on the other. Plus some original, possibly military data markings, engraved on the lower end-plate, reading “N. S. L. G167”.
There are other marks, internally: the lens units are stamped 174, and the prisms 271. There is an original factory serial number stamped under the focus bar, which says 1l963: this appears to be the normal place for Hensoldt to mark serial numbers. The second digit looks more like a plain stroke than another figure “1”.
It is perhaps relevant to set the scene for what follows, to suggest that these binoculars probably date from the early 1900s. The markings showing “Berlin & London” suggest that they were produced before WW1. The only ownership information evident is on the leather case, which has an imprint on the base that looks like “Rabjohn SM”.
An enquiry to Cambridgeshire CC Libraries found that, despite Buntingford being in Hertfordshire, they were able to tell me that several sons of Robert, Baron Dimsdale, attended Cambridge Uni: one, Charles Robert Southall Dimsdale became Baron in 1898, but died in 1928. He was actually the last to live at Meesden Manor – he was succeeded by his son Edward Charles, and then his son, Thomas Edward Dimsdale. A letter to Meesden Manor in 1995 gained a response from Wilfrid Dimsdale, son of Thomas Edward.
The family is descended from Thomas Dimsdale, an MP and Doctor, who went to Russia in the 1760s, in order to inoculate Catherine the Great’s son against smallpox. The results were a success and Catherine rewarded Dimsdale with £10,000, a pension of £500 per annum, £2000 expenses and a Barony of the Russian Empire.
Meesden Manor was not quite so fortunate. It was acquired by the family in 1833. In the 1900s Thomas Edward was a regular Army officer, serving in India prior to WW2. During the war the area around the house was requisitioned for use as a camp for delinquent allied soldiers, mainly Americans. The house was not used for such, but in 1944 a V1 Flying bomb, aimed at London Bridge, missed, and hit the house. It was finally demolished after the war.
These are honestly the best conventional binoculars I have ever had the opportunity to look through. They are light, easy to separate and use, and the two images can be separately focussed. They are almost as effective as the Canon image stabilised unit I have now acquired.
The objectives have a clear diameter of 24mm. Marked on the body is presumably the magnification, which is X 8. The glasses undoubtedly had to have been acquired by the late Baron, who died in 1928: but because of the Berlin & London marking on the body, by the manufacturer, they must have been produced before the start of WW1, somewhere between 1900 and 1914.
Note that they have no stylised trade marking, the words “HENSOLDT WETZLAR” are engraved in normal caps.
These binoculars are currently being offered for sale on Fleaglass.com
When a colleague comes back from a seaside trip to Dorset with a couple of high definition snapshots of some old telescopes in a shop window, and one of the sales tickets on a long wooden scope body is visible – saying “Ramsden – needing renovation” – this is quite an event. So the shop phone number was also visible, and first thing Monday the guy confirms that it works OK, and is happy to take a phone order and post it off.
The single draw and tapered wooden barrel of this design set the style apart from other Ramsden telescopes in the collection – it was obviously earlier in date than 1790, and intended for naval use. In fact the design could perhaps be seen as the fore-runner to the Worthington and Allen scope described earlier in 2018, on this blog: they were the successors to the Ramsden business in the mid 1800s. The W+A unit is bigger diameter, heavy, solid – reflecting the Victorian approach to such things, maybe!
Ramsden (below) after polishing, cf the Worthington+Allen above
The wood condition looked good, and the need for a coat of wood varnish would easily be satisfied. On arrival the scope was even better than the pics: very light, really easy to use hand-held. The engraving on the first draw – actually the right way round, ie the modern way, compared to the ‘younger’ Ramsden (1790s) and Berge (1800) units in the collection – has possibly been worn down by frequent polishing over the years, and it is difficult to see on the photos.
Renovation so far has involved sanding off the barrel to gain an even pure wood colour, and then coating with French polish: the black tape round the brass fittings is to prevent the French polish affecting the brass. Actually all the external brass was fairly well polished. The photos of the single draw, with the two cartridges, each holding two of the four lenses in the eyepiece construction inside this draw, show the darker patches at the end normally inside the wooden barrel, and on the rear side of the mounting slider: the draw itself is fine.
The screws holding the two brass fittings to the barrel look original, and are really stubborn – there is no way these will unscrew. This currently gives a problem, in that the rear face of the objective needs cleaning and the lens holder itself does not want to unscrew. The final cleaning option will have to be a cloth attached to the end of a broomstick! OK, so I used the sophisticated variant, with an optical lens wipe on the end of a broomstick, but it worked well…..
Subsequently, the brass end pieces on the barrel were carefully machine buffed with polish, which removed some old varnish and new varnish spatters., and the brass shone much brighter. New pics below –
The wooden barrel is about 24.5″ long, and the wood is probably a medium European hardwood, possibly oak, and not as fine grained as mahogany. The single draw, 27mm diameter, adds another 6″ to the overall length. Max diameter at the objective is 2″/50mm. The engraving says merely Ramsden, London, in script, which is typical.
Lovely telescope, and I believe quite unusual for a Ramsden: now restored, it will go on sale on Fleaglass for £800.
Sales of telescopes from my collection have started this year, in order to reduce the numbers! Eventually some items will be sent to a museum display, and plans are moving forward with that too. From September 2018 several selected telescopes have been offered for sale on www.fleaglass.com, the website that provides a marketplace for all types of antique scientific instruments.
Meanwhile, some telescopes have been despatched to collectors in Germany, Israel, Italy, Norway and the USA. As well as a couple in the UK, in exotic locations like Grimsby, Cheltenham and Lancaster! It is of particular satisfaction that some of the named telescopes have been returned to the families or descendants of the original owners, or makers! Other collectors have been able to find useful spares for their own repairs, from my stock of bits, as long as they can describe what is needed adequately for me to understand it!
This is another medium sized three draw telescope, solidly constructed with brass draws and barrel, but the barrel is decorated and protected with an interesting woven sleeve. The ends of this sleeve are finished off with what looks like a length of rope, but like the sleeve this has no obvious ends, and on close inspection seems to use the same thin wire or nylon cord, wound into the solid structure of the rope. The material is not metallic, so must be something like nylon, but made of six or more strands in a flat band and then woven into the diamond patterned covering.
This is certainly a man-made woven cover, and not a natural covering like the fishskin or other leather, suede or skin-based coverings often found on older telescopes and instruments. It is obviously very durable, but does not give a further clue as to what use the scope was designed for. It could still be for naval or military (army or cavalry) use, or even for sporting/shooting hobby use.
The telescope itself is 180mm or 7” long when closed, 42mm diameter, and 460mm long (just over 18”) when fully extended. It has a brass end cap fitting over the objective, and a winking cover that can be used to seal the hole through the eyepiece. There are no marks of engravings on the brass body.
Dating this example is also difficult, but it could be Edwardian or from around WW1.
This is now a beautiful three draw small or pocket telescope, 41cms long when extended, and 142mm or 5.5” when closed. Overall diameter at the objective is 30mm. The barrel has a mahogany outer sleeve, and all the lenses are in good condition. The only things probably lacking are the objective end cap, and the slider in the eyepiece, which many people removed to make the scope easier to use. It works really well – the lenses are very good, possibly implying a good maker in the 20th century.
This telescope was previously described to be in need of restoration, by the seller, but basically after cleaning the lenses it worked perfectly. There are no significant dents on the tubes – although there is evidence of some damage on the third draw. The barrel outer is a mahogany sleeve, in a thick layer over a metal base tube – which gives the unit good rigidity. This mahogany is too substantial (too thick) to be called a veneer, but it had a crack where the mahogany had shrunk on drying out, presumably. This was filled and stained before re-polishing the barrel, which now shines.
There are no identifying marks on the tubes, so no makers name. It could date from anywhere between 1850 and 1940, but is probably from the 20th century, mainly judging by the good quality lenses and the good condition.
This one (#317) was sold on Ebay in April 2018, to a collector in Lincolnshire.
This is a delightfully compact six-draw telescope by Rowland of Bristol. Fully extended it is just over 23”, but compressed it only measures 5.25” in length, and 1.5” in diameter. So very easy to carry around in the pocket. The draws are brass, as is the barrel, which has polished brass shoulders, and then a central section which appears to have been coated with a red enamel/paint coating at some time past – much of this has chipped off.
The only visible engraving is on the first draw, which says simply “Rowland Bristol”, so does not give any specific date information, in relation to the several generations of Rowland instrument makers in Bristol.
Richard Rowland operated from 50, the Quay in Bristol from 1792 to 1811, when the business changed name to (Richard) Rowland & Sons from 1812-1819. Then the business became “Edward & Thomas Rowland”, the two sons, at the same address (now called Broad Quay) from 1820-1840. Edward Rowland subsequently became the sole owner from 1842-51. The simple ‘Rowland’ of the engraving could honestly have been used in most of these periods, depending on how they wished to be known.
Multi-draw telescopes like this, in my opinion, did not appear until around 1820. There was the problem of obtaining supplies of the successively larger tubes needed, both for the draws themselves, but also for the sliders linking them. In addition, the standard four element eyepiece used two cartridges, which needed positioning with quite a large separation. This often meant that the first two draws were both used to support the cartridges, and usually the cartridge at the far end of the second draw had to compress inside the first draw tube, when the scope was folded up. The focus was also achieved by using the second draw moving into the third draw – leading to extra confusion for the user at times.
This multi-draw has another, unique approach. The draws are relatively long, such that the second cartridge needs to be positioned half way along the second draw, for optimum performance. So the second cartridge is small enough to fit inside the first draw, except for the rear (ie objective end) lens mount ring. This ring is large enough to be caught by an internal shoulder in the second draw, half way along, which pulls the lens cartridge along into the middle of the second draw, when the scope is opened up. Ingenious!
The sliding arrangement inside the second draw, to position the lens cartridge
There are a couple of issues with the cosmetic condition: there is some damage to the eyepiece end of the second draw, which has a couple of dents. These can be seen in the photo opposite. Then the barrel paintwork is severely chipped, ie most of it is missing. It would benefit from a leather sleeve: hopefully a picture will follow with such a leather cover.
There is no end cap to protect the objective – this probably existed at some point. The eyepiece has a rotating cover to seal the viewing window.
This is another relatively modern, aluminium, ‘ENBEECO London’ pancratic telescope. It is very lightly engraved as the “Merlin” 20x – 40x, and is very light in weight: much lighter than the “Petrel” described previously. It is also not anodised, but bare aluminium, which has survived well on all but one of the draws. The construction follows the normal style of brass telescopes, with knurled rings on the end of each draw. These rings do not have sliders, they are very short threads, but joint stability is improved by a ring of felt behind the thread.
The light engraving on the aluminium draw
Inside the first two draws the two lens cartridges are brass, and look as though they are from an older (brass) telescope design. The leather cover on the barrel is good quality, thick leather, such as would have been used on an old brass military one. So maybe the Merlin pre-dates the Petrel, ie was from the 1950s?
What is really impressive is the magnification and image quality from the Merlin telescope. Certainly at 40x there is not a lot of light getting in, as the objective is small, 1.1” visible diameter. Plus the field of view is very small, necessarily! Admittedly I don’t often use a telescope wearing glasses, but the Merlin does require the eyepiece to be within about 5mm of your eyeball to see the full image.
Closed the Merlin is 9” long, with all three draws fully open it is 23” long.
Newbold and Bulford
N&B do seem to have a bit of a problem with their company name/image, as they are variously known as Newbold & Bulford Ltd, N&B Ltd London and ENBEECO London.
A Google search produced the following comment from 2015, suggesting Enbeeco was used after WW2. This was in response to a query about an Enbeeco Ranger 55:
“Newbold and Bulford, which eventually disappeared into the Pyser Group, was one of the oldest British optical companies, tracing its origins back to 1796. I used a Ranger for astronomy when I was at school in the 1950s; in those days a three-inch refractor (including those supplied by Newbold and Bulford), cost a fortune. The Ranger was one of the last old-style brass telescopes made in England, reputedly by Ross, which I think closed in 1959. My Ranger was the basic 30X; the Ranger 55 was a 30X-55X zoom, or ‘vari-power’ as they were called then. Each was supplied with the same 41mm objective, and all lenses were uncoated. I have both versions today, and the 30X version is a fine performer showing very little false colour, even on Venus. Enbeeco was the brand name used by the company after World War Two.
In the early 1960s, when suppliers in the Far East, started a big export drive to Western Europe, Enbeeco was one of the first British optical companies to sell Japanese binoculars and telescopes under its own name. In the early 60s in England, you could buy three types of instrument: ‘British’, ‘Japanese’ and ‘Empire’, which usually meant Hong Kong. With some binoculars you could buy coated and uncoated versions of the same glass. HTH”
A 1951 Glass Industry Directory gives the N&B address as Enbeeco House, Roger Street, Grays Inn Road, London WC1. Other websites show N&B used the name ‘Cub’ as long ago as 1900 for one of their commercial telescopes.
A correspondent in the Milwaukee/Chicago area has an interesting Dollond telescope for sale, which dates from at least 1860. This is a classic single draw, large “Day or Night” naval unit, measuring 39” open, and 21” closed, with a sliding lens cover on the eyepiece. The sunshade is still present on the objective end.
The draw is engraved with the normal “Dollond London” and “Day or Night”, but also has an elaborate explanation as to why it was presented to Captain G.V. Argles. This reads:
Captain G V Argles
of I G S N Co’s steamer “Agra”
for services rendered to the
Ganges Co steamer MIRZAPORE
while aground in the Chokah Channel off Kaunsul
Ganges S N Co Ltd
This is a fairly typical reason for a presentation to a ship’s Captain, from another ship that was either foundering or in difficulties, when he offered and provided assistance. The exact place is difficult to locate now, as the area is no longer part of India, but is in Bangladesh, and many town and place names in India have been changed or the spelling adjusted.
It has been possible to determine that “IGSN” is the India General Steam Navigation Company (established 1844), and similarly “Ganges SN Co” is probably the Ganges Steam Navigation Company. References also show that there were many steam boats travelling up the Ganges, typically from Calcutta (now Kolkata) to Benares (now known as Varanasi, 600km NW of Calcutta in Northern India): these boats would need to stop to load more coal maybe three times during this journey. In 1849 there were 15 privately owned steamers travelling this route, three of which were 1000 ton P&O liners. The Indian Government, who supplied the coal to the intermediate coaling points, itself used ten riverboats. In fact one of the coaling stops was at a location/town called ‘Mirzapur’, close to Benares.
The only reference found relating to ‘Chokah’, was for the town of Choka, near Patna, on this route up the Ganges (238 miles from Calcutta), where the channel was said only to be passable by steam boats from July to October. So this could have been where the Mirzapore steamer came to grief: it is significant that the date on the telescope is for October that year!