This was a relatively recent purchase, July 2019 on Ebay, from a Hospice Charity, and quoted to be not working. That is a much better phrase than the more usual “lens missing” or “lens broken” damage report, so it sounded like a repair was possible. In addition the scope was a good length, at 28.5″, with a 45mm objective.
The basic structure looked good, with eight brass draws, a barrel covered in something like paint, and a name engraved as G Richardson, St Catherine’s, London. The address rang lots of bells, saying “around 1800”, “Pool of London” and “similar to James Chapman”. But all that contrasted with the design, which looked like 1830+.
A quick check in Gloria Clifton showed that George Richardson had worked 1807-1830, but only up to around 1820 in St Catherine’s. He had done work for Charles Lincoln, and came from a family line of opticians, taking over from his father and grandfather, both of whom were associated with Lincoln, and Chapman. A very good pedigree. So as a real multi-draw enthusiast, I bought it.
On arrival the view through the scope was of a tiny diameter, and very blurred, difficult to get a consistent focus across the image. With everything apparently original and in place, this was difficult to understand, but eventually the second cartridge was discovered to be reversed: this meant that the small orifice in between the two lenses was in the wrong position. Reversing this bit of brass made the telescope regain its normal function.
The scope was cleaned up – quite a task on a multi-draw – and the brass is in good condition. The barrel covering could be anything, but is thicker and more insulating than paint. It could be fishskin or fine leather stuck down to the barrel, but there is no obvious join/seam. It could be a coating that is baked on, as it has become crazed. No matter, it works, and is functional.
How old is it?
Dating this telescope is difficult, as the name and location suggests it is before 1820, but the design with multiple brass tubes of slightly different diameters required a supplier able to produce such exact tubing, which was only just becoming possible in around 1820-1830, and so is unusual.
There is a clue in Gloria Clifton’s information about the Richardson family, in that George’s brother Thomas is quoted as a “Brass manufacturer”, and so maybe the brothers worked together to be amongst the first to present such multi-draw telescopes, using and demonstrating his brother’s skills. So a date of 1820 is distinctly possible.
Many years ago I found a James Chapman telescope – made in St Catherine’s, London, in the 1790s. That was a real beauty, with an octagonal wooden barrel, but small, about 23” long: there is a description here on the telescopecollector.co.uk website.
So after several years of watching ebay auction offers, to see another by James Chapman was really exciting. But this one appeared to be something totally different, a design more akin to mid Victorian naval scopes, big diameter, long wooden barrel, single draw. The engraving was just the same, and still quoting ‘James’ as ‘Jas’, and still the address is St Catherine’s. But the total length was 40 inches, and the diameter 2.5”!
(The images above are from the Seller’s Ebay page)
Whilst there was a drawback – the objective lens was cracked, apparently in several places – it was still worth buying out of interest, just to look at it.
The brass was black in places, with a thick cake of corrosion externally on the objective and eyepiece areas. The main, single draw was OK, and later polished up well, with little damage. Where this joined the brass fitting to the main barrel, the screw threads seemed to have sticky tape round them, which cracked off – with no nad effects. Inside the big lens cartridges were both present – inevitably the first eyepiece end cartridge had become unscrewed inside the barrel, so the scope was not working. The second cartridge is suspended on the end of a long tube from the far end of the draw, (as an alternative to using a split draw, which was more common then). The threads here had what seemed to have been Ptfe tape wrapped round, long ago, and the tape had decomposed into dust in places: the lenses needed a clean, and it screwed back together fairly well . Both cartridges are large diameter: the draw itself is 50mm external diameter.
Whilst no external damage was evident to the objective holder, the lens assembly there would not unscrew. There was no way to inspect or clean the inner surface of the objective lens, and while there were no screws evident holding the brass assembly onto the wooden barrel, it was fixed in place firmly with some form of glue.
Re-assembling everything and trying it out on an adjacent hill, the view was surprisingly good: not clear, because of dirt on the inside of the objective lens. Plus maybe some sunshine reflections from the cracks in the glass, but at least there was only one image, rather than multiples!
What to do next?
This looks like it is going to be a slowly developing story!
The first task as always is to clean all the lenses – at least the ones you can. Then clean the brass bits. All except the objective assembly were achieved, but not without a lot of scrubbing.
Then the major decision was how to get the objective off, and whether to sand the barrel down and re-polish that! In that the barrel was at least six inches longer than needed, and the draw had plenty of spare extension room, after a few days thought, the saw came out and the objective was cut off the end of the barrel. This is going to mean the barrel is about 1cm shorter than before, once a shoulder is filed on the end and the brass of the objective is cleaned out, and re-attached with screws.
Removal of the objective assembly!
Inside the far end of the barrel, recessed by about 2.5 inches, there is a metal aperture of ID about 32mm, removing the outer rays from the light coming through the objective. Maybe this is what helps the telescope ignore the broken mess at one side of this lens. It will probably be a good idea to paint out or shield the edges of the lens with another aperture at the lens itself.
The lens assembly was cleaned out from the remaining wood, which was glued down solidly, but eventually peeled out. Four screw holes are evident in the assembly rim, to take such screws. At the other end of the barrel, the grub screws in the brass fitting for the drawtube do not want to move, and the slotted heads are worn away as well, so it looks like that assembly will not come off the barrel.
With the objective lens removed, the barrel was sanded down by hand to be able to re-polish the outer surface.
The picture shows the barrel during sanding. Eventually it was clean, and repolished with several layers of French polish. The external brass surface of the objective lens holder was sanded with wet fine sandpaper, then polished by hand and on a polishing wheel, which eventually made it look like brass again. While doing this the cracks in the objective lenses were covered with Blu-Tak, to prevent anything penetrating between the lenses. Then the assembly was refitted, with hopefully removable screws, so that the internal face of the lens could later be cleaned. Internally a black card aperture was push mounted behind the glass, to shield the broken edges even more effectively.
The following pictures show the final assembled telescope, looking a lot better!
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.