Rowland of Bristol Multi-draw


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.

DSC05739The 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.

Telescope Design


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.

DSC05746This 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


DSC05745There 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.

Accession number 278.

Re-covered barrel:

Black leather covering later added to the barrel.



Enbeeco Merlin 20x – 40x: (1950s?)


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.


1860 Presentation Dollond – For US Sale

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.


Presentation Engraving

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

October 1860

Singh McCardy


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.

20160925_205931It 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.

20160925_202125The 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!

Enquiries, please, via this website.

Photos of the telescope

20160925_201905     20160925_201925

20160925_201834    20160925_204642

Davis Victorian Scientist’s Optical Set

This was one of the rich Victorian gentleman’s “must have” items!

The first draw in position as part of the telescope!

The first draw in position as part of the telescope!

In those days the landowning aristocracy spent their time “Doing Science”, and the things they needed were a microscope to really understand the small bits of nature, and maybe also a telescope to see the larger animals that moved a bit too fast for them to catch up. So around 1850 the thing to have was a scientific set, which was thankfully provided by the instrument makers of the day – the ones who had identified a good marketing plan anyway.

The complete scientific set, and box

The complete scientific set, and box

This boxed set was made by B. Davis, of 430 Euston Road, London, as is engraved on the first draw of the telescope. The rest of the set, apart from the box, comprises a microscope stand, some specimen slides to look at, plus an eyepiece with a ruby glass lens, to reduce glare, presumably from an arc light focused on the mirror under the slide. There was also a little glass roofed brass sided enclosure, presumably to enclose a fly or bug or something in the right place under the microscope,to be observed in a trapped area.

A flea on one slide

A flea on one slide

There are several pre-prepared glass microscope slides with the set, which look to be French, and that probably means they were added later. They are labelled, as S**d Po* – Grass  (Seed Pod – Grass); Cuticle Onion; Scale – Perch; S**rch – W*ea* (Starch – Wheat?); Seed Carrier – Aster; Sole Scale (also Scaille de Sole). Two others are home-made slides, one is labelled as a “Small spider’s leg”, the other is unidentified, but looks like a flea!

DSCN2543sThe idea behind this scientific set is that the first draw of any telescope, with typically four eyepiece lenses, is actually a microscope: when acting as the first draw of the telescope, it allows the observer to see the small image of the remote object created by the objective lens, positioned just in front of the end of this microscope, but upside down. The eyepiece lenses turn this image the other way up and magnify it.

But when this first draw is used separately, screwed into another holder in a vertical position, it creates a microscope in a frame, that is positioned above a specimen slide to be inspected. By using the same mounting threads, in the microscope frame and the telescope body, it all fits together and has a dual purpose…..

The Maker, B Davis

So this became a great little scientific set to sell to the man with time on his hands, and interest in the developments being made in botany and science and astronomy etc, all at once. The problem really is that these boxes get broken up, and the bits get separated, so it is really good to find a set still with all its components intact. They were manufactured in Victorian times, B Davis was said (in Gloria Clifton’s Directory) to have been an Optician, who attended the London Mechanics Institute from 1830-32, and then lived at 1 Lower Terrace, Lower Road, Islington, London.

DSCN2552xThere are records of an Isaac Davis at Lower Terrace, Lower Road Islington from 1832-38, and then with his brother Marcus here until 1842: they had also traded as Davis 33 New Bond Street from 1820-38. But there are also records that show Lower Road was at times called Essex Street, and could indeed have been renamed as an extension of Euston Road, given that the roads around the newly growing railway stations were probably being developed. Since the Clifton Directory covers only the period to up to 1851, possibly this set was produced by B Davis after that date, when the road name had changed.

The complete boxed set: the box is missing one of the side panels.

The complete boxed set: the box is missing one of the side panels.

Postscript: The Winter 2015 Tesseract catalogue features a combined microscope/telescope set like this, but in better condition, and earlier, made by W&S Jones in maybe 1790. The microscope specimen carrier is better quality, and the whole thing is in better condition. But that one would cost you $9500. Maybe I should rethink the value of this little set too…or clean it up a bit more, restick the box together!

The OOW telescope for RD Graham’s Rough Passage!

The Coombes OOW telescope, and the eyepiece lenses+carriers

The Coombes OOW telescope, and the eyepiece lenses+carriers 

This telescope was quoted previously in the story describing the dozen or so ‘Officer of the Watch’  telescopes in the collection. The photo shows the main working parts, all mounted in the single draw tube, in two lens cartridges or carriers.

There were quite a few instrument makers based in Devonport and the Plymouth area – one for example was W.C.Cox: this single draw telescope was labelled as made by “J.Coombes, Nautical Instrument Maker, Devonport”. This company is not listed in Gloria Clifton’s Directory, but that only covers makers active before the year 1850, and the telescope is a classic ‘Officer of the Watch’ design, as made by many different people: it probably dates from the 1930s, maybe even later.

DSCN2332J.Coombes is quoted in reference material as ‘an optical and instrument supplier to the Admiralty from the mid 19th Century onwards’, so it is possible he did build the telescope, and was not just a re-seller. Coombes sextants are often quoted, and there is one in the National Maritime Museum. Nevertheless it is a good quality telescope, and even if only branded by Coombes it could have been made by one of the other OOW makers building for Naval personnel and the Navy, like Cooke, Troughton and Simms.

Cox & Coombes watch

Cox & Coombes watch

However, the link to W.C.Cox in Devonport could be closer than might have been imagined, as Cox was listed at 87 Fore Street, Devonport in 1851 (by Gloria Clifton), and other instruments made by Coombes are seen to quote his address as 87 Fore Street too (on optical instruments such as some Pince-nez, produced between 1900-1920). An advert from the Victorian era quotes Coombes as established since 1805, and then retailing from 87 Fore Street. Even better, a silver watch hallmarked for 1887 of ‘Deck Watch quality’ is recorded as having the makers name of “Cox and Coombes” (


Closed up the telescope is 44.5cms long (17.5”), and focused it is 58cms (23”). The sunshade does not pull out (as yet), because of damage on the objective end, presumably sustained falling about on a yacht. The OD is 40mm at the eyepiece ring, and maybe 38 at the objective. This oversized diameter at the eyepiece is reflected in the excessive lens mount diameter at the end of the first draw, which struggles to pass through the thread inside the barrel. Of interest here though, this lens carrier and its lens are the only parts identified by a number, 6905: this does not occur anywhere else. It gives rise to the question as to whether this could be a later replacement? The single draw and end fittings on the barrel are nicely silvered. The leather cover on the barrel is glued in place, and is a very thin skin.

DSCN2333All the lenses and carriers are in perfect condition, but there is no pin in the eyepiece metal cover to move it across the lens, and no objective cap/cover. The objective mounting ring is badly dented on one side, trapping the sunshade, so the lens will not unscrew. It could be a criticism of the design that the sunshade retracts behind the position of the objective lens ring, not protecting the latter. [But on other telescope models this sunshade edge can be very sharp, when it does stick out].

The owner: RD Graham

51XDBM9ZV5L._SX313_BO1,204,203,200_The owner is identified by the engraving on the shoulder on the main barrel of the telescope, as RD Graham. In 1934, RD Graham decided to sail the Atlantic single handed, from the UK (Falmouth) to Labrador, in his 30 foot 7 ton cutter Emanuel. He made the crossing safely, despite having no self steering gear, in 24 days, between Mizzen Head and St John’s in Newfoundland. I am not sure if this was the first single handed crossing of the Atlantic by sail, but the journey was much discussed, particularly as to whether it was an irresponsible act, or showed a spirit of true adventure. So it sounds like he set the scene to encourage single handed yachtsmen everywhere, at least!

The story of his journey, and his eventual return via Bermuda and the Azores (with a colleague), after suffering from some form of blood poisoning, is recorded in his book, titled “Rough Passage”. A copy of the book, 2nd edition, came with the telescope, from someone in Warrington, Cheshire, via Ebay – it was purchased in 2004. Naturally I read through the whole account, but nowhere could I find any reference to the use of a telescope to aid this journey, so it is uncertain whether the scope pre-dates the voyage, or was acquired on his return.

Graham’s daughter Helen (Tew) also was an adventurous sailor, and made other single handed voyages, even in her 80s. Helen died in 2004.

Liquid lenses for iPads and Mobile phones


This is the third variant of this article, which was written originally for the December 2013 issue of the Industrial Automation INSIDER Newsletter (, an industrial publication which I edit: while not being a typical telescope story, it links in to the original pioneers of 17th Century telescopes.

So what is a liquid lens?

A liquid lens is a very small lens device now commonly used in iPads and mobile phones. The liquid droplet forming the lens has its shape changed electronically, using an electronic control system. This is able to change focal length (to focus) and change optical axis (for optical image stabilization, ie to reduce camera shake effects) – all within a few milliseconds.

Bruno Berge (EPO photo)

Bruno Berge (EPO photo)

The idea for this invention came from research on the phenomenon known as “Electro-wetting” by Professor Bruno Berge, in Lyon, France, with the original patents being issued in 2002. Prof Berge started working on liquid interfaces from 1991 at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Lyon, in co-operation with the Université Joseph Fourier of Grenoble, where he had two years previously done his PhD. Berge became fascinated by Electro-wetting, a topic first investigated by Gabriel Lippmann around 1900: Lippmann went on to win the Nobel prize for colour photography in 1908.

Berge believed that manipulating the shape of a water drop would also change the way it refracted light, which – for all practical purposes – would turn it into a lens. A drop of water affected by electro-wetting can function as a variable magnifying glass: so two clear, non-miscible liquids of the same density, one being electronically controlled water, can serve as a lens, depending on the curvature of the interface between them. If the second liquid is insulating (an oil), and not affected by the field, this curvature changes when a voltage is applied, enabling an image to be captured and focused (using a standard type of electronic feedback control system). The two liquids are sealed and held in a metal casing that is typically smaller than 10mm in diameter.

Where to use this?

Berge first approached Canon cameras with the invention, but attracted no funding. So with French state funding, and investment fund backing, Berge founded the company VariOptic in 2002. In 2007 they established a production line in China, and in 2009 the first industrial barcode reader with a VariOptic lens appeared on the market. In 2011, VariOptic was acquired by Parrot SA, and will focus on industrial applications: a separate company, Optilux, was formed in the USA to bring the liquid lens technology to smartphones and tablets. In 2013, Berge was selected by the European Patent Office (EPO) as a finalist in their annual review of patented inventions.

Machine vision manufacturer Cognex was an early adopter of the technology. Cognex has equipped both handheld and fixed versions of its barcode ID readers with VariOptic liquid lenses. Lattice Semiconductor Corporation has also announced a new video camera development kit, equipped with VariOptic liquid lens technology.

The name Berge is surely familiar?

The last recent technology step in lens construction was made by Peter Dollond in around 1760, for which he was granted one of the first UK patents: his recorded idea was to produce an achromatic lens by using a doublet (twin lenses nestled together) made of crown and flint glass, to be used as the objective (big) end of a telescope. Things were simpler in those days. His sister, Sarah Dollond, married Jesse Ramsden, and these two men were the best telescope makers in the world, working in the Strand, the Haymarket and then Piccadilly in London between 1760-1800.

One apprentice, who then went on to work for Jesse Ramsden, was called Matthew Berge, and he took over from Ramsden in around 1800 and worked in the Piccadilly premises from 1802-1817. Many years ago he gave your editor, via Ebay, a lovely sample of the type of nautical telescope he constructed there.

Telescope inscribed "Berge London - Late Ramsden"

Telescope inscribed “Berge London – Late Ramsden”

Who knows, maybe Prof Bruno Berge comes from the same lineage? Matthew Berge constructed these telescopes for use by the ship’s officers on the wooden sailing ships used by Nelson’s fleet, fighting at Trafalgar against the French and Spanish: what would he think today about these French-developed lenses housed in an iPad?