A pristine Dolland, still in a tin

s1600This is a classic telescope as sold in an Ebay sale of antiques, a Dolland three draw leather covered brass telescope. Run of the mill, lots about, not a high value product, mass produced in the early 1800s.

So why did I buy it, at a very inflated price compared to any others? Because this one is different.

s-l1600Readers of this site will be aware that the name Dolland possibly became a generic name for telescopes with an achromatic objective lens, giving the better performance of the telescopes originally patented by Dollond in the 1760s. So Dolland telescopes became cheap copies of the Dollond standard. However, while this telescope might be a lower cost version of the real thing, it has been kept in an air-tight tin (metal) case for over 150 years, I would guess.

The telescope is pristine, it has no corrosion to the brass, and the leather is looking healthy, and with no stretch to the stitches. What is more the edges of the sliders on the objective and the eyepiece feel sharp, they have not been worn smooth by use or wear. It looks like the telescope has never been used. No old polish secreted in the corners either.

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Dimensions are: opened length 34.5″ without sunshade extended, or 37″ total: 12″ closed. Overall diameter 2+3/8″, container diameter 2.5″. Came from a house clearance in Bury St Edmunds.

So perhaps it should be put in a glass case in a Museum? I may be one of the few people who have looked thru it, and it works really well: the lenses have no dust and have never been cleaned, they have never needed it.

s-l1600 (5)The screw threads are not as good as they could be, ie not as good as the Dollond versions, but this is what characterises the Dolland units. The tube walls are probably thinner than the Dollonds, so will not be as robust in use, but in this example are looking good!

There is no way I am going to touch it further, except for trying to wipe off some recent fingermarks: it is to stay bottled up. Even the photos used here are from the Ebay sale page. One day there will be some Museum that needs such a brilliant specimen!

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Accession number 281.


The Walney Island telescope – by Dolland

Peggy Braithwaite, the “lady of the lamp” and her telescope

The Dolland, not fully extended, showing the two draws and the apparent rusting of the second draw.

The Dolland, not fully extended, showing the two draws and the apparent rusting of the second draw.

I found this telescope in a ‘second-hand’ shop in Rawlinson Street in Barrow-in Furness, Cumbria in November 1993. Perhaps that is a long way to go to look for such things, but at the time my mother-in-law lived in Barrow, and so this provided an interesting diversion during the weekend visit. All that could be seen was that it was a large, 2.5” diameter telescope with two brass draws and an oak wooden body, plus a sunshade. The whole thing was black, really dirty (corroded), but you could see part of the name Dolland on the first draw. At the time I did not know that there was a difference between Dollond and Dolland.

The Dolland telescope objective, showing the reduced diameter of the actual lens compared to the overall external diameter. The last thread is maybe for a lens cover (missing).

The Dolland telescope objective, showing the reduced diameter of the actual lens compared to the overall external diameter. The last thread is maybe for a lens cover (missing).

The shop owner said he had bought the telescope with some items purchased from the Walney Island lighthouse, but that it did not work, so he only wanted £20. This seemed like a reasonable price to start off a major renovation task, so I bought it. Taking it to pieces, in order to scrub the dirt off, it became apparent that there was an extra objective lens screwed into threads on the outer rim of the sunshade: someone had found a lens from a later binocular or similar and screwed it in. Straight away removing this sorted out why the telescope did not work: without this extra added lens it worked fine! The threads in the end of the sunshade are presumably where originally there would have been a cover over the objective lens, to protect it, of a similar design to the cover over the eyepiece lens.

Then, after a lot of scrubbing, washing, then brass polish, a telescope emerged!

Total length of the telescope is 31.75” extended.


Frankly, it’s pretty poor. It is a conventional 5 lens system, with a dual element objective, but the 2.5” OD actually hides a 1.375” optical diameter objective. All the tubes used for the draws, sunshade etc, are very light gauge, and not strong, so that they are significantly dented from normal use. Certainly the second, larger draw is a poorly brass coated (or plated?) steel tube. The joints, made up of screw threads, are too short compared to a Dollond, so that they easily pull out or become stressed and fall apart. The telescope is not built for long term use, it suffers easily with the normal wear and tear of typical use. Someone has tried to sort this out in the past, by adding solder to the threads to reinforce them, and maybe provide more of a grip between the sides of each joint.

Dolland telescope showing solder repairs to main joint, and the oak barrel

Dolland telescope showing solder repairs to main joint, and the oak barrel

The eyepiece lens has a cover, which sticks out of the side of the round eyepiece when it allows you to look through it: unfortunately then the bit of brass that sticks out can get in the way of your nose, or your forehead! Not a particularly good design feature. With wear also, this cover falls back over the lens under gravity, which is not an aid to easy use.

The basic design is what I would call early Victorian, given the bell shape of the eyepiece.


On the first draw, the name “DOLLAND” is visible, but wearing away, also with the word “LONDON”. I suppose with light gauge tubing they could not engrave very deeply. Interestingly, inside the tubes, the joints are labelled VIII, which implies they were individually sized and fitted, sometimes a mark of a quality piece, sometimes showing their machining was pretty bad and they had to choose units that fitted together.

The name DOLLAND

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Engraving near the eyepiece: DOLLAND

Through contacts in the Dollond and Aitchison management, via my boss’s brother-in-law, I eventually asked about the use of the name Dolland. The comment was that the name was used by an American copy of the Dollond telescope, at the end of the 1700s and early 1800s.

But this one has been labelled as from London, which would have been incorrect. Maybe it was to get round the Patent on the objective lens, but more likely it was just to trade on the ‘Dollond – London’ name, and create an impression of quality. What later transpired was that the name Dolland appeared to be adopted by many makers, often UK based, who used the Dollond patented dual lens objective, after the expiration of the Patent. Unfortunately, while their telescopes worked, they were generally not quite of the same quality.

I could have claimed that this was maybe the first documented case of Americans treating English spelling with disrespect: maybe more likely it was originally American businessmen trying to make a fast Buck on the back of British quality product reputation, and maybe marketing, something continued later by Japan and then China!

For me the link to D&A resulted in an interesting visit to their Museum in Birmingham, which was reported here separately.

Peggy Braithwaite retires

On the TV news, even in the southern part of the UK, on 26 Jan 1994, it was announced that the Walney Lighthouse keeper of 50 years, Peggy Braithwaite, MBE, was to retire. Peggy was the only female lighthouse keeper in the UK, ever. She was born on Piel Island in 1919, and first went to the Walney lighthouse in the 1930s, when her father was assistant keeper. The job was kept in the family, with her brother-in-law and her sister also working as assistant keeper. For many years Mrs Braithwaite (nee Swarbrick) was assistant keeper and was made principal keeper in 1975.

So what do you do? Well I wrote to Peggy, c/o the lighthouse, to ask about the telescope I had bought in Barrow. Peggy kindly took the time to respond, as you see on the copy here. She calls the telescope her Great Grandfather’s “Lazy eye”: which had been used by her Grandfather, who had been a seafaring type, in the days of sail.

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Peggy Braithwaite and Walney Lighthouse

Construction date

If Peggy’s father was born in 1900, and her Grandfather therefore in 1880, this would maybe be the time her Great Grandfather would have been using the telescope? Assuming he bought it new. This might be right, looking at the fashions of the late Victorian scope………. it’s a Victorian looking eyepiece, but maybe early Victorian, rather than later on.

Being quite large, this telescope was intended for shipboard use, on Victorian sailing ships heading to the Far East maybe. Certainly from what Peggy says in her letter, it spent many of its latter years on the waters round the Irish Sea, Barrow and Walney island in her 50 foot yacht, which is maybe what she described as her prawner.

Walney lighthouse


Walney Lighthouse now, by JoSweeney.net                                          One of those cottages, 3 bedrooms, was offered for sale at GBP250k

I don’t know if Peggy wrote the book about Walney lighthouse that she was planning, as she died in January 1996: the photo of her is from the local paper at that time. Hopefully her Great Grandfather’s telescope will live on with this account, as she has no direct descendants.

This telescope

For a picture of the whole thing, fully extended, see the photo of the 8-sided Dollond telescope.

With this pedigree, it is worth more than the average Dolland, so maybe £150-200. This was only the tenth telescope in my collection, acquired early 1994.