A Ramsden 8-draw telescope

This is a telescope referred to me by a correspondent in Vienna, Austria, to whom it was given as a birthday present from a friend. The background history was that it belonged to the friend’s Grandfather, but it had not been used for at least 50 years.


The Grandfather had travelled frequently from London, where he lived, to South Africa, where he had had a business in Pretoria. This takes the ownership back to maybe the late 1800s, 1880-1900, so not quite as far back as when the telescope was made. After cleaning for 5 hours, using Brasso equivalent on the brass, and cream on the leather covering, this beautiful telescope emerged, with the name Ramsden, London, engraved on the first draw.

Quite reasonably the question arose as to whether this was indeed from Ramsden, who died in 1800, so he asked for a review of the design to see if it was genuine. Some of the extensive photos supplied of the unit are shown here.

Ramsden and small telescopes


Ramsden made 3-draw telescopes, and even one example of a 4-draw was presented on EBay recently. If this 8-draw multi-draw scope is genuinely a Ramsden it will be one of the earliest multi-draws produced. For a Dollond or any other maker from that time, it would be difficult to prove that it pre-dates 1800, as many of them continued trading using the same names well into the 1800s. The question is as to whether there was the capability available in the brass tube industry to draw tubes of the many diameters needed to make such a unit, back in the 1790s.

img_2244The second question would be as to whether there might be a demand – nowadays we would say a market – for such a design, when many of the scopes were used on-board ships. There, on board, there was plenty of space, and the small (pocket?) size (when collapsed) would not be needed. Ramsden, and Berge who followed him, also served the market for the country gentleman, who wanted a smaller, easy to carry telescope: see the “Gentleman’s silver telescope” on this website, and the Ramsden 3-draw units. There was also a market with cavalry officers, who needed units they could easily either carry in a small leather tube, or pack onto a horse. Watkins produced such scopes, as we see in the story about Captain Gerrard on this site, who used it later in the C19th, or also see the Bianchi 3-draw scope used by Lt Rolfe in the Peninsular War (1807). So it seems the demand would have been there.

This Design

img_2251The details of the design are just what would be expected from Ramsden, and are very high quality: I would say beautiful but that would make it subjective. The connectors between the draws are built with the threads recessed into the receiving draw by around an inch, and with a shoulder under the end of the receiving draw tube, to increase/improve the rigidity of the optical axis of the scope. The thread length used is also longer than average.  This approach is also used on the examples of multi-draw telescopes produced (later) by Cary, Abraham, Cox and Carpenter, that I have in my own collection. It was not used on any of the 3 or 4-draw telescopes produced by Ramsden or Berge that I have seen.

img_2252The internal lens cartridges and lens mounts are well constructed, and all the threads on this example are easily unscrewed: even the objective lens pair and its mounting. It has an objective lens cap, for protection, but no sunshade: this is similar to the other designs of smaller scopes, and the multi-draws quoted above.

The Ramsden signature is on the first draw, with the letters starting at the objective end of the scope, which might indicate a later build date, around 1890-1900, as earlier the lettering might have been reversed (ie written on the other side of the draw): the Ramsden and Berge telescopes I have studied have the signature in the same orientation as this one, so are all presumed later models.

The knurling on the connectors – which can be used as hand-holds to extend the draws, but the wider diameter is also needed so that the draws are not pushed into the next larger tube – is very well defined, not showing any bashes or dings: indeed the whole scope is remarkably free from dings. In the photo the knurling looks quite sizeable, but remember this is a relatively small diameter scope.

img_2256   img_2248

The photos above show the objective lens pair and mount components.

The barrel is brass, covered with black leather. When closed the telescope is only 15cms long (approx. 6”), but once fully opened the total length is 73cms (nearly 29”), giving a high magnification capability. The quality of the image, and the magnification, is quoted as very good.

The Hiccup on the 4th draw?

ring_adjMy colleague who has this telescope considers the 4th draw to be different in construction, but I regret I can’t understand what function the difference might have, or whether it is real. There is a separate photo of this draw, it is possibly a shorter length, reduced by 12-15mm at least, with a separate (mounting?) ring on the end of the connector. It might be that this element (draw) had a problem in production, and the extra ring was needed to ensure the correct mounting position/alignment of the tubes? Or did it just reduce the full extended length to make the focus easier to locate?

Questions or Comments?

If you have any comments that might help our study of this telescope these would be welcomed. It is suggested that this is one of the first and earliest brass 8-draw or multi-draw designs of telescope, produced by Ramsden in the late 1790s!

Subsequent correspondence has been fairly sceptical, from the point of view of the multi-draw design and tube availability not dating back to the 1790s. However one significant feature that I missed is the shaping of the eyepiece. This triangular style is not a shape that was used in the 1790s, when they were flat sided, or bell shaped. One comment was that this was more likely to be a French in design, from the late 1800s.

I would think the only further test (so far not possible) would be to check the optical quality of the scope, to see whether this aspect aspires to the normal high standard from Ramsden.

Solomon 6-draw Pocket Telescope

This telescope was a nice surprise for me, as I bought it as a multi-draw with an interesting covering on the barrel, reminiscent of the baleen covering used in Victorian times. It was advertised on Ebay as a five draw pocket-sized scope in a cardboard case, lacking an objective cover.


Recovering the end-cap


French text and the lost end cap

The impression on first inspection was that the objective end of the scope had a cylindrical ring round the lens carrier brass section, with four expansion slots – the type used on a slip-over end-cap. It looked like the end-cap sliding side section was stuck on there, with no actual end-cap. Sure enough with some force the side cylindrical section pushed off the objective lens mount.

Looking inside the telescope case the end cap appeared to be stuck down at the bottom of the case. It did not take too much to push this out of the case, and it was then ‘Super-glued’ (rather than soldered) onto the side cylindrical section, to reconstruct the end-cap.

DSCN4012Also inside the case was a soft cushioned end piece, which fitted the eyepiece end of the telescope – so obviously this part of the case was meant to accept the eyepiece, rather than the objective. On the back of the cushioning the words forming the remains of some writing were in French, so along with the appearance of the scope this convinced me that the telescope was actually a French design, probably sold in England. Because it is such a small pocket telescope version, you assume it was sold to a country gent, to be carried in his pocket.

Operational problems?

The disappointment was that the telescope did not work properly, so it needed to be dismantled to see the problem. As with any multi-draw scope, say with 5 draws or more, the focusing eyepiece covers the lengths of the first two draws: so there is one cartridge in the first draw, mounted from under the eyepiece cover, plus a second cartridge carrying one lens at each end, mounted in the objective end of the second draw tube.

DSCN4020.JPGThe cartridge in the first draw was fine, but the second cartridge appeared to be at the end of the first draw. It became obvious that the telescope in fact had a sixth draw, and this draw was very stiff, possibly because it had been distorted. Withdrawing the second cartridge showed that the second, inner lens was missing. This lens was located – it was jammed up the first draw tube, held in place because its own over-sized knurled mounting ring was too big to slide easily inside the first draw, when the scope was fully collapsed. This had possibly led to the distortion of the first draw, and it does appear to be a design fault.

I now have to decide whether to file down the knurling on the lens assembly to sort out this problem. It seems a valid adjustment, and the protruding shoulder (at the right hand end of the left hand lens cartridge in the above picture) has no function. The inner lens mount of the opposing cartridge is the same as the OD of the cartridge: this one is a sliding fit inside the first draw.

Engraved on the sixth draw!

DSCN4013Even more interesting was that there was a supplier name engraved on the first draw, which was “S & B Solomons, 39 Albemarle St, London”. The Solomons were opticians and spectacle makers, and accepted London suppliers of telescopes and microscopes: it is possible that this was an imported French-made pocket telescope, brought in to provide their ‘Landed Gentry’ customers with impressive pocket-sized devices. Albemarle Street is off the Strand in Central London, and Samuel and Benjamin Solomons were operating there from 1840 to 1875, throughout the early Victorian period.


Once this lens is repositioned, the telescope works extremely well, particularly for such a small device. The OD at the objective is 1.125”, the fully open length 15.5” and the closed length only 4”.


Albermarle Street29 albermarle st

The premises of S&B Solomon are now sited next to Browns Hotel, in a fashionable part of Mayfair. The picture is from Google, with the house behind the Chelsea tractor.

What about the barrel covering?

The basic original query – as to what the barrel is covered with – remains unexplained. It looks and feels like plastic moulded basket weave. Indeed its construction appears to be that of a woven cane, treated with some black varnish or resin.


The ring covers the ends of the weave, this one held in place by the retaining flange at the end of the sixth draw.

Accession Number 286. This telescope is now for sale, fully working, priced at £185 sterling.