How do you describe such a magnificent telescope?
It is made of three silvered draws, pulling out of a black enameled barrel.
It just oozes elegance, but then on closer inspection you see the detailed machine engraving around the eyepiece and the objective lens holder, and it escalates to a Georgian drawing room display item, alongside the classic black enamelled cane walking stick with silver point and handle!
I assume the decorations at either end are machine engraved, but for 1800, that must have been pretty skilled: it reminds me of the silver serviette rings used by my grand-parents, or their parents maybe.
The engraving on the first draw is a nightmare to analyse.
Jesse Ramsden worked at 196 Piccadilly from 1792 till his death in 1800.He was the son of an innkeeper from Salterhebble, in Yorkshire, but married Sarah Dollond, sister of Peter Dollond, in 1766.He was the leading instrument maker of his day, ie 1790-1800 at least, if not before. Matthew Berge was one of his employees, and he took over the business when Ramsden died. So maybe the telescope was work in progress when Ramsden died. The engraving is offset, almost not of the quality of the rest of the telescope. It says
But the two words on each line are not aligned, not even the same type-size. It looks like the original engraving was the low key ‘LONDON RAMSDEN’, and then Berge added the other two words when Jesse Ramsden died and he took over. That would date the telescope at almost exactly 1800.
Slightly confusing therefore, the initial letters, ‘B’ and ‘L’, are next to the eyepiece, which is typical only of earlier telescopes, ie 1790 and earlier, as later in the decade the accepted standard was to put the engraving on the opposite side of the telescope, with the end of the line nearest to the eyepiece. Ramsden in his latter years had placed his signature in this way, so this one is a little unusual. Obviously you can postulate that it was built earlier, but was expensive and did not sell for many years, until Berge took over after Ramsden died, when he had a clear-out of old stock?
So I would still date this scope at least as leaving the Berge/Ramsden establishment at almost exactly 1800.
How does it perform?
This is a beautifully presented scope, and its optics are up to the amazing standard you would expect from the Ramsden stable. It is powerful, easy to focus, and has a wide field of view when used next to the eye. It is not meant to be used with glasses, the extra distance reduces the field.
The condition is excellent, everything unscrews easily, the lenses are all perfect. The engineering design concept shows brilliant touches: for example the second cartridge for example is screwed into place on the eyepiece end of the cartridge, making it held in optical alignment much more closely than the conventional design. After 216 years, the only criticism is that the objective lens doublet is peened into the mount, so there is no way to clean between the lenses. It was the standard approach in those days, to stop people messing around with the doublet I suppose. But luckily it is not necessary to clean in there at the moment.
The enamel on the brass barrel is very unusual, looks excellent, but has suffered some dings where the enamel has chipped off. This is the only area where 200 years of hand use is evident.
The silvered eyepiece has been difficult to clean/polish perfectly, but I will keep trying. There is no shutter, which I consider is aok. There is no objective lens cap – it’s not lost, the design suggests, with a ridge around the far end of the holder, that there was no lens cap supplied.
I’m going to use this one as my standard ‘go-to’ telescope for spotting aeroplanes over here: previously I used the 8-sided 4 foot Dollond of the 1760s, but that one now needs some reinforcement. This telescope is more powerful, maybe has a narrower field of view, but is as easy to use, because it is not too long, and is light in weight.
Dimensions and value
The telescope dimensions are: the closed length is 7″; open it is 20.75″; outer diameter is 43mm; the visible objective lens diameter is 37mm.
I bought this telescope on Ebay in Summer 2016, as the only bidder, at the starting price. I consider with the name, the condition, the quality and after cleaning, on Ebay it would now make £250. If it were at the Scientific Instruments Exhibition, or a retail environment, the marked price would be somewhere between £750 and £1250. I would not be able to afford that, so I’m delighted to be the custodian for a few years at least.
Accession number 283