Royal Mail Steam Packet Company pocket telescope


Not my normal style of telescope, it’s a very small pocket scope, but there are a few redeeming features. First it has six draws, second it is bound in Baleen around the barrel, and third it has a crest on the barrel, in gold on a leather over-binding.

DSCN1649The crest here has the motto “Per Mare Ubique”, which from schoolboy Latin means “Everywhere by the Sea(s)”. This is the motto used by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, which operated from 1839 to 1932. They took over the famous White Star Line in 1927, then ran into financial troubles, including some scandals apparently! So that is not a modern problem at all. In 1840 the RM Steam Packet Company undertook to run a twice monthly mail service to the West Indies, using steam powered vessels, rather than sailing ships. These ran from either Southampton or Falmouth.

baleen plate and stripsThe Baleen binding, seen on numbers of 19th Century telescopes, is the filter material from a Baleen whale’s mouth, which is like a tendon, and made of keratin rather than bone – which is fingernail material: but it resembles a strong plastic, using a modern description. The whales use it as a filter material, to pick out the plankton etc from the water they suck in and then discharge through their Baleen screens. All the Baleen bindings I have seen have been black, but when pictured in a Baleen whale’s mouth (otherwise known as the “Right” whale) they do appear to be white. Baleen seems to be the normal material commonly referred to as whalebone in ladies Victorian corsets. The best description found is on, whch is where the photo was shown.

DSCN1654The telescope is small: closed it is 3.5” long, open 14.5” long, and 1.375” in diameter at its largest. All the five standard lenses are present the first four in two separate assemblies: these and the draws are all labelled “VII”. The final picture shows it as the small telescope next to the more standard sized multi-draw telescope from Carpenter. There is no separate maker’s name on the RM Company telescope, but presumably it was used by a ship’s officer at some time before 1932. Actually a better measure of the age is the baleen covering, it was used before plastic strips were invented. So the date is maybe 1850-1900.

I found this little telescope (Item ref 237) on Ebay, and it’s the only one I have ever seen like that.


For more information on the Carpenter telescope, please see