May 27, 2020

Review: Classic Telescopes by Neil English.

A Classic on Classics!

Is that old refractor in the basement/attic worth anything? We’re always saddened a bit when we see a telescope that’s fallen to disuse at one of Florida’s ubiquitous eternal yard sales; our belief is that a telescope providing a view of the sky is a happy telescope, whether a noble brass refractor or of the mass produced variety. It is said that when astronomer  David Levy returned to a classroom to find a 6-inch reflector he donated to a classroom being used as a trash can (!) he took it straight back.

Of course, a great many of these abandoned scopes are disused 60mm refractors, department store toys gifted around the holiday season and scarcely used. This week’s review, Classic Telescopes: A Guide to Collecting and Using Telescopes of Yesteryear by Neil English may be a one of a kind. Part of Patrick Moore’s Practical Astronomy Series out from Springer Books, Classic Telescopes approaches the topic from a skilled collectors and telescope operators perspective. The focus is primarily on refractors of yesteryear, with a scattering of reflectors from the past century thrown in.

Chock full of photos, it’s just plain fun to browse the old Dollonds, Clarks & Brashear-produced instruments and wonder what views through them might have been like. Truth is, if anyone wanted a large reflecting telescope prior to World War II, they had to build it themselves. Even after the war, the 6-inch Newtonian represented the “coin of the realm”¯ almost right up until the advent of the Dobsonian and the 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector in the 1970s.

Still, it’s amazing the amount of craftsmanship they put into those old refractors, something seldom seen today. Classic Telescopes tells you how to spot a true original, as well as how to be wary of the numerous fakes that spring up on Ebay. Yes, there is actually a cottage industry in crafting fake antique telescopes!

It’s also fun to see such time-honored classics as the Unitron and Fullerscopes get their due, along with the venerable Astro-Scans and beloved Questars. Questars are a collector’s phenomenon unto themselves, and have actually appreciated in value over the years as they’re sought out by collectors, a tribute to true craftsmanship.

Chances are, you just may see that first scope you had as a kid mentioned in Classic Telescopes; in our case, it was our old 60mm Jason refractor. Sure, it was a department store mass-produced jobbie, but I pushed it to the limit, scouting out the Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, & more. I remember I even homemade a set of alt-azimuth setting circles for it using two plastic protractors!

Classic Telescopes is an indispensable reference resource for anyone refurbishing or hunting for a piece of astronomical history. Interspersed with expert reviews and great close-up pics, this guide provides a unique insight into a fascinating branch of optics and astronomy. What’s in YOUR attic?

Next week: We journey back into the alternate Steampunk world of the Weird West with Mike Resnick’s The Doctor & the Roughrider!