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World’s finest collection of historical American made telescopes

Posted By ShoutCarolina,Date: 04.04.2012

The SC State Museum in downtown Columbia features a stunning collection of historical telescopes, and astronomy documents and instruments donated by Robert B. Ariail. The exhibit is free with museum admission ($7 adults, $6 seniors, $5 children 3-12). Here is a virtual tour of this amazing gallery (historic data from the exhibit):

4 ¼ inch Edward Nairne Gregorian Reflecting Telescope, c. 1760
18th century telescopes, Ariail Collection Historical Astronomy at SC State Museum
Edward Nairne was a scientific instrument maker active in the late 18th century.

He also made microscopes, perfected the marine barometer and invented the electrostatic generator.

Though mirrors lacked the light gathering power of glass lenses, reflecting telescopes became popular in the late 1600s and early 1700s. Compared to refracting telescopes, they were smaller, easier to make and did not suffer from color aberration, common in small refractors of the period.

3 inch Jesse Ramsden Refracting Telescope, 1760 – Ramsden was one of the best lens makers in England. This telescope is larger than the average refractor (usually 2 ¼ inch aperture) at the time.

England historic telescopes from 18th century

Solar observation device Herschel Wedge, c. mid 18th century
One of a kind late 18th century solar observation eyepiece
This unsigned and undated object was designed for solar viewing and is likely the only one of its kind.

An observer controls the intensity of the light entering the eyepiece by using the graduated filter at the front.

Two sets of aperture wheels allow for further light control. Most of the heat and light of the sun is directed away from the eyepiece, allowing solar observation.

Dollond Company Telescopes and Optical Instruments Collection
The Dollond family, makers of some of the finest telescopes and scientific instruments in the 18th century were in business for just over 100 years.

Dollond Filar Micrometer, c.1780

This 18th century instrument measures small angles and arcs
This instrument measures small angles and arcs by adjusting fine parallel wires and threads.

The observer could measure a planet diameter, angular distance between stars and distances between double stars.

Before fine and durable wire was available, scientists used spider silk for the cross hairs on a micrometer.

2 ¾ inch John and Peter Dollond Refracting Telescope, c.1780
One of the early refractors to eliminate color distortion
This is an achromatic telescope; the achromatic lens system, patented by John Dollond Sr. in 1757 consists of two pieces of glass.

The achromatic lenses eliminate nearly all of the color distortion in refracting telescopes.

The superior image quality of glass lenses gave refractors an advantage of reflectors in the 19th century.

The Robert B. Ariail collection also includes a 2 ¾ inch Peter Dollond Draw Refracting Telescope, c.1800.

The 4-draw refractor was made by the son of John Dollond, one of the great names in 18th century telescope-making.

3 inch Tulley & Sons Refracting Telescope, Islington London, c. 1826 - Tulley & Sons company was noted for excellent objectives (glass lenses through which light enters a refracting telescope). The best was the 5.9 inch objective for Admiral William Smyth, who made it famous through his observations detailed in the “A Cycle of Celestial Objects (1864)”. Note the early diagonal eyepiece on this telescope.

Note early diagonal eyepiece and excellent objective

4 inch Thomas Cooke & Sons Ltd. Refracting Telescope, c. 1860 – Thomas Cooke company built excellent telescopes for observatories and private users. This refractor is made of lacquered brass and black enamel, signature features of Cooke manufacturing. Two extending rods attach the telescope to the mahogany tripod, allowing the user to fix the instrument in place.

Larger 4 inch refracting telescope from 19th century

4 ¼ inch Henry Giles (Harry) Fitz Refracting Telescope, c. 1869 – In 1863, then teenager Harry Fitz took over the family business, following the death of his father. He continued to make telescopes for another 20 years. Harry used a zinc tube painted brown to mimic the mahogany tubes his father made.

Fine Telescope by the Giles and Fitz

John Browning Handheld Direct Vision Spectroscope, c. 1870s – This pocket spectroscope was patented by Browning and Crookes. This tool can be pointed directly at a light source, allowing the observation of the spectrum in the same direction from which the light comes.

Direct light spectrum observation

3 ½ inch John Brashear Refracting Telescope, 1896 – This telescope is in excellent original condition and features superb optics. The tripod locking screws and drive gear are well made and sturdy, allowing exceptionally smooth control on both altitude and azimuth axes.

On the wall Aquarius Celestial Atlas by Alexander Jamieson 1822

Alvan Clark & Sons Corporation Telescopes and Optical Instruments Collection
The SC State Museum proudly displays an amazing collection of original Alvan Clark telescopes and scientific instruments, the world’s finest lens maker.

4 inch Alvan Clark Refracting Telescope, 1879 – This telescope, in near pristine original condition has an exceptionally sharp lens system: it was able to reveal Pluto at magnitude 13.6 within Columbia city limits. Legend has it Alvan Clark himself corrected the objective lens.
4 6 and 3 inch Clark refracting telescopes built from 1879 to 1935
6 inch Alvan Clark & Sons Refracting Telescope, 1882 – This is one of four 6 inch Clark refractors in the museum collection (12 total).

It was used for many years at Bedford High School in New Bedford, MA. At the time it was considered a portable telescope…

3 inch Alvan Clark Corporation Refracting Telescope, c. 1935 – This small Clark telescope has an excellent objective lens system that provides virtually color-free and razor-sharp resolution images.

Clark Tools and Accessories include: 19th century solar eyepiece, comet seeker and objective lens collimator; 1890 Clark/Bausch & Lomb photographic lens; set of eyepieces for 6 inch refractor.

Carl Zeiss Company Telescopes and Optical Instruments Collection
The Carl Zeiss Company founded in Jena, Germany in 1846, made some of the finest optical instruments in the world during the first half of the 20th century. The company was split after World War II, leaving Carl Zeiss in Oberkochen in West Germany and VEB Carl Zeiss Jena in East Germany. Some of the Zeiss pieces in this exquisite and historical display include:

110 mm Carl Zeiss Double Telescope, c. 1925 – This very rare and unusual “triple turret binocular telescope” was one of a five instrument series, ranging in aperture from 60 to 130mm, built by the Zeiss Company between 1905 and 1933.
Carl Zeiss 2 inch 110 and 130 refracting and double telescopes made in 1930s
The “Asaltur” was sold in 1933 for $1428, the cost of medium sized house…one of the reasons these telescopes are so rare.

130 mm Carl Zeiss Double Telescope, c. 1930 – Carl Zeiss made double telescopes in four sizes (130mm was the largest).

They were designed as lookout telescopes for scenic areas and could be purchased with an optional coin operated mechanism. Very few of these telescopes are known to exist today.

Carl Zeiss optical equipment box with original eyepieces, a binocular viewer and adapter, polarizing solar filter, triple revolver and a color filter wheel. Zeiss was known for its excellent prisms which directed light from the objective into the two eyepieces.

2 ½ inch William Mogey & Sons Refracting Telescope, 1932 – This small Mogey refractor was a special “semi-centennial” model, which marked the firm’s 50th anniversary. The collection also contains a Mogey astrograph, likely the only one in existence.

Unique model built to mark the 50th anniversary of the company

12 ¼ inch Robert B. Ariail Newtonian Reflector, 1977 – Columbia, SC resident Robert B. Ariail built this telescope and mount and performed the final grinding to the mirror. This telescope served as Ariail’s primary observing telescope, through which he recorded more than 10,000 observations as an active member of the American Association of the Variables Star Observers.

The primary telescope used by Robert Ariaill

“It is priceless. The historic scopes, which date back to 1730, were individually made, not mass-produced. This collection could not be duplicated anywhere in the world.” Tom Falvey, director of education and curator of science and technology for the State Museum.

Remember! You have till end of April to check out the Great Charleston Earthquake of 1886 exhibit, featuring photos, quotes and stories for the 2nd largest recorded quake to ever hit the United States.

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    3 Responses to “World’s finest collection of historical American made telescopes”

    1. The Great Charleston Earthquake of 1886: pictures, stories, facts and quacks on display at the SC State Museum in Columbia « Shout About South Carolina Travel, Family Attractions and Free Things to Do Says:

      [...] lovers check out the incredible collection of historical telescopes, donated by Robert B. Ariail. GA_googleAddAttr(”AdOpt”, “1″); GA_googleAddAttr(”Origin”, [...]

    2. South Carolina pottery tradition, SC State Museum art and history exhibit « Shout About South Carolina Travel, Family Attractions and Free Things to Do Says:

      [...] inside the State Museum check out one of the world’s finest collections of individually made telescopes and the Great Charleston Earthquake exhibit, dedicated to the most terrific quake to ever hit the [...]

    3. Dan Dykes Says:

      There are twice as many European historical instruments shown on this page and on your YouTube exhibit, as there are American instruments shown. I would hardly call this exhibit historical “American Made” telescopes. A Museum should be historically accurate. Europe contributed much more than America to the development of astronomical instrumentation. The Ariail collection demonstrates this quite accurately.

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