Telescope Quest: Day 10

Marvin Bolt, the Museum’s curator of science and technology, traveled to Europe last fall to research some of the world’s oldest telescopes. Read along to hear about his adventures and discoveries.

An early train the next morning took me to Luneburg, a town in northern Germany that was once part of the Hanseatic League, a trading confederation in the 14th through 17th centuries. Its saltworks made it a wealthy city, but the collapse of the Hanseatic League decreased its importance and wealth from the 1560s on.

Recently, Luneborg consolidated a few of its museums and their collections. Among the treasures in the state museum there are three intriguing telescopes that had never been studied. One is a beautiful example from around 1700, although it ended up having no new features to add to our stock of knowledge. Another example, likely from that period, also had no research-worthy details, but a printed text in it could help us to date it. I suggested using crowd-sourcing to carry out this task.

The final instrument is one without lenses, but it is its shape that sparks our interest. The overall form, especially the thick rings, are characteristic of early telescopes. Its form suggests the early years of the telescope, perhaps the 1620s through 1660s.

We’ll need to explore the marbled paper to see what more we can learn about this.

The marbled paper on the telescope tubes.

The marbled paper on the telescope tubes.

Perhaps the tooling, the ornamentation on the leather casing, can give us more clues.

The details on the leather may offer more clues.

The details on the leather may offer more clues.

At least at first glance, this seems to be a significant find. Time will tell.

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