Books by Philip S. Harrington

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Astronomy For All Ages

Cosmic Challenge

The Deep Sky: An Introduction


The Illustrated Timeline of the Universe

The Space Shuttle

Star Ware, 4th edition

Star Watch

Touring the Universe Through Binoculars


Astronomy For All Ages

The Deep Sky: An Introduction


The Illustrated Timeline of the Universe

The Space Shuttle

Star Ware, 4th edition

Star Watch

Touring the Universe Through Binoculars


Nights of Future Passed

Here's a fun look back at some amateur telescopes from days gone by.  Some were great, some not so good.  I'll leave it up to you to decide which is which!

Choose your decade:
1920's 1930's 1940's 1950's 1960's
1970's 1980's 1990's 2000's

Click on the thumbnails to see the fine print. 


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Thanks to

Peter Economides

for this 1959 photo, taken in Long Beach, CA!

Cave Optical

Tom Cave, an exceptionally talent planetary observer, began selling his line of highly coveted Astrola reflectors back in the 1950s.  His telescopes had a loyal following and were considered among the finest amateur telescopes during the 1960s, but began to lose prominence as delivery times slipped later in the decade.  By the 1970s, their fate had been sealed with the advent of far more portable Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes.  But, Cave Astrola Newtonians still have many loyal owners to this day.

Wonder if that Corvette was Cave's?

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Image at left courtesy of Mike Gilmer

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Coast Instrument

Coast was one of the early companies to offer factory-built Newtonian reflectors.  Their line of Treckerscopes attracted a good amount of attention back in 1959 when this ad ran, although their prices were higher than some competition.  Still, they became known for excellent optics and their unique "Hydro-Glide" focuser, an early version of today's popular Crayford focuser.

The less expensive 6-inch Pathfinder included a scaled-down equatorial mount, helical focuser, and rotating steel tube as standard, but a clock drive and setting circles were extra.

My thanks to Lewis Chilton for the photo of the Coast storefront, circa 1957!

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Criterion Manufacturing Co.

This early ad for Criterion's venerable RV-6 reflector appeared in 1959.  Compare it to the ad from 1968 and you'll quickly see several differences.  But like the popular Volkswagen Beetle of the day, changes were subtle.  And also like the Beetle, the RV-6 proved to be dependable and extremely popular transportation to the universe for more than a decade.

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Criterion's 1955 mirror/accessory catalog looks remarkably similar to later editions from the 1960s, save for the cover.  Click on the thumbnail at the left to open a PDF file of the catalog.

Catalog images courtesy of Richard Sanderson

Criterion's line of Custom Dynascopes set the bar for all top-end Newtonians of the era.  Click on the thumbnail at the left to open a PDF file of Criterion's 1958 catalog.

Catalog courtesy of Rob Guasto

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Edmund Scientific Corp.

This ad from March 1956 shows some of Edmund's mainstay astronomical products that would go on to dominate the market for better than a decade.  Of particular note are the 3-inch f/10 and 6-inch f/8 Newtonians.  But I find the Spitz Moonscope especially interesting.  For $15, you got a 3-inch scope on a pre-Dobsonian Dobsonian mount made of plastic and standing on three wooden legs.

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Garth Optical

Although the name is unrecognized by today's amateur astronomers, Garth Optical in Springfield, Massachusetts, was one of the earliest companies to sell complete Newtonian reflectors on German equatorial mounts. This ad from 1956 shows their 6-inch and 8-inch models.

Take a look at those prices, and consider what they would translate to in today's dollars, given inflation over the past half-century. The Garthoscope 6, which retailed for $310 in 1956, would sell today for more than $2,100!

Working the other way, an Orion Telescopes SkyQuest XT6 Classic, which carries a sticker price of $260 today, would have sold for $38 in 1956.

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Harmonic Reed

Here's an excerpt from the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of American History:

The Spitz Junior was developed by two Pennsylvania entrepreneurs. One was Armand Spitz who had previously developed a projection planetarium for public use. The other was Thomas Liversidge, proprietor of the Harmonic Reed Corporation, a firm that produced musical instruments and toys. While Spitz held the basic patent, Liversidge and his engineers figured out how to manufacture the instrument.

The first advertisements for the Spitz Junior appeared in early 1954 and the instrument was manufactured until about 1972. Altogether, over a million were produced.

The ad here is from 1957.


J.W. Fecker, Inc. 

Fecker produced many telescopes both small and large beginning in the 1880's until 2000, when they were bought out by Brashear LP.  Although most of their telescopes were aimed at professional observatories and institutions, they also entered the amateur market with this 4-inch f/8.75 Newtonian.  A nice telescope to be sure, although only as few hundred were made.  Not too surprising when you consider the selling price of nearly $200 back in 1956!  In today's dollars, that's equivalent to $1,495.


In 1958, Fecker's line was expanded to include this 6-inch catadioptric (Maksutov?) for $495.  That's more than $3,500 today!  The 6 only stayed in production for about a year and half, with perhaps only 50 produced.


Image at left courtesy of Mike Gilmer

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Questar Corporation

Many telescopes have come and gone in the past half century, but the Questar 3.5 is one that has stood the test of time.  Largely unchanged in outward appearance since it first appeared in the 1950s, the Questar epitomizes the amateur telescope as an art form.  The Questar 3.5 cost $795 back in 1952 when this ad appeared, which translates to a staggering $5,679.

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Spacek Instrument Co.

Not a popular name today, but 50 years ago, Spacek made a nice line of 3- to 6-inch Newtonian reflectors on typical-for-the-era German equatorial mounts.  Priced higher than other brands, like Criterion and Edmund, Spacek telescopes came and went fairly quickly.

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Cutting edge astrophotography in the age of Bill Haley and the Comets.


Image at left courtesy of Mike Gilmer

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United Scientific Company (Unitron)

Unitron was one of the leading telescope manufacturers a half century ago.  This advertisement from 1954 shows "America's fastest selling telescope" being inspected by a confused stockroom worker, Janice.

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By 1959, Unitron had established itself as the pre-eminent manufacturer of refractors.  How about this pedestal-mounted 4-inch for $1,280, cmplete with mounting, Super-Unihex rotating eyepiece holder, 10x42 finderscope, and 2.4-inch guidescope.

"Hey, ma, it's clear out; time to crank up the ol' clock drive."

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Remember the Unihex rotatable eyepiece holder?  It didn't come more hi-tech than that!

Image at left courtesy of Mike Gilmer

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Vega Instruments

Think Maksutov-Newtonians are new?  Think again!  This 6-inch Mak-Newt, from Vega Instruments in the late 1950s, was much too expensive for the average amateur astronomer of the day.  But today, they are prized among collectors.


Image at left courtesy of Mike Gilmer

1920's 1930's 1940's 1950's 1960's
1970's 1980's 1990's 2000's