Last week, I was helping staff and students at the University of Maryland’s Observatory to clean out a storage trailer.
We noticed a seven-foot-long, 6-inch diameter telescope that had been sitting in a corner there, unused, ever since it was donated to the National Capital Astronomers (NCA) club nearly ten years earlier by the son of the original owner, Carl Kiess, who had worked at the Lick Observatory in California and the National Bureau of Standards in or near DC, but who had passed away nearly fifty years earlier. I figured I could put it on a motorized telescope mount at Hopewell Observatory and at a minimum test the optics to see if they were any good. The current officers and trustees of NCA all said they thought this was a good idea.
One thing that caught my eye was how filthy and flaky the coating was on the tube itself, although the lens appeared to be in good shape.
The drive, while impressive, does not have a motor, requires a pier, and is extremely heavy. I decided not to mess with the drive and to put it temporarily on our existing, venerable, sturdy, motorized, electronic drive we have at Hopewell Observatory.
So I experimented with various abrasives and solvents to clean off the nasty green coating; a fine wire wheel inserted in an electric drill did the best job. Here it is partly cleaned off:
I then used Brasso for a final polish, followed by a final cleaning with acetone, and then applied several coats of polyurethane to keep it looking shiny for a number of years. (The lenses stayed covered for all of this!) So this is how it looks now:
The next task is to make a temporary holder and then put it on the mount, and then test the optics.
Elizabeth M Warner said:
Guy, We knew the telescope was there. The question was “Was NCA ready to move it and store it elsewhere?” The extensive email history was that there was supposed to be a committee working on this project. But they never really got started.
Bart Fried said:
In the spirit of constructive criticism, you broke just about every rule for restoration of a fine antique telescope. I suggest that you do no more harm until having consulted with folks knowledgeable about how to restore without using abrasives, harsh and damaging chemicals (Brasso, for example is a no-no … it’s actually bad for brass), etc. I think there is a chance that the mount is a Brashear mount but I’d need to see more and better photos.
Are you such a knowledgable person, Bart?
If so, what would you have recomended doing?
Bart Fried said:
I am. I recommend nothing further be done until a greater understanding of the task is gained. A little knowledge is dangerous.
1. There are professional, knowledgeable conservators who can be relied upon to do expert sympathetic restoration work. Of course, that has a cost. But you get what you pay for. I always recommend professional restoration first. Write me OFF list and I will send you names of folks who are very good at telescope restoration.
2. If that is not in the cards, A) do the necessary homework and do no harm in the meantime. Who made the telescope? What were the original techniques, finishes, etc. Decide if it is necessary to do anything, or a little or a lot … or a complete curatorial restoration. B) Consult with truly knowledgeable folks regarding proper techniques, do’s and don’ts, etc. https://www.si.edu/mci/ for example. Or the Antique Telescope Society. antiquetelescopesociety.net .
The actual time spent doing the restoration work is typically nothing compared to the time needed to understand what if anything must be done and how to do it properly. Ignorance is not bliss when dealing with antiques. Also, having the proper experience, tools and equipment and supplies is important.
Finally, I’ll request again some better images of the mount. Where is the declination counterweight shaft and counterweight? I may be able to identify the mount’s maker. Is there any provenance that came with the telescope? Has the lens been studied? Curves measured? Orientation of the elements? Spacers?
Bart Fried said:
Here’s why you don’t use Brasso, which is ammoniated. https://www.canada.ca/en/conservation-institute/services/conservation-preservation-publications/canadian-conservation-institute-notes/dezincification-brass.html