Rare antique telescope dating back over 200 years sells in Harborough for ten times its estimated value

It was made by John Bird, a brilliant instrument maker active in his workshops in London’s The Strand from 1745 until his death in 1776

Monday, 11th January 2021, 5:22 pm
Updated Monday, 11th January 2021, 5:24 pm
The mid-18th century lacquered brass Gregorian-type telescope in a fitted mahogany case sold for £4,712, inclusive of charges, at Gildings Auctioneers.
The mid-18th century lacquered brass Gregorian-type telescope in a fitted mahogany case sold for £4,712, inclusive of charges, at Gildings Auctioneers.

The sky was the limit when a very rare telescope dating back over 200 years smashed its estimate at a Market Harborough auction.

The mid-18th century lacquered brass Gregorian-type telescope in a fitted mahogany case sold for £4,712, inclusive of charges, at Gildings Auctioneers.

The beautiful astronomical instrument reached out for the stars as it was snapped up for over 10 times its lowest estimate of just £400.

The striking antique telescope was made by John Bird, a brilliant instrument maker active in his workshops in London’s The Strand from 1745 until his death in 1776.

Bird specialised in large-scale instruments, including an eight-foot quadrant at London’s Royal Observatory, meaning this small ‘desktop’ example of his work is a rarity.

“For specialist collectors of scientific instruments, early examples by notable makers always create a stir at auction,” said Gildings director Will Gilding.

“This was certainly the case with this telescope, which is clearly signed ‘J Bird’ and replicated by a trade label in its fitted mahogany case.

“Whether Bird’s own workshops produced smaller scale instruments of this kind themselves, or whether they were sourced from trade makers is unknown.

“However, it is rare to see an example signed ‘J Bird’.”

The high price for the telescope was achieved despite some tarnishing to the lacquered brass and blackening of the interior of the tube.

But the instrument was clearly a cherished possession of a family of star gazers.

It was bought as a gift in the mid-20th century for the current vendor’s brother-in-law, whose parents both worked at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, south-west London, in the early 1900s.

“Examples of other early technological instruments and musical players also performed well in the auction.

“Proving that this area of the antiques and collectables market can often generate strong and even surprising results thanks to the nuances of early technologies,” said Will.

“For example, a lot featuring four early General Post Office telephones realised £595 and an Edison ‘Standard’ phonograph, still in working order, made £322, including charges.”