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


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. 


A. Jaegers

Jaegers was a premier supplier of optics (especially refractor objectives) from the 1950's into the 1980's.  A fire burned the place to the ground, and while they have reopened in Valley Stream, NY, they have never really regained a foothold in the market.  Click here to see their storefront today.

celes64.jpg (185573 bytes) Celestron Pacific

Before Celestron introduced their 8" f/10 Schmidt-Cassegrain instrument in 1971, they catered more to institutions, such as museums, planetaria, and schools.  Originally just a "division of Valor Electronics," Celestron Pacific opened with the "Celestronic 20," shown here in an ad from 1964.  Note the eyepiece coming out of the declination axis.  Looks like a good idea when the telescope is aimed at the meridian, but image trying to look through it when aimed toward the eastern or western horizon!


c10.jpg (127957 bytes) One early Celestron scope, the Celestron 10 (see here in a 1965 ad), is especially popular among telescope collectors.



c6.jpg (265884 bytes) Joining the Celestron 10 in this ad from 1965 were the Celestron 6, Celestron 22, and a strange bird: the off-axis Celestron 4.  Whether or not any of this last model were actually sold is a mystery.  And what's that?  A slide rule?!  How many of you kids out there remember those?

By 1968, Celestron had expanded their product line to include these three offerings.  How about that Celestron 22!

rv6b.jpg (282280 bytes) Criterion Manufacturing

Criterion's RV-6 Dynascope, first introduced at the end of the 1950s, was the telescope of the decade in the 1960s.  Although I have no statistics to support this claim, I would estimate that more RV-6s were sold to amateurs than any other "serious" telescope during the period.  And with good reason.  The optics were exceptional, the mounting sturdy, and the set-up convenient enough to be taken outside quickly.  Even today, an RV-6 in pristine condition commands a high price on Astromart and eBay.


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Introduced in 1969, the Criterion RV-8 Dynascope was big brother to the immensely popular RV-6.  I still have mine, which I received as a gift for Christmas 1971.  I even still have (and use) the Dyna-Tracker variable-speed clock drive controller.  Both work as well as the day my parents picked them up for me at the company's Hartford factory.

Criterion's Catalog F from 1968 (PDF file)

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Eastmann Optical

Here's a company that, although it didn't attract a lot of attention at the time, incorporated some of today's most sought-after features into their Augen 170 back in 1965.  The Augen 170 was a convertible 4-inch Newtonian-Cassegrain reflector that rode atop a fork equatorial  mount.  A clock drive that ran on either 12 volts DC or 115 volts AC came built into the mount's base, a concept that subsequently proved very popular in 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes, still several years in the future.

Edmund Scientific

If you were an astro-child of the 1960s like I was, then you likely lusted after the telescopes sold by Edmund Scientific.  Here is a 13-page excerpt from a 1968 catalog that shows those telescopes and accessories.  My heart still skips a beat! (PDF file)

Lafayette Electronics

This is it.  The Lafayette Meteor reflector was my first "real" telescope. It was waiting for me under the Christmas tree back in 1969. Introduced a year earlier, likely to complete with Edmund's popular 3-inch f/10 Space Conqueror, the Lafayette Meteor featured a 4-inch f/8 primary "quartz" mirror (the ad incorrectly states f/11), rectangular diagonal mirror, 12.5mm and 25mm 0.965" Huygenian eyepieces, an eyepiece screw-on sun filter, plastic focuser (but with a metal rack and pinion), and an unpowered soda-straw "optical sight," all on a wooden tripod.

Optically, the scope was okay, but the sight tube proved very frustrating for this new astronomer, as did the wobbly mount. I ultimately replaced the mount with the Edmund equatorial mount and pedestal used with their 4.25-inch Deluxe Space Conqueror, before selling it all.

But perhaps the most engrained memory I have with this scope is the sun filter, which screwed onto the back of the eyepiece -- extremely dangerous!  I was amazed, back then, that the filter showed flares!  Only later did I discover those "flairs" were caused by a hairline crack in the filter glass, which allowed unfiltered sunlight to pass through.  Yes, I was extremely lucky that the filter didn't crack completely.

Optical Craftsmen

Optical Craftsmen of Chatsworth, CA, made some great telescopes back in the 1960's.  This one, from 1968, was, by far, their most ambitious instrument.  Imagine a trailer-mounted 16-inch telescope!  Even more impressive was the price -- a staggering $10.950!  Remember, this was in a day that a Chevy Caprice cost around $4,000.  In today's dollars, that price translates to more than $56,000!  But dig those groovy whitewall tires!


optcraft2.jpg (373337 bytes) At the same time, Optical Craftsmen took aim at Cave Optical and Criterion with smaller telescopes, such as their 8-inch reflector shown here.  Competitively priced, it sold well, though did not have the staying power of its two rivals.

sears.jpg (163104 bytes) Sears Roebuck

Wow, an in-home planetarium and dome!  The Spitz, Jr. planetarium from Harmonic Reed came out in the late 1950s, but no one sold a real dome for it other than Sears.


Was this your first telescope?  If you were a budding astronomer in the early 1960's, it might well have been!  Horrible mount, but good optics and a lot of fond memories for its owners.  A rare find for telescope collectors.

uni61.jpg (300246 bytes) Unitron

Still the #1 name in refractors, Unitron tried to play to the BMOC (big men on campus) with this 1961 ad.  But wait a minute!  You know that you shouldn't smoke around optics!

yashica1.jpg (52411 bytes) Yashica

Known primarily for their 35-mm cameras, including the world's first auto-exposure camera, the Electro 35, Yashica also marketed telescopes.  The pages at left are from a telescope brochure that they produced in the 1960s.  Not much is known about them beyond these ads.  

The bottom photo is a modern photo of a 3-inch Yashica refractor owned by John Faulkner, who also supplied these scans.  Thanks, John!

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