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. 


Cave Instruments

Everybody wanted a Cave Astrola telescope at one point or another back in the 1960's and early 1970's.  They seemed epitomize the "serious" telescope: very good optics, fancy mounts, and -- wow! -- wheels on the pedestal legs!  Who could ask for more?  But with the introduction of the Celestron 8 in 1971, the days of less portable instruments like Cave reflectors were numbered.  Many, however, are still in use today and are highly coveted.


Early 1970s Cave catalog (49 MB PDF file)

Celestial Observer

One of many amateur-produced/amateur-read magazines published during the decade, this particular issue of Celestial Observer included a noteworthy article that described a new idea about amateur telescope making.  Was this the first time that John Dobson's approach was introduced to a national, albeit limited, audience? (3-page PDF file)

Criterion Manufacturing

You couldn't beat a Criterion Newtonian reflector!  The RV-6 (6" f/8) and RV-8 (8" f/7, later 8" f/8) were second to none optically.  But when the Celestron 8 was introduced in 1971, Criterion's market share began to dry up quickly.  Fearing the worst, they quickly put together this ill-designed clone of the C8.  The Dynamax featured horrible optics and an even worse fork mount, which led to the company going out of business.  Just before they would have closed the doors, Bausch and Lomb came to the rescue and purchased Criterion.  B&L tried to revive the Dynamax in the form of the Criterion 8000 and the smaller Criterion 4000 and Criterion 6000, but the die was cast and the telescope line was dropped.

little.jpg (113333 bytes)  

Later in the decade, Robert T. Little, Inc., a dealer in NY, coupled the Criterion Dynamax to the Polaroid SX-70 "instant single-lens reflex."  Talk about a match made in heaven.  Yikes!

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Edmund Scientific

Edmund Scientific opened its doors in post-WWII America as Edmund Salvage, selling all sorts of war-surplus optics and equipment.  They eventually became a leading supplier of telescopes, eyepieces, and mirror-making supplies for amateur astronomers.  How many had an Edmund 3" f/10 reflector for a first telescope?  If you were like me, you used to drool over their "big" 6- and 8-inch reflectors and the 3- and 4-inch refractors every time a new catalog came in the mail!  The clipping, from 1976, shows those refractors that many amateurs lusted after.  Cheap by today's standards, their prices had started the upward spiral thanks to the 1970's double-digit inflation.  But if you wanted a refractor and couldn't afford a Unitron, these were top options.

The bottom illustration, from 1974, shows the 6-inch f/8 Edmund Super Space Conqueror reflector.

Essential Optics

Ahead of its time or behind the 8-ball?  Essential Optics embodied the Dobsonian philosophy of pouring all the money into the optics and creating a very basic mount just to hold those optics in place.  Unfortunately, this was in the pre-Dob age, so they resorted to mounting their scopes on pipe-based German equatorial mounts.  A friend who lived outside of Boston owned one that not only moved in right ascension and declination, but in three different directions as well (the pipes kept unscrewing themselves!!).

meade1.jpg (120656 bytes) Meade Instruments

Meade didn't start making their own telescopes until several years after this ad appeared for small imported refractors and eyepieces.

optech.jpg (62436 bytes) Optical Techniques

Years before Celestron and Meade began to duke it out for title of king of the SCTs, Questar was dealt a rabbit punch when Optical Techniques introduced their Quantum 4 and Quantum 6 Maksutov telescopes.  Unfortunately, although they were less expensive and, by most accounts, every bit as good as Questar, the company didn't survive far into the next decade.  Today, Quantum telescopes still command a high resale price.

Star-Liner Instruments

Star-Liners were considered among the best to meet most amateurs' needs.  They were a little fancier and little more expensive than the more popular Newtonian reflectors by Criterion Manufacturing Co.

Unitron Instruments

Nowadays, thanks in large part to imports from China and Taiwan, achromatic refractors have made quite a comeback among amateur astronomers.  But back in the 1960's and 1970's, if you wanted a refractor, you wanted a Unitron.  Ranging in size up to 6 inches in aperture, Unitrons were beautifully engineering instruments.  Their gleaming white tubes came mounted atop sculpted German equatorial mounts, with myriad finderscopes, guidescopes, rotating eyepiece holders, and even a plate camera all available optionally.  This excerpt from the 1972 Unitron catalog shows their 3-inch Model 145C instrument.  Unitrons are still available today, but they command very little attention among hobbyists, in part because of their high prices.

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