Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Bell, Capt William Douglas, Port Captain of Natal

Captain William Bell with his telescope.
Note the absence of epaulettes on his coat in this photo.
Probably taken ca 1860.

Bell's Dollond telescope showing maker's mark and 'Day or Night' engraved on the side.
(photograph by Caz Collins, a Bell descendant)


For a time in the eighteenth and nineteenth century the word 'Dollond' was almost a generic term for telescope rather like 'Hoover; is to vacuum cleaner. Genuine Dollond telescopes were considered to be amongst the best although there were several other London makers of the highest quality.
In 1764 Leopold Mozart (father of Wolfgang) bought a Dollond 3-foot achromatic telescope with a double objective lens. Then, in 1766, Frederick the Great instructed his London ambassador to buy two telescopes from Dollond's 'because they magnify extraordinarily the object'. A Dollond telescope sailed with Captain Cook in 1769 on his voyage to observe the Transit of Venus.
In 1780 Dollond introduced the Army Telescope (or 'Improved achromatic telescope'). This is the standard type so often found by modern collectors with a mahogany body and brass draw-tubes. They were between 14 and 52 inches long with a lens aperture of between 1 and 2.75 inches. They cost from 2.5 to 12 guineas.

Thomas Jefferson visited P+J Dollond in 1786 and bought a telescope for 10 guineas. Admiral Lord Nelson would also make a special visit to purchase a Dollond. Because Dollond & Co's records were destroyed by fire in the 1920s it is not usually possible to trace the lineage of individual telescopes, even when the serial number is present.  

Dollond brass and leather telescope
A Typical 19th c Dollond of brass with leather-covered barrel

'Dollond' is actually spelt with an 'o' as the fifth letter. Many people get this wrong. If a telescope is marked 'Dolland' (with an ‘a’) then it is quite likely a counterfeit product.


Unknown said...

Dollond still operates as Dollond and Aitchison, opticians!

Mole said...

Thank you for your comment, Eira! There is a very good web page on the topic of telescopes and particularly the history of the Dollond operation at


Unknown said...

Lovely to see my photograph here. The telescope was always an item of interest and curiosity hen we were children

Mole said...

Thank you Caz - good to hear from you! I've had great response on Bell and his telescope. Many thanks for the photos you provided.