Bird telescope flies to astronomical levels

Bird telescope flies to astronomical levels


The early days of 2021 feel much like the latter days of 2020. As the long winter nights continue, it is the ideal time to turn your sights to the stars in wonderment. The stars have always been a source of fascination, and the invention of instruments to better aid our vision and understanding of them is well documented. For specialist collectors of scientific instruments, early examples by notable makers always generate a stir at auction. None more so than in our Antiques & Collectors auction on Tuesday 5th January. A Georgian lacquered brass Gregorian-type telescope, in fitted mahogany case, realised £4,712, inclusive of charges.

Lot 99 was a good example of a Gregorian-type telescope by the maker John Bird of The Strand, London. Bird (1709-1776) was a highly regarding instrument maker of his day, mostly producing large scale instruments, for example, an 8-foot quadrant at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. His workshops near The Strand were only active from 1745 until his death in 1776. This particular “desktop” telescope was clearly signed J Bird, which was replicated by a trade label in the fitted mahogany case. Whether his own workshops produced smaller scale instruments such as this themselves, or whether they were sourced from regular trade makers is unknown, but all the same, it is rare to see an example signed “J. Bird”.

This instrument has clearly been well-loved over the years, surviving in a fair condition save for some tarnishing to the lacquered brass, and blackened interior of the tube. In the mid-20th century, it was gifted to the present vendor's brother-in-law, whose parents both worked at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington in the early 20th century. They were clearly a family of Star Gazers who must have appreciated the qualities of this telescope afforded.


Examples of other early technological instruments and musical players performed equally strongly in the same auction. A lot featuring four early General Post Office telephones realised £595 – the earliest model being a 'Skeleton Telephone' by Ericsson, dating from circa 1900. From a similar period, an early example of an Edison ‘Standard’ Phonograph with an enamelled green horn, still in working order, made £322 (prices include charges). Scientific instruments and mechanical music are popular areas of the antique and collectables markets that can often generate surprising results given the nuances of early technologies. If you have items of a similar nature that you would like valued, contact us via our Valuations pages: