Siloam Springs, Ark (August 8, 2000) - Members of the Christian Association of Stellar Explorers (CASE) have restored what may be the earliest telescope used for teaching science during the early 1900s at John Brown University. The telescope was donated to the JBU Archives as a permanent part of the memorabilia that marks the history of the university.
The circumstances of the restoration make an interesting story: Some two years ago, Everett Easley, director of facilities services at JBU, discovered the telescope in the science building at JBU. It appeared as if it had not been used for several years, and Mr. Easley was concerned that the instrument might be put aside or forgotten. So he took the instrument to his home nearby, hoping there might be some use for it in the future.
Shortly after CASE was founded, Mr. Easley contacted CASE president Patrick Carr and asked if the club might have some use for the old telescope.
After a brief inspection of the telescope by Patrick and fellow CASE members David Cater and Michael Peterson, it was determined they could indeed accomplish a fair restoration.
The restoration task was divided into three parts. Patrick Carr took charge of the equatorial mount and conducted a search for any history associated with the old telescope. Michael Peterson restored the tripod and David Cater restored the telescope tube and cleaned and aligned the optical components.
Early on, it was noted that restoration would mostly consist of laborious cleaning and polishing. For example, the optical tube was a dark, deeply oxidized color and only intense buffing could restore the original golden brass shine. The equatorial head, made of sand cast bronze and iron parts, required sandblasting to obtain the original appearance. The oak tripod legs, having lost virtually all of their original paint, required numerous coats of modern black paint to appear acceptable again.
Because there were no original plans or pictures of the old instrument some of the restoration involved educated guesses as to original appearance. CASE members were keenly aware that restoration was not their expertise and this awareness served well. Over the years, the optical tube had absorbed some very noticeable dents. Should the dents be removed, or left as markings of use?
It was decided to leave the optical tube alone. What appears now is a restored telescope with many marks of very active science education, including the usual mishaps such use always incurs. Research during the restoration project unveiled the telescope was manufactured sometime between 1900 and 1920 by the Selsi Optical Company, located near Paris, France. The telescope is a refractor [it uses lenses] and is very like many brass instruments of the era, usually purchased either by wealthy amateurs or by colleges and universities to teach fundamental astronomy, common in the usual college curriculum in those days.
Exactly how the instrument came to be owned by John Brown University is a mystery. One speculation is that it was an early donation to the University early after the school was founded. Or, perhaps it was purchased outright for science instruction by early science faculty at JBU.
If there are readers who recognize the old instrument and know something about its origins and use, Jan Lancaster, the JBU Archivist, would love to hear from you. She can be reached in the JBU Archives, 479-524-4610.