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Peter Dollond (1731-1820): Son of John Dollond (1707-1761), a Huguenot silk weaver, Peter Dollond initially worked as an apprentice with his father, weaving silk. However in 1750, inspired by his father’s passion for optics, he started business as an optician, opening an optical instruments shop in Vine Street, Spitalfields, London. Two years later, his father gave up the silk business and joined him, and together they relocated the business to a position under the sign of the Golden Spectacles and Sea Quadrant in Exeter Exchange, off the Strand.
Dollond designed and manufactured a number of optical instruments, and is credited with the invention of the triple achromatic lens – the apochromatic lens – in 1763, to eliminate the problem of coloured fringes caused by the distortion of light as it passed through the glass, which is still in use today. He also advanced the astronomical refracting telescope and made improvements to the navigational instruments of his day. He made several instruments for the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, and for the Paris Observatory. For a period of over one and half centuries, the Dollond telescopes, for sidereal or terrestrial use, were amongst the most popular in both Great Britain and abroad. In 1766, Frederick the Great instructed his London ambassador to buy two telescopes from Dollond’s ‘because they magnify extraordinarily the object’; in 1769 Captain Cook sailed with one on his voyage to observe the Transit of Venus; in 1786 Thomas Jefferson visited P & J Dollond to purchase a telescope for 10 guineas; and Admiral Lord Nelson made a special trip to purchase a Dollond.
After successfully defending a legal challenge to the patent he held for the achromatic lens, and having sued his rivals for patent infringement, the business prospered. Having developed and patented the achromat, Dollond’s father was made a Fellow of the Royal Society, and this, along with Dollond’s reputation, gave the company access to the best optical flint glass, a privilege which enabled Dollond to maintain an edge in quality over his competitors’ telescopes and optical instruments for many years.
When Dollond’s father died in 1761, he went into partnership with his brother, John, until his death in 1804. The family business was continued by Peter Dollond’s nephew, George Huggins, who subsequently changed his surname to Dollond. Peter Dollond was appointed optician to George III and the Duke of York and the workshop was renowned for producing high quality instruments. Eventually, the business was acquired by James Aitchison in 1927; to form Dollond & Aitchison, the well-known opticians.
Because Dollond & Co’s records were destroyed by fire it is not usually possible to trace the lineage of individual telescopes even when the serial number is present.
Comparators: The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, has an achromatic telescope made by Dollond in its collection (Object ID: NAV1531) (see image above). The wooden barrel of this Galilean telescope is covered in dyed rayskin (shagreen), as used to cover our spyglass, while its single draw tube is made of brass. It was made in circa 1780. As on our spyglass, the maker’s name appears on the draw tube as ‘Dollond / London’. http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/43743.html
Thomas Coulborn & Sons
64 Birmingham Road
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