October 24, 2010 #095 - Alvin Clark & Sons Objective Lenses - Part 1

As I have been going through old Astronomical Journals this year there is one phrase that keeps occurring. Alvin Clark & Sons, produced this lens. If an observatory either professional, academic, or private needed the best quality optics they went to Alvin Clarke & Sons. So it was time for me to search out some information on their almost mythical ability to produce objective lenses.

The following history of Alvin Clark is taken from William Henry Chaffee's "The Chaffee Genealogy" 1909.

Alvan Clark, born in Ashfield, Mass., March 8, 1804, died in Cambridge, Mass., August 19, 1887. He was the famous maker of telescopes, his factory being in Cambridgeport, Mass.

" He was attacked on the Wednesday preceding his death by a stomach trouble which his advanced age rendered him unable to throw off. Up to his last illness, Mr. Clark had followed the course of his business closely, and even after he turned seventy seemed to lose little or none of his extraordinary skill of eye and hand or patience.

"Alvan Clark was born on a farm at Ashfield, Mass. He received an ordinary education, but at an early age showed a great taste for drawing and engraving. He removed to Lowell in 1826 and obtained a situation as a calico engraver in a mill. Nine years afterward he became a portrait painter, and settled in Boston. About 1843 his son Alvan G. Clark became interested in the study of optics, and the father also began to study mechanics and astronomy. They experimented together a good deal and finally succeeded in making a reflecting telescope. Mr. Clark and his son spent nearly ten years in the study of optics and the art of telescope making, and in the making of small optical instruments, before their claims in this general department of astronomical science were recognized. The Rev. W. R. Dawes, of England, celebrated for his measurement of double stars, hearing that Mr. Clark was constructing instruments of superior purity and power ordered a glass for his own use, which was duly sent him in the fall of 1853. This was the starting point in Mr. Clark's career as a maker of telescopes, for the performance of this glass so greatly excited the admiration of English astronomers, that Mr. Clark found himself suddenly famous and rapidly received orders for telescopes both at home and from abroad. Through his efforts he has given to the world the largest and most powerful astronomical instruments ever made, the results being the discovery of celestial bodies heretofore unknown. From New York to St. Petersburg, and in every civilized country of the world, the name of Alvan Clark is a familiar one among scientists.

"The famous instrument in the Washington Observatory was made by him and required four years of labor. That presented to the Washington and Lee College, of Virginia, by Mr. McCormick of Chicago, costing $40,000, came also from the careful hands of Clark & Sons. The great telescope in California bequeathed by Mr. Lick, was made in the workshop of the Clarks, and also the famous telescope made a few years ago for the Pulkowa Observatory in Russia. He is also the inventor of a double eye-piece, an ingenious and valuable method of measuring small celestial arcs.

"On the night of January 31, 1862, he and his son, Alvan G., while making some observations with a newly finished telescope, discovered the companion of Sirius, for which the French Academy of Sciences bestowed on him the Lalande Medal." [New York Tribune.]

"Mr. Alvan Clark's personal qualities so strongly influenced his achievements that they form an interesting subject of study. Most remarkable was his aversion to advertising himself or his telescopes in any way whatever. He never sought an order. He could never be induced to place specimens of his handicraft on exhibition; even the Centennial at Philadelphia had nothing to show from his hands. Astronomers the world over applied in vain for a price-list of the productions of Alvan Clark & Sons. The firm would not print anything of the kind. Nowhere was anything arranged for display. Visitors to his workshop, whatever their rank, position or objects, were received with the same unstudied courtesy, and found everybody, from the head of the firm down, in his working garb. No pretensions to a secret art were ever made. When, in travelling abroad, members of the firm found their foreign colleagues afraid to show how they worked, the only impression conveyed was that human nature had its weaknesses. Never before was an art or manufacture built up on so admirable a moral basis." [New York Nation.]

The only Alvin Clark & Sons advertisement I have found was in an issue of Popular Astronomy dated after the last of the Clarks died..

More to the story on the next post.

Clear Sky - Rich

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