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An inventory of the contents of Mount Vernon following George Washington's death reveals that the former surveyor and general owned 12 "Spye glasses" and one larger telescope. The latter was this London-made Gregorian telescope that Washington displayed in his study. Through its lens, he could glimpse ships on the Potomac or study the stars and planets. Telescopes such as this came with two eyepieces that served different functions based on the viewer's needs. This telescope only survives with the "sun filter," a non-optic lens made of red opaque glass that scientists believed would protect the viewer's eyes when observing the sun.


Brass reflecting telescope. The main body of the telescope is composed of a barrel that houses a small secondary mirror attached by a slender arm to a screw rod focusing carrier that travels through three braces on the right side of the barrel. The screw-driven carrier slides for several inches along the front interior part of the barrel. The primary mirror, if it still accompanies the telescope, is located at the rear of the barrel. The eyepiece tube screws into a hole in the center of the backing plate, located behind the primary mirror. The backing plate is engraved with the maker's name: "Whitford*London". In the eyepiece are two lenses located at either end of the tube; both screw into place. The eyepiece also features a pin hole aperture and terminates with a sun filter lens of red glass with a flared eyecup. The barrel is engraved with the inscription: "To Doctor David Stuart/ I give my Telescope."/ Est. Washington's will". The lens end of the barrel has a removable, push-on cap.

Brass pillar telescope stand on a circular base with three folding scroll legs. The telescope stand is composed of two parts: a pillar base that sits upon a circular stand with three folding legs. The circular base anchors three folding legs that elegantly display the pillar and telescope, while at the same protecting the surface the instrument rests upon. Projecting from the bottom of the pillar is an integral screw. The screw facilitates alternative mounting options, such as its placement on a wooden pole or a tripod in the field. The pillar is topped with a circular pivot that is attached to a rectangular brace. The rectangular base attaches to the barrel of the telescope via two screws thus anchoring the instrument for display and use.


c. 1765-1789




A: Copper alloy, textile, glass, paint B: Copper alloy


Overall: 15 3/4 in. x 3 in. x 18 1/2 in. (40.01 cm x 7.62 cm x 46.99 cm)
Other (A): 3 in. x 3 in. x 18 1/2 in. (7.62 cm x 7.62 cm x 46.99 cm)
Other (B): 11 1/4 in. x 9 7/8 in. x 8 1/2 in. (28.58 cm x 25.1 cm x 21.59 cm)

Credit Line

Purchase, 1920


Engraved mark on the end of the barrel reads: "Whitford*London".

Object Number


Colors (Beta)

Mount Vernon's object research is ongoing and information about this object is subject to change. For information on image use and reproductions, click here.
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