Accession No


Brief Description

graphic telescope, by Cornelius Varley, English, circa 1840


England; London


Varley, Cornelius


astronomy; optical

Earliest Date

Jan. 1, 1840

Latest Date

Dec. 31, 1840

Inscription Date


metal (brass); glass


telescope length 310mm; maximum diameter 63mm; tripod length 435mm; breadth 130mm; depth 60mm; eyepiece 1: length 86mm; maximum diameter 57mm; eyepiece 2: length 82mm; maximum diameter 57mm eyepiece 3: length 84mm; maximum diameter 57mm; box length 418mm; breadth 199mm; height 88mm

Special Collection

Robert Whipple collection


Purchased by Robert Stewart Whipple from T. H. Court in 07/1922.


‘CORNELIUS VARLEY. Patent Graphic Telescope’ (telescope)

Description Notes

Graphic telescope, by Cornelius Varley, English, circa 1840

Brass telescope with 2 draw tubes. Diagonal mirror screws in front of objective. 3 tapered eyepieces, all diagonal and varying size, slide into telescope body. Lens hoods (appear to be only two of these on the eyepieces, one of which does not fit very well, 10-1-2000 ).
Brass tripod with extending legs. Shoe attachment to telescope with nut and bolt fastening. (2 object glasses in catalogue missing.) Lens cap (doesn’t fit any of the parts) (not found, could be in locked box, 10-1-2000). Manuscript giving directions for using the telescope, in Varley’s hand. Wooden box, locked; the key could not be located.

Condition : good/fair.



The graphic telescope, invented by Cornelius Varley (1781–1873), was initially a low-power telescope modified to function like a camera lucida. The camera lucida, an optical instrument that enabled a person to see a scene and drawing surface simultaneous, was patented by William Hyde Wollaston (1766–1828) in 1807. Varley’s invention employed the same principles of the camera lucida: the graphic telescope projected the telescopic image into the viewer’s retina so that the image and drawing surface superimposed. Patented in 1811 under the pseudonym ‘Artist’, the accompanying description of the graphic telescope claimed that it was a “simple kind of telescope” modified so that the image “may be easily traced on paper, &c”. In a treatise on the graphic telescope, Varley described the possible uses of the instrument, including drawing ships, towns, wagons, wild or savage animals, portraits, architecture, and flowers, among other objects. The Graphic Telescope was not an immediate commercial success, and Varley was forced to personally manufacture much of the instrument. The difficulties of production, and the subsequently slow-rate of sales, nevertheless prefigured Varley’s later occupation. Though he would continue to draw and teach drawing, his primary source of income in later life would be as an instrument maker.

Created by: Allison Ksiazkiewicz on 08/07/2014


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