Legal disputes and old-timey science- Gee’s ‘Francis Watkins and the Dolland Telescope Patent Controversy

Microscopes of 18th century inside Gee's book

Microscopes of 18th century inside Gee’s book

The first book that caught my eye in the pile that would go on display is Brian Gee’s ‘Francis Watkins and the Dolland Telescope Patent Controversy’. Gee used to be one of our lecturers and that’s why we have the book. Long story short, there was this rivalry between John Dollond and Francis Watkins and who really got rid of the chromatic aberration in telescopes. At one time, the chromatic aberration was a common problem in telescopes, which made the picture to have rainbow edges because of the way the light refracts in the lenses. Oh okay, I’ll stop talking nerd now. If you’re interested in that stuff see this and this.
But the book is more than an old legal dispute between two nerds. I learned a lot about the life of craftsmen and artisans in 18th century London (ever wondered where the term ‘indented servitude’ comes from?) that still employed the master- apprentice style of trade education. We don’t think of that time as having sophisticated technology or scientific infrastructure. But the truth is there were communities of people that made their living by catering to early scientists, supplying them with apparatus and other supplies that made scientific progress a reality. And those apparatus were a thing of beauty, marrying the cold, scientific principles to the artistry of craftsmanship. I am talking silver bodies, engraved rims and luxurious woods- equipped with intricate mechanisms and high quality glass. That’s the humanist spirit at its best. Check this book out if you ever have a chance, even if it’s just for pictures.


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