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The Porter Garden Telescope




There was a previous design of a refractor telescope with Sun dial. Uses the same base of the following model.

Russell Porter and his garden telescopes


Designed by Russell W. Porter (1871 - 1949), artist, arctic explorer, engineer and pioneer of amateur astronomy in America. The influence and his work can be seen in places diverse as the Smithsonian Institute and the 200-inch Hale Telescope on Mt. Palomar in California. The 6-inch dia. Mirror is placed in the heart of bronze lotus leaves, with declination circle on the underside calibrated by individual degrees 60-0-70, and declination clamp formed as a petal, pivoting in hour ring divided in ten minute intervals IX - 0 - IX, a slender bronze leaf rising from the lotus bowl to support pin-gnomon, prism and eyepiece on tension-sprung adjustment, supported on plate by three leaves concealing wheel adjustment for setting the telescope to latitudes from 25 - 55, the bedplate with names Kepler, Newton and Galileo cast in the perimeter, and cast-iron pedestal to spreading flower-form base, ht. level approx. 62 in., (mirror, prism and some other replacement parts).

Porter's goal was to create an instrument that would be ornamental and practical in equal degrees, capable of surrounding both a celestial or a garden landscape. Beginning in c. 1923, the Porter Garden Telescopes were produced by the Jones and Lamson Machine Company of Vermont. They were originally supplied with a compendium of accessories, including double eyepieces (for two people using the telescope simultaneously), which dismantled with the mirror and the prism, to stow in a purpose-fitted case when not in use.

The Newtonian 6-inch reflecting telescope converts into a sundial if the prism is pointed at the sun, the time read with ten-minute accuracy from the hour chapter ring that encircles the lotus bowl. A fusion of design, sculpture and science, original production was estimated at between seventy-five and two hundred instruments; of these, there are thirteen surviving examples recorded.





Schleipman’s Porter Garden Telescope. Photograph by Russ Schleipman ’71.

Most crucially, Schleipman was loaned an original Porter Garden Telescope to digitize. He then had to design and build all the tools to machine the castings. It was a long and expensive process. The patterning alone cost $150,000. Despite his success selling the telescopes (he even appeared on the CBS show Sunday Morning), there is one glitch he has yet to overcome. Not unlike the shoemaker’s son, he still hasn’t assembled a telescope for himself. At least now he has all the parts.

The new telescope also uses a cover with a Rose of Vermont to protect the mirror, has a secondary mirror instead the original prism.


Fred Schleipman, director of Thayer’s machine shop from 1969 to 1980, is fondly remembered by many alumni for teaching them to build Stirling engines. Today, at age 90, Schleipman works in his Norwich, Vt., machine shop on his start-up venture “Telescopes of Vermont”, which offers a $43,000 hand-finished cast bronze reproduction of the Porter Garden Telescope. The elegant telescope, first created in the 1920s, caught Schleipman’s eye in 1973. Telescopes of Vermont is lavishly and faithfully recreating The Porter Garden Telescope in hand-finished cast bronze, with improved 21st century optics.

STILL TOOLIN' AROUND: Fred Schleipman recently recast the 1920s-era Porter Garden Telescope. Photograph by Russ Schleipman ’71.

“It was love at first site. I was determined to have one,” he recalls. One problem: fewer than 20 were known to exist. Schleipman concluded that the only way he could own such a telescope — a work of art with high-end optics — was to build several of them and keep one from the production run. In 2007 Schleipman finally assembled a team, including a pattern maker, optics experts, and foundryman, that met his exacting requirements.

Accessory Case: Ocular carrier and Secondary mirror; Focusing screw; Barlow lens; Two oculars; Mirror cap; The flower at right is the tool used to hold the vertical axis.



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