My husband Dana's grandfather, Fred Sweet, was born in 1876 in Columbia, NH. He was a farmer, as were the three generations before him. He married late (age 39), had one son, and worked his farm until he turned 70. He and his wife, May Belle, then moved to Bristol, NH where they lived until her death in 1961.
After May died, Fred came to live with his son's family in Tewksbury, MA. The telescope, pictured above, came with him. When Fred died in 1963, the telescope was given to Dana, my husband. It made its move to our home when we married in 1975. Over the past 40 years it has been used mostly to search the night time skies for the moon and stars and planets. We bring it out whenever there is a lunar eclipse. It's more of a family tradition than a convenience as the length of the piece, without support, makes it very difficult to see anything. Breathe. ..and you've lost it!
The box, itself, may give some clues to its past use. On each end of the cover are two small screws which look like they held triangular pieces to which a handle or strap would have been attached. (The wood is slightly paler where it was covered by these pieces.) On the top of the box, centered above each set of screws, there is a small, C-shaped indentation. The front of the box is a darker color all around the lock plate -possibly from repeated hand contact. There is also an interesting wear spot -a tall, peaked triangle- under the keyhole, rising from the bottom of the box . It is easy to imagine that the case could have been worn by a shoulder strap and that it had rubbed against someone's side as they walked or rode. Who that was, and where they were going will remain a mystery.
Although the case is beautiful, it is utilitarian. The wood on the back, top, and front is beautifully grained. The sides and bottom are not the same - less grain and slightly lighter in color. The box has remained tight and square. It is held together with quite a few small, square-headed nails. The brass lock plate is not perfectly shaped. The overall size is 12 inches long by 2-7/8 inches high and deep. The inside is notched to hold the telescope snugly.
As for the telescope itself. ..it is comprised of five sections. Extended, it is about 34 inches long. The words "McAllister & Brother, Philadelphia" are engraved on the first section. The last section is leather-covered. There is a brass cap to cover the lens.
Since we knew so little about the family history of the piece, I decided to see if I could find out something about its makers. Knowing how many people check the genealogical message boards, I posted my message at both GenForum's McAllister and Philadelphia sites. I received a reply from a woman named Virginia who verified that there was a family of McAllisters in Philadelphia who made such items in the 1800s. That is all I know.
We will probably never know how or when the telescope came to be owned by Fred Sweet, but it is certainly interesting and exciting to be able to add some McAllister history to the story.
Dana & Marcella Sweet
If you or anyone else has information to add to this story, please contact us at your earliest opportunity. Surely there is more to this story!
Update: In October, 2000, the following message arived:
The engraving doesn't show up real well on the pictures. It says W.Y. McAllister and underneath that is Philad ending with a small raised a, that is underlined. I don't recall where I may have bought it but it was probably in the Chambersburg PA area - located at the intersection of Rt 30 and Rt 81, about 20 miles north of the MD line. I would estimate I've had it for at least 20 years.
On 17 December 2008, we got the following message:
Dear CMA -
I happened to be researching 19th century trade catalogs and noticed the the University of Delaware has a circa 1850s catalog of McCalister & Brother's. I'm sure this company was the maker of the telescope shown on your site.
All the best,