Telescopes & Reflectors


The History of Erard Matthiessen's

Bart Fried November 18, 1998

About the Telescope
The lens maker, Henry Giles (Harry) Fitz (1847?-1939), took over his father's telescope making business at age sixteen, after his father's death in 1863. His father, Henry Fitz, was America's first commercial telescope maker. Harry had been apprenticed to his father prior to his death and garnered the assistance of Lewis M. Rutherford, a wealthy lawyer and accomplished astronomer, when performing the delicate task of figuring and testing his lenses. This lens is an 8" f/16 achromatic doublet of crown and flint elements, corrected for visual use with an accuracy of approximately 1/6 (no errors exceeding 1/6 of the wavelength of yellow light). The front element is made from imported English crown glass and exhibits a characteristic greenish tint of early crown glass. The flint was probably imported from Belgium. Both elements are unusually thin for their size - characteristic of Fitz lenses. This large telescope lens and tube were likely produced at a later period in his sporadic career - perhaps the early 1880's, but possibly earlier and it is the largest known existing Harry Fitz telescope tube assembly. There are only four lenses known that survive today.

Harry Fitz was also an artist and educator, working the telescope business on an irregular basis until 1884 and then spending the rest of his working life teaching drawing. He was also an avid observer, and in 1879 and 1880, he made 1032 observations of Jupiter and found the spot revolution to be 9hrs 55' 58", while the planet revolution was 9hrs 50' 02". He was still occasionally observing as late as the spring of 1926, at age 79 or 80. He died in November, 1939, age 91.

About the Equatorial Mount
The equatorial mount for the telescope, and it's driving clock were produced by George N. Saegmuller (1847-1934). Saegmuller was born on February 13, 1847, in Bavaria and attended first public and then technical schools at Erlangen and Nuremberg. Saegmuller was known to have apprenticed first with Repsold in Germany, and then with Cooke in England before emigrating to Washington, D.C. He took a job with the U.S. Coast Survey and established an instrument business with Camille Fauth, called Fauth & Co. Saegmuller had a good working knowledge of celestial coordinates and navigation as well as surveying engineering. He developed a new form of solar attachment for engineers transits which easily, accurately and quickly allowed a surveyor to determine the local meridian, offering quick determination of the local magnetic deflection. Following Fauth's retirement, Saegmuller assumed leadership of the company and continued in the same general line of instruments and telescopes. By 1892, he had changed the name to Geo. N. Saegmuller Co., and was operating at a new location. He produced larger telescopes than the previous Fauth & Co. including this adjustable equatorial mount and clock for New York businessman Erard Matthiessen's 8" Henry G. Fitz tube assembly; a 12" refractor with a Clark lens for the U.S. Naval Observatory; a 19" refractor with a Merz lens for Manila Observatory (the lens was destroyed during the second World War), and a 20" refractor with a Clark lens for Chamberlain Observatory. He was also an early proponent of aluminum as a material with great potential for telescope tube components and surveyors transit parts. Saegmuller also further developed the firm's capabilities in astronomical instruments such as the large micrometer produced for Lick Observatory which was used for nearly ten years by Burnham in his double star research.

Saegmuller was a versatile inventor as well. Among his many accomplishments, he perfected the mechanical tide-predicting machine devised by Professor Ferrel of the Coast Survey, and he produced range finders and gun sights for artillery and naval guns. He also designed a water tower for Arlington county, Virginia. In 1905, Saegmuller merged his company with the Bausch & Lomb Optical Co. of Rochester, N.Y., and the concern became Bausch, Lomb, Saegmuller Co. The old Bausch & Lomb Optical acted as the distribution arm. Saegmuller was in charge of the engineering and astronomical instrument division of this endeavor until his retirement in 1926. Upon retirement, Saegmuller returned near Washington, D. C. to live out his years in Arlington, Virginia. He died on his 87th birthday, on Feb. 13th, 1934.

History of the Telescope
The 8" Henry Giles Fitz telescope was owned by Erard (Erhard) Matthiessen (1825-1903), a Norwegian immigrant and successful businessman. He was probably the original owner. Named Matthias in Norway, the family was forced to emigrate to Denmark and resided on the Isle of Föhr (now part of Germany), where they worked in the whaling and seafaring industries.; The family burial ground is reportedly located there. Young Erard studied some astronomy while in school at the Sorbonne, Paris. However, after he completed his schooling, he had little money and emigrated to America along with his brother Frederick. At this point he changed the spelling of his name to Erard. Frederick was successful in the zinc and clock businesses in Illinois, and reportedly, Erard moved to Chicago and was involved with a company called Corn Products, refining corn sugar. He may have been an owner or partner in the company. In any event, there was a tragic accident - either a fire or explosion, and several workers were killed or badly injured, and Erard lost heart in the business. He moved to Staten Island, and was involved in another business, possibly the early precursor to Mack Trucks. He was married and he and his wife had twelve children. However, tragedy struck again when six children died of diphtheria. His wife suffered a nervous breakdown from the stress and Erard moved the family to the beautiful area of Cornwall, New York, along the Hudson River. It was here, in the mid-to-late 1890's, where he erected the 8" refractor on a rooftop observatory at his home. The telescope was used regularly by Erard and his daughter, Bernice (Matthiessen) Abbott, who was also proficient with its use.

After Erard's death in 1903, the telescope remained dormant until it was eventually disassembled in the late 'teens or early 1920's by Erard's brother who stored it in their barn. In the 1950's, his grand-daughter, Mrs. Beatrice (Abbot) Duggan and her husband, were cleaning out the barn and were going to throw away the telescope, but instead allowed it to be "rescued" by a family friend, Dr. James "Jack" Cobb. Cobb cleaned and reassembled it, but couldn't get it to function properly. His son, Robert donated the telescope to the Storm King School in 1990, with the proviso that they build an observatory for it. Under the leadership of headmaster John H. Suitor, the observatory was constructed with the assistance of Robert Berman, a local popular science writer and amateur astronomer. However, again the telescope's mount wasn't functioning properly, owing to missing weights in the clock drive's governor and other minor problems. Also missing were the slow motion control rods, making the telescope cumbersome, if not impossible to use. With the permission of the Duggans, descendants of Erard Matthiessen, the telescope was sold to Dr. Len Jensen and Bart Fried in October of 1992. It is currently being refurbished and an observatory has been built for it by the Colonial School District, Plymouth Meeting PA, the Montgomery County Center for Technical Studies, Norristown, PA and the Delaware Valley Amateur Astronomers, Inc. The observatory is located on the grounds of the Colonial Middle School, Plymouth PA.

The notes regarding Matthiessen are transcribed from a conversation in late 1992 with Beatrice Abbott Duggan, now deceased granddaughter of Erard Matthiessen and a conversation with Erard A. Matthiessen, grandson, in 1997. All the information about Erard Matthiessen is second hand as neither grandchild was old enough to have known him while he was alive, and none of the information has been verified. Where accounts differed, Mrs. Duggan's memory was judged to be the keener.

There is a 10" Harry Fitz lens, unmounted and unfortunately ruined when an attempt at coating it was made. There is another 10" lens at the Adler Museum, which was apparently refigured by John Mellish. From Dr. Bruce Stephenson, Adler's director, "Well, we "know" more than I thought about A-207. According to our files this is a 10-inch achromatic lens, F/16.5, made by Henry Giles (Harry) Fitz between 1875 and 1885. It is not signed." Adler's record states: "From the third barrel of lenses remaining after production stopped in 1885. This barrel sold to Norman G. Hall in 1957. These lenses were all refigured by John Mellish in 1959. After that a 4-3/4" and A-207 (10") were sold to Douglas Bullis in 1961. Bullis sold 10" lens to Adler Planetarium in 1963 no later than April - price unknown. Contents of first two barrels sold piecemeal.

Dimensions 10" diameter
Crown .275" thickness
Flint .468" thickness Etched into glass is 467, probably original desired thickness"

Robert Ariail of Columbia, South Carolina owns a small H.G. Fitz refractor.